My son goes to MDA Summer Camp Sunday. Last week I received a call from his camp director who asked if I’d consider writing a letter to the incoming counselors. Their meet & greet and training are to occur Saturday prior to the kids’ arrival. Sarah, the director, told me these letters from parents would be opened and read by the counselors during their orientation. The intent, I gathered, was to provide the counselors insight about how important and valued their role is to campers and their families.
I mentally drafted 70% of my letter while still on the phone with her, and forgot it immediately upon disconnecting. I’m not sure what I ended up with was exactly what she was looking for, and I didn’t edit as well as I’d have liked. Golly I miss having a functional short term memory, so I had to rely and draw heavily from the blog post I wrote upon his return home last year.
Words, as the always seem to, fail me when I need them most. To those of you magnificent souls who helped get him there, I thank you. I thank you again and always and then a few times more. Whether you donated to our Muscle Walk team, showed up on walk day, said, “Hey Wendy, I’m thinking of you and your kid,” purchased items from the camp Amazon.com wish list, or read and/or commented on one single blog post here, you were with me, you made this happen for my kid and others like him. May your kindness and generosity be returned to you one thousand and three times over. One thousand and four.
I will miss my boy tremendously this week, miss him like bunches and bunches of crazy, but I am not worried. Not one bit. He is where is supposed to be this week.
Here’s what I concocted for the Saturday night counselor campfire. What do you think?
Thank you is always a good place to start, right? So thank you. You could do a million billion things this week, and you have chosen to spend it with kids socked with one of the many forms of muscular dystrophy. Thank you. That alone, your being there, says something about your character and human decency.
If you haven’t volunteered for MDA or any summer camp before, maybe you’re thinking this will be a good experience, something that looks good filed under community service or an impressive add to your college application. And you’re right about that, it will. You will find that being a counselor at MDA camp is more than just a resume-building experience though. You’re changing lives, and there really isn’t finer work you can do for kids (or yourselves, frankly) than being there, being someone who cares about a kid who needs you. I suspect by next Friday, you’ll leave this place changed. Sure, you can check off camp counselor on your to-do list, but the imprint you leave on the child you’re paired with won’t be so easy to check off and move on from.
When we meet at drop-off tomorrow, I’ll be trying really hard not to cry while my thirteen-year-old son is trying really hard not to die of embarrassment. Thirteen-year-olds don’t give away a whole lot, and the thought of his mom getting emotional (again!) in front of you will make him crumble inside, though he probably won’t tell you that. But you will learn things and experience things with him that I never will get to do. You’ll see a side of him where he feels at home, feels confident and capable, the side that feels and actually gets to be exactly where he is meant to be. You’ll see the side of him that believes he is a part of something, and not the odd one out. You’ll see him do really brave things and take risks. Take note of those things; they are a gift to you, a relative stranger, but soon to be my son’s close confidant. You get a gift his mother will never receive.
Even a novel-length letter would never adequately convey my gratitude with words. Words are insufficient to express what beats in my heart as I think about what MDA camp means to my family. The depth of my thanks, the way my heart is skipping right now as I try to say what I mean to say? I want to get it right. I won’t. Words like so, very, incredibly, really, extremely are mere fillers. I’m the kind of person who has a song for every occasion, but since I’m neither a singer nor songwriter, and my favorite musicians have yet to write a song about this, my thank you song remains unsung. Plus, you don’t want to hear me sing. Trust me on this one.
I will miss my kid, but during camp, he will need me less than I need him around. It’s the way it’s supposed to be, I understand, and I think his week will be perfect. He needs YOU. Though he may seem aloof, and not exactly socially gifted, he needs you.
I wrote this next bit a year ago after my son returned home from MDA camp. Reading it again a year later, it feels like another lifetime. But at the time, the emotions were fresh. THIS is the kind of impact you make as a counselor:
We’re ready to go. I get our car queued up; my son’s had help getting his gear packed, so all that is left is to say good-bye. Dillan (his counselor last year) hugged my kid hard, told him how much he enjoyed being around him, and told my kid he loved him while my weird, giant seventh-grader held on for dear life. I think his counselor had to prop him up, no small feat there (because he’s 6 feet tall), because all my kid could do is hold on, nod his shaggy head in agreement and sob. I’ll never forget that moment. I’ll never forget that my oft-detached child found home right there, right then.
“Why are good-byes so hard?” That’s a question for the ages, kid, I told him. Hours later, he unleashed emotions that before then I’d never known him to express. “I want to go back to camp. I want to be with my friends. I just want to be with those guys. I finally felt like I fit in, that I wasn’t the odd one out. I found friends where I belong no matter what. I just want to be alone. Or I just want to be back at camp.”
So, counselors, thank you. Thank you for making camp my boy’s home away from home. Thank you for being there for him, for all the kids. Thank you for donating a week of your time. If you ever wonder if what you’re doing matters or makes a difference? It matters.
Have fun! Don’t forget to have fun. Ever.