Summer Camp ’13 – Week 3

Well, I was waiting for a challenging week and I definitely got one. The good thing, though, is that I have definitely decided that, at Camp, you need the valleys to appreciate (and even have) the mountain tops. The highs of the previous two weeks were nowhere near the highs of this week, but lows were barely comparable.

This week’s camp is titled Ohio Adventures. We (me, my co, and our Jr. CIT, who are both amazing awesome people!) took six kids down to the Shawnee State Forest in the southernmost tip of Ohio for Tuesday through Friday. It was another long drive, but thankfully not nearly as long as the one to Ohiopyle last week.

The campers:

KS (Week 1) and AX (Week 2) were back and I was very excited to have both of them. AX continued to be just the awesome, helpful camper he always is. KS had more struggles this week than the previous, or I just saw more because I was the go to for her as opposed to Week 1, when my co was the go to for her.

CN was the other girl in our tribe (we only had two). She is a very petite girl who very much wanted to make friends with the boys in the tribe, despite being fairly constantly rebuffed. I did not get to work with her very much (per KS and the next camper I will talk about), but she apparently had a difficult time doing a number of things for herself as she is very forgetful and a little slow. Otherwise, she is an exceptionally sweet girl.

CL was our other challenge. This is his first summer here at camp and this week was his third consecutive week at camp – hard for anybody. To add to that, he has anxiety, PTSD, and a particularly low IQ, and he was finally adopted by wonderful parents about 6 months ago at the age of 14. For all of that, I’d say he mostly did a very good job, but he presented a lot of challenges. Most mornings, he would wake up before everyone else and just kind of start hitting things with a stick if there wasn’t something to do immediately. What really got me was that his voice, no matter what he was saying, sounded like it was whining, which it was at least half of the time. I could not seem to talk to him in a way that calmed him down, no matter what I tried. Plus, I was in charge of giving out meds, and he didn’t like his meds, so I’m sure he had that association with me. Thankfully, my wonderful, wonderful co (Elm, who I worked with in OE) was effective with him, where I was not. (It balanced out because I worked well with KS where she did not.) At the end of the week, after he had finally been picked up and all of the campers were gone for our week off, I learned that the first week he was here, he was a really great camper. His parents had left very specific instructions about how to give meds and different ways to work with him which were very effective. However, these instructions had not been passed on past the first weekend due to any number of reasons. So, gave me a little extra to think about.

CO was an entirely regular person. I really could not figure out why he was here. Said to have ADD, but I never even saw that play a role. I could tell he was annoyed by the behaviors of the other campers, and he expressed exactly as I would expect anyone to. It was great to have a constant in the group. As with CN, I did not really get to spend a lot of time with because I was working with KS or CL, but our Jr. CIT did a great job just chatting with the rest to keep them occupied.

AY was the last member of our tribe and he ranged between extremely helpful to very angry. He has been at camp for several years and has learned how to control his anger and, at the very least, redirect it in a way that it will not affect the people around him. He was a large, strong dude, so I was very glad for that fact, because I would have been very worried if he had directed that anger at me. Most of the time, he was great, though.

Monday was extra hectic. We had to move back into the lodge, plan activities for session 4, and go get trip camp foods before lunch, which is way more than usual. Definitely did not get to pack everything that I wanted to make sure we had packed (spices, extra peanut butter, etc…), but hey, it happens. I was in charge of meds for our group, so I just had to hang out in the dining hall and wait for the campers to show up again. This time, thankfully, the kids showed up slowly instead of all within an hour (like last week), so it was a pretty easy time. Once everyone had showed up, I went down to join Elm and our Jr. CIT for games and stuff. We made a tribe name, drew up expectations/norms and consequences for not following those, and signed the tribe contract. We also played some name games, but the kids were fairly apathetic about all of it. After, we packed our van with our personal belongings and the food and tribe gear. Dinner in the dining hall, and then we had the evening to try to program something. I really can’t remember what we did that evening. It was a long time ago.

