Unpacking Summer Camp


Getting our son, Danny ready for a month away at Camp Ramah in Ojai takes at least 2-3 days; besides the usual camp gear, there’s a lot of extra items to pack to accommodate his disabilities, from his daily multi-prescription regime which will be administered by his personal aide, to the toaster in case he refuses to eat the usual camp fare.

This was his 7th summer at Camp Ramah, and he (and us) look forward to the time apart each year. In many ways, going to overnight camp is the most “normalizing” experience of his entire year, since he is in a separate special education class at his public high school, and all of his other activities fall into a “special needs” category of one type or another, although many of them include typically-developing peer volunteers.

Based on those years of experience, we know that he loves the spirited singing and cheering after each meal, cooling off daily in the swimming pool and hearing his favorite Israeli dance tunes, but with his limited speaking ability, it’s hard for us to really get a sense of what he likes or doesn’t like about camp. In most of the camp photos, he is looking away from the camera, or just looks tired.

Each year, his unit of campers with special needs is paired with an older group of teens for “buddy time”, and although we get positive reports from his aide about these interactions, it’s hard to know what sticks. This year, I didn’t rush to unpack all the duffle bags and suitcases, and spread it out over a few days, but Danny was very interested in digging out one special item –a special 4-page booklet drawn by his two buddies, Emma and Rachel. In the booklet, they reference the “bad raps” they sang together, and the walks along the low ropes. He showed it off the babysitter, the speech therapist and other visitors, pointing at their pictures and saying their names over and over.

The two teens wrote a sweet note on the back cover:
“Dear Danny,
It has been amazing to get to know you this summer. We’ve had so much fun spending time with you and singing bad raps! We hope you have an amazing year, and we will miss you!”
Love,
Emma and Rachel

I wish I could say that the two teens will stay in touch with Danny over the months ahed, but I know they have busy lives, and I don’t count on that happening. Nonetheless, that Friendship booklet will keep its place of honor in the living room as a visual reminder of all of the magic of summer camp, summed up in four colorful pages of friendship and caring.