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Destinations, Dreams and Dogs - International adventure with a fast-track family (& dogs) of Old World values, adopting the Russian-Italian-American good life on the go…!

Is Summer Camp Good for Adoptees?

SummerJoyIn a nutshell: not. so. sure. Leaning toward not. And mind you, my son is not the nine-year-old, gone away for his first time to sleep-away camp. No, he’s the 19-year-old camp counselor.

Here’s the rub: very little has changed since my days at camp, you know, back in the Stone Age. We were not climbing rock walls, no, we were writing hieroglyphics on them.

It was a weird time, when letters to home were often read by staff before being mailed off. All I could do is ask sweetly for my parents to visit on the weekend. And that’s when I dropped the bomb: this was AWFUL and I wanted OUT. I was 12 or 13 at the time and this was a major privilege to attend such a supposedly-fun sleep-away camp.

No matter that horses were involved, they had us kids cleaning the toilets and weeding the garden

Victory's waterfront with the new Blob!

in-between our brief equestrian events. When my parents said they would be withdrawing me (no refunds for the second unattended week), the camp psychologist got involved and said that I was a very manipulative, evil child who would be wreaking major havoc about the time I was 16.

Never happened. As a matter of fact, I felt eternally grateful for the jail-break which cost them. I was the role of a model child (more or less).

girls-walking-to-cabinFast-forward to now. Our first son arrives home from Russia in March long ago. In July, we put him in one week of day camp with some Russian-speaking staff mixed in. He was almost eight and sobbed uncontrollably as though I was leaving him forever that early summer morning. I spent a minute explaining again that I was indeed coming back to get him, but in the final analysis, I just had to turn around and walk out.

Very difficult. Very, very difficult.

By Day Two, he did not want to leave. But still.

Our other children came home as preteens. They went to various day-camps from swimming lessons, to summer.camps.03lacrosse, to marathon training (swimming/biking/running). All asked to go away to sleep-away camp. They were young teens by then and it was a highly-controlled environment, Sunday afternoon through Friday noon, no communication.

Three did fine, basically throwing themselves into our arms when we picked them up. Our second son with some possible FAS effects, acted disoriented and finally sauntered over and said hi. He had experienced a rough week in more ways than one, just trying to fit in, but it would be harder trying to reacclimate himself to family life.

summer-camp4It was as though he had been in one big dyetsky dom (orphanage) for the week, no doubt conjuring up trauma and abuse memories, whether conscious or subconscious.

So now our first son is a camp counselor for 3.5 weeks. During travel and upon arrival to camp they could use their phones for picture-taking. At night, he would sneak a quick “Luv u both – night” text to us. But now that the campers have arrived, all phones are held in the office and we have previous instructions to contact the camp director, a nice young lady, in case of any emergencies.

I feel like ringing her phone off the hook.

Believe me, I know all about the high-tech dangers of the internet and an over dependence on cell phones. Summer-Sailing-CampIn our home, they do not come to the table with phones (parents might…! but only for emergencies), they are not surfing nor texting in the congregation, etc. Plus, keep in mind that kids and counselors alike can receive and/or send (right!) mail during the three weeks.

But still.

Fasting from the phone is not a bad exercise for any of us. Unplug one to tune into the real world around you— nature, supervising children, having fun, playing sports.

Attending camp and mixing with other kids, learning social skills or sports skills, not a bad idea. In general.

summer-camp5Yet, when it comes to adoptees, I just wonder if it’s smart. There are so many emotional and bonding issues simmering… for years… beneath the surface. Time will tell, and I believe we must let out the line little by little, in manageable increments. But in general, I would say: keep them close for as long as you can.

I’ve arrived at a new equation: an adoptee’s emotional age is often their chronological age – minus the age at the time of adoption. Remember that and keep them close.

We’re making up for lost time.


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