Tuesday morning we got up, had cereal and fruit for breakfast, than hit the road for our drive south. The great thing about these kids, is that most of them sleep in the car pretty darn well, especially with a little music on the radio. With these two trip camps I am so glad that I purchased a radio transmitter to put iPod music onto the radio. It makes things so much more enjoyable when we can select what music we’re listening to. Once we got to the forest campground, we set up camp and had our lunch. After lunch, we went down to the lake/park in our campsite to enjoy the afternoon. We swam, played basketball and volleyball, and napped. Thank goodness for their desire to nap. After our time at the lake, we returned to our campsite, gave everyone a chance to take a shower if they wanted to, and started dinner – burritos. After dinner, we decided to go on a brief hike on a nature trail right next to camp. The trail has a lot of species of trees labeled. Just before we got onto the trail, we passed by a campsite where there was a dog. I was walking in the back with CL (he was a slow walker, generally) and missed KS’s interaction, but apparently she wanted to pet the dog but was not allowed to because it was a mean dog. After being told not to do what she wanted to do, she became upset. Unfortunately, she showed this by acting like a dog – barking, fetching imaginary balls when we threw them, and then getting uncomfortably close to the other campers. We then told her to stop acting like a dog, giving a brief transition period, but this appeared to just agitate her more because she continued to act like a dog, left the trail, and then began throwing sticks and stuff at me when I followed her from several feet away. When talking to her calmly, asking her to come back to the group and telling her that there would be a consequence if she did not, we just walked a little ways away and told her to come back to the group when she was ready. I stayed relatively nearby to keep an eye on her, but Elm went back to the rest of the tribe. After a couple minutes of whimpering like a dog, KS came to me and grabbed and bit at my shoulder, thankfully gently, at first. So, with her at my shoulder I lead her back out to the trail so we were out of the forest, but there she only returned to picking up sticks and throwing them at me or trying to hit me with them. When I started preventing her from using the sticks, by stepping on them or taking them from her, she turned to punching, kicking, and biting, even landing one on my nose. When I could tell she wasn’t coming down from this melt down, I called for Elm to help me, who KS attacked pretty much as soon as she arrived. To prevent her from hurting us or herself, or us from hurting her, I put her in a basket restraint – stand behind, cross arms across chest, hold wrists tightly at sides, and block legs with your own. After a minute or two we sat down in the basket hold as she continued to try to bite me, spit on me, and kick me, still only making dog noises. After about half an hour of restraint, Elm thought to try telling KS some jokes, which was the first thing she showed any evidence of actually listening to – shrugging her shoulders after the question of the joke – and finally laughed after a couple of them. Then she was back to her happy, cheerful self, sitting in my lap. It is still absolutely mind blowing how quickly she switches between angry, aggressive version and happy cheerful version. The scariest part is that, actually like a lot of these kids, when she is aggressive, she laughs and exalts in hitting people and things. A restraint is a very emotionally challenging experience, which I was not fully expecting. I almost cried twice. And the worrisome part is that I think KS would be one of the mentally easier campers to restrain because I can tell she is totally not herself when she is freaking out. After the restraint, we went back to our campsite for dessert/snack of s’mores. After s’mores it was time to brush teeth and go to bed. Luckily, rain had been very minimal, so tents were still dry.

Wednesday morning, we tried to sleep in, but CL had other plans. Usually on trip camps you have to work hard to get kids up, but he was up shortly after 7 Wed and Thurs. Earlier on Friday morning, but that’s a story for later. So, he was awake starting to cause problems, waking up the other guys (all four in one tent), asking for food, etc… But we got him some cereal and his meds and he calmed down a little. After breakfast, we set out for the ancient Native American Serpent Mound. Around Shawnee there are bunch of different earthworks. The Serpent Mound is a mound in the shape of a snake eating an egg, where each turn in the snake line up with a specific moon/sun rise/set. It was pretty darn cool to see and imagine huge celebrations or ceremonies. From there, we drove to another short hiking trail where we had our picnic lunch. Fed, again, we walked the trail and got to see some really cool caves, some Amish canoeing, and creeks. Despite having to walk, CL was still pretty darn interested by a lot of what we saw, so he wasn’t too misbehaved. After walking around we drove to a little swimming hole nearby, which had a manmade waterfall from a little dam. The waterfall was a huge hit with the kids – sitting underneath it, getting a back massage, trying to lift their arms against the pressure of the water, and just swimming around. It was a lot of fun. Even CL and CN, who were not particularly comfortable in the water, got in and enjoyed themselves. It was fantastic. But then we had to drive back to camp. It was definitely approaching dinner time, so maybe they were a little “hangry” (anger from hunger), but KS had another melt down in the car. She was happily, and very actively, singing and dancing along to the music in the van. I was driving, so I couldn’t really hear or see all that happened, but apparently CN asked or told KS to stop dancing and singing – which is telling her to do something she didn’t want to do. So, KS grabbed CN’s hair and head and would not let go. When we realized she was definitely not letting go, I pulled over and the other two counselors moved to try to get CN free. AY even tried to help get her free – one of the times he was super helpful. Once we got CN free, Elm worked on restraining KS, as she returned to biting, spiting, and kicking. I tried playing music and telling jokes to her, but couldn’t get her focus off of anger. Then I asked her if I had told her the story of the time Elm and I got magical French Toast, and suddenly she was completely focused in on me, thank goodness. I told the story over ten or so minutes while she calmed down, and then we were good to continue on our way without any major injuries. Glad no other behaviors had been set off by KS in the car. Back to the campsite, we gave everyone a chance to shower, again. Most of the kids were pretty eager to shower, which was a pleasant surprise, and we worked on making dinner. I don’t really remember what we did after dinner… Just hung around the fire, made cookie s’mores (roasted marshmallows between two chocolate chip cookies) and put the kids to bed.

