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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…!

We Survived Summer Sleepaway Camp. I Think.

Before the setting of the sun on Friday, our kids were home, safe and sound from sleepaway camp. A few blisters, hair that may not have been washed very well in the past week, a little extra sun, and none worse for the wear. Or so we thought.

Benedetto and I did not have to ask how they enjoyed their camps. We heard about it non-stop all weekend long. (And you wondered where I’ve been?) The problem was, they related their experiences in their new, American-slang-speak.

“And then, like, we had to bridle the horses, and like, my horse didn’t want the bit in his mouth, so I just, like, slid it in…” said Mashenka.

“Oh, and like, did he like it, like?” I participated in the conversation, getting the hang of it.

“Well, like, I think so.”

“That’s like, cool, like, I mean, you’re a natural, like.”

This was easier than Pig Latin, at least, like. Sashenka-the-younger had her own stories, which we’ll file under “Things I Should Have Told the Kids Before They Went to Camp”, or “How to Maintain Family Privacy”. Her new style of speech occasionally involved “like”, but was more of that annoying kind of girl-style where every sentence had to go up at the end, sounding more like a question than a statement.

“So what did you do in your free time?” we asked her.

“You know, I hung around the counselors? They sometimes had jobs watching kids where, like, there were no kids? Ms. Alana was near the pool? I went and talked with her?” she replied, fingering a dozen new braided bracelets, tied to her sweaty arm.

“Did you go swimming, or do a river walk, or play dodgeball the other days?”

“No, I talked with the counselors, like, every day? They needed the company? So I told them all about you and Papa, like, what you do all around the world? They were amazed, so I kept telling them story after story?”

I was growing Concerned, which was not difficult, knowing me and/or knowing my children, like.

“I see,” I forced myself to smile. This was the kids’ week, let them unwind in their own way. If she had the gift of gab, like, let her be.

Our second son was the only one who really didn’t do too well. At all. Let’s just say the word “regression” might explain a few things, as well as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Pasha is fifteen, going on five, mentally and emotionally. We hoped that he might grow up during the experience, sending him to the same camp as his older brother, all the while instructing the older brother not to intervene nor babysit. The revelations came out hour by hour after he returned home, growing in severity.

“Alright, everyone,” I called out, “let’s make several piles of laundry. Put your bath and swim towels here, your pajamas, socks, swimsuits, pillowcases and underwear here, and the rest of your laundry there….”

Thank the Lord our washer and dryer had sprung back to life after the storms of the week before. A fuse had not been tripped, but it appeared that our house was not receiving full electricity. While we picked up the kids from camp two hours away, we ran fresh, soapy water through the washer which stank to high heaven.

“Everyone take showers and put on some other pajamas, or relaxing clothes,” I started gathering their laundry hampers and preparing for a nice family dinner together.

“Uh… Mama?” Pasha started. “Ve don’t need to wash my pajamas.”

“Why not?” I wondered, knowing that he and Petya had stayed in the most rigorous conditions, hot canvas tents with no air. The PJs would probably be sweaty enough.

“I slept in my clothes.”

“Why would you do that?” This was my first indication of something odd.

“Because ve had to get dressed the next day…” his feeble mind tried to reason in, what seemed to him, a rational manner.

“Right… and don’t you need to get dressed every morning? Why sleep in your clothes, that would then become all hot and wrinkled?”

The camp had his group on evening showers, which might have thrown him off, since he was accustomed to showering in the morning. Or after sports. It wasn’t any modesty issue, since, you know me, I had reviewed with the children how to get dressed wrapped in a towel, if need be. The boys had no problem running around in their underwear. It wasn’t that, and his brother said that they could take late-afternoon showers, too. So, he had slept an entire week… not in his pajamas. I guess we would all survive that revelation.

His next issue was free time. Did he play in the creek? Did he go swimming?

“No, I did not know ve could go swimming….”

“In the big pool? The one I told you about before camp? Did the counselors share with you what you might do during your couple of free hours each day?” I was trying to squelch my Concern, but starting to lose the battle.

“Yes, they say things, but I don’t understand everything they say….”