Thursday, the fourth of July, was our day to visit Portsmouth, right on the border of Ohio and Kentucky. On the way in, we took a bridge across the Ohio River into Kentucky, drove along the river for about a minute, and crossed a different bridge back into Portsmouth. We planned to visit a museum in town, but, of course, it was closed because it was a holiday. So, that was a disappointment. Instead, we went straight to the Ohio River to play in a little park and check out the floodwall mural, which is several blocks long. I thought that the mural was really cool, depicting the history of Portsmouth and the area – agriculture, industry, sports, and things like that. Some of the kids thought it was interesting, mostly just CO – he is really into history, especially American history. AX and AY spent the walk throwing a ball at the people on the wall (playing dodgeball) and CN followed them. After walking the wall, we stopped by the tourism office to see what else we could do in town. There wasn’t a whole lot. So, we walked back to the van and drove back to camp for lunch and a little down time. After eating a lot of potatoes, we visited the nature center. Well, after CL had a real meltdown. He didn’t want to go to the nature center, for whatever reason, so he started throwing around a glass bottle that AX had found and only got more angry when I picked up the bottle to prevent him from hurting anyone or thing in the process. So, he moved on to sticks and threats against me and the other kids. Like I said, whatever I do, I seem to escalate his behavior, so we sent our Jr. CIT towards the nature center while we tried to calm him down. Once I backed off and gave Elm some time with him, he did and we rejoined the group. I was rather angry afterwards because I felt so useless with CL and frustrated by his general attitude and whininess, because that’s all I really saw him as. Luckily, Elm was not like that. Well, we got to go to the Nature Center and handle snakes and turtles and the kids loved it! Even CL. He was nervous about handling snakes, but even managed to handle one. We walked back to the campsite and enjoyed more of the lake and play space in camp. AX demonstrated his great ability to entertain himself by building a fishing rod out of an old reel he found and a stick off of the ground. Once we were done swimming, the tribe got another opportunity to shower before we went back into Portsmouth for the evening. On the way in, we stopped at a large park for a picnic dinner and playground time. Then, we tried to find a geocache just off of the road, but the map and reality didn’t match up, so we just went to our special surprise snack for them – ice cream! It was a delicious and inexpensive ice cream place, which was awesome. All of the kids could pick whatever they wanted, as long as it was under $2, and there were tons of options – milkshakes, hand dipped, soft serve, etc… I got a Peanut Butter Banana milkshake, still under $2. Awesome. After ice cream, we headed into town. We tried again to find some geocaches and were successful one out of three times. The other two were either missing or way way hard to find. CN loved geocaching in particular and she seems to even want to continue when she gets home! As dark approached, we tried to get in place for fireworks, even though we had heard they might have been cancelled. We could hear some kinds of explosions somewhere, but couldn’t see anything, at first. Suddenly, some were spotted and we ran to get a better look, but couldn’t see a whole lot. Then they appeared to be done, so we started walking back to the car. On the way, we had to cross over the floodwall hill and while we were on top we started seeing fireworks exploding up and down the river, from both the Ohio and Kentucky sides. They got pumped, especially KS. There didn’t seem to be any really professional shows going on around us, but there were some kind exploding somewhere at any given time. We occupied ourselves looking all directions and trying to look at whichever firework goes off when someone yells “There’s one!” As they seemed to slow down, we walked back to the van to drive back to camp to get them to bed as quickly as possible because it was late. On the way back, we had some rocking music on the radio, singing along, and still spotting fireworks from the road, when it started to rain. And when I say rain, I mean it started to really pour. When we got back to camp, guess what we found – soaking wet tents. There is nothing kids like more than going to bed in wet tents with wet sleeping bags and wet pillows, so that really caused a couple behaviors. I was working with the guys and we got CL into bed pretty quick, thankfully. Then CO was nice enough to cooperate and go to bed once CL was asleep and I told them a story – none of other guys would get in the tent until he was asleep. That left AX and AY awake, outside, in the cold and the rain. Thankfully, we had a pop-up tent for a rain fly over our kitchen picnic table, so they were dry. When AY went to get into the tent, he got angry by how wet it was and went off on an angry episode. Like I said before, I was very thankful he had managed to control his anger and keep it internal, not externalize it aggressively, but he absolutely refused to listen to me or go inside. Luckily, our Jr. CIT had managed to develop a good relationship with him (Elm and I had been a little preoccupied by working with KS and CL all week) and was able to talk him underneath the rain fly and convince him to get into the tent by quarter to one. AX, though, decided he would just sleep at the table, sitting up. Thankfully, he got into the tent around five a.m. I got the pleasure of sleeping on the bench of a picnic table from about two to five. So glad I have an air mattress.

Friday morning, the guys woke up around quarter to six. Ugh. Apparently, CL farted really loud and then laughed, which is what woke them up, but they were all cold and wet and tired of trying to sleep, so I just let them get up and out of the tent and try to get dry. It was a good thing they got up early, though because it took a bunch of time to pack up. Wet personal stuff, wet tents, and a wet rain fly, while also heating up water for oatmeal, along with cereal and fruit. Then it was time to drive all of the way home. The only good thing to come from the rain was that all four of the guys actually seemed to get along that morning! On the drive back, because everyone was exhausted, we got to enjoy all of the kids sleeping. Got a great picture of it. We got back to camp to have lunch and let the kids eat as much of our left over food as they could. After they were fed, we began to try to get everything cleaned up, and CL had his biggest melt down of the week. I think it was augmented by being back at camp, transitioning issues (going home after three weeks of fun camp), and having a lot of people around. It did not go well, but with the help of the directors he was eventually calmed down and rejoined us while we were cleaning all of our stuff. After we cleaned up everything, it was time for the ropes course! We went up with the Sports Skills camp and I got to lead. It was a pretty great time up on the course. Almost everybody made it up, across, and down the zip line.  Unfortunately, this time KS did not make it up to the treehouse, but she was not wearing her glasses, so I suspect that being able to see is an important part of going up on the course. After the ropes course, it was time for the trip camps to go out to dinner, and we chose to go to an Amish Buffet, as opposed to the Golden Corral which most camps have a tendency to go to and Aqua camp went to last week. I was happy with the change. Golden Corral, while cheaper, is crazy hectic and I think it makes the kids eat way more. None of our kids over ate and they realized when they were full and said so, which was awesome. We returned to Camp, seeing a ton of just beautiful clouds, to watch a movie with the sports camp kids, Happy Gilmore, and then it was pretty easy to get all of the kids to bed somewhere dry.

Saturday morning, the last morning, finally arrived. But we were certainly not done. Tough to wake a few tribe members up to get our stuff packed, possibly due to transition issues, or just being tired. KS was especially difficult, but a camp dog happened to walk by and was a big help in getting her out of her sleeping bag. Then it was time for the extremely sugary breakfast which is traditional of Saturday morning. After breakfast, we took our van and tribe over to some parts of the park which campers do not always get to go to: a fire tower, a geocache, and a gorge overlook. At the overlook, we did our week’s processing and it was an interesting experience, per usual. It was not very deep, which disappointed me. I keep hearing about kids really opening up, and I just haven’t gotten that yet. I assume it is because I’ve not been very capable of connecting with people while having to discipline and direct them. It certainly does not come easily to me. Something to work on for the second half of the summer. CL had zero interest in processing any of the three weeks he was here and we just let him sit silently in the circle and not participate. After processing, we drove back to Camp for the introductions, awards ceremonies, and pot luck lunch. It all went pretty darn smoothly, except for the fact that CL’s parents did not get the message, or forgot, that they should be at camp around 11, and were not able to show up until about quarter after one. Which was just that little bit extra exhausting for Elm, mostly, because I pretty much gave up on working with him when she was so much more effective than me. I still tried to help out as I could, but mostly just tried to clean up the previous distraction method so she could take him to the next one. After all of the campers were gone, it was finally time to clean up