This was the first time I did not feel it was a necessity to go around and inform every counselor that our children were English Language Learners and that some, this one in particular, might be brain dead.  He understood English well enough, it was more of a listening and focusing problem without his dear mother to shout, “Yo! Listen up….”   And so he missed out on the pool, the one he walked by several times a day (???), to and from their sleeping tents with cots, and of course, no pajamas.

Turns out he had also cracked another girl’s tooth, while playing a game with balls similar to pool table balls. She was a spectator and the ball flew off the table and hit her in the mouth.

Benedetto had prepared me for this revelation, since Pasha had confessed to him already. He was afraid to tell me. Gee, I wonder why.

‘YOU DID WHAT???!!!” (That was my cool, calm, and collected “prepped for the situation” voice.)

“She’s okay, they took her to the dentist,” he tried to reassure me.

“Whaddaya mean, she’s okay? What happened to the tooth and the poor girl?”

“The doctor did not pull the tooth, they put something over it. I said I was sorry to her before and after they took her away. She said she knew it was an accident….”

“That’s true,” I force my calm and composed side to emerge. “Accidents do happen. But we need to always play considerately. There’s no reason that the ball should go flying off the table if you’re playing the game correctly.”

I had seen him become overexcited or aggressive when playing other sports. It didn’t help that there was not an on-duty counselor in this particular game room, just ones that came and went. I told him that he had done the right thing in telling me and that it was a shame that this had happened.

It was going from bad to worse. Now he had maimed another camper. But he confided in his father that the whole experience was a bit much for him. Out of all the children, when we appeared on Friday afternoon, he had not greeted us in like manner, running to us, nor throwing his arms around us. It’s as though we had gone several steps backwards with him. I, of course, hugged him, but that was different. Now at home a day later, he broke down crying.

“Papa, ve were sixty feet in the air! I was afraid and the course was very hard…. Everything was hard for me.”

I’m not sure if he was referring to the zip line, the rock walls, or the ropes course, but a few of them did appear quite challenging. Well, at least we knew that wilderness courses were not for the this wary soul, though both boys had enthusiastically signed-up for it. Benedetto encouraged him that he had made it through, but I think we might go the archery and crafts route, next time. However, on second thought, forget the arrows… . Maybe crafts… or cooking…. No, scratch that, fire would be involved…. Art class? No, he had done that once and drawn some rather scary images….  Kumbaya by the campfire?

Petya was also back, weary beyond belief. We perused a few of the camp photos which they had uploaded of all of the kids. In one, his helmet was tilted sideways, face deep in concentration. It was a look I hadn’t seen on his face in some years, and reminded me of him as a little boy, when all was new and very challenging. I wondered if this type of adventure camp where the boys pushed themselves to the edge, had perhaps pushed them too much, too close to survival mode and conjured up subconscious memories of the past, when truly, they were fighting for survival in Russia.

Petya had acne which flared occasionally, but after this week, even when not entirely feeling that he had to babysit his siblings, it was out of control. Getting ready to shower at home, he showed me his back, nasty pustules popping out of the angry red, inflamed skin.

“Oh!” I gasped.

It was really that bad. Not so much his face, but that wasn’t good, either. We called in his father who couldn’t believe the severity level after five days, asking if he had showered and used his medicated soap and scrubbing products on his face and shoulders, which he had done, twice daily.

Yet, given their extreme conditions of heat, humidity, and stress, I understood a flare-up. What to do? Petya had said previously, upon numerous occasions, that he didn’t want to be on medication of any kind, particularly any anti-acne pills which might damage one’s internal organs. The three of us agreed that it might be time to talk with a dermatologist.

Despite all of my Concerns, the four children unanimously declared that they had enjoyed an outstanding week—new friends, new questions, motivational talks, a few other Russian kids, some straight off the boat.

Ours had eaten their vegetables, raved about the food, used their deodorant, were basically nice to their fellow campers, and all had counselors who told us how great our kids were. I believe they may have brushed their teeth a few times, too. Sashenka had to wash her hair a couple of times before I declared it back to normal, but I told her she could take longer than the five minutes allotted to each child in camp, now that she was back home again.

“Feel free, take six minutes, but get it clean—.”


Overall, a success. We survived a week of sleepaway camp.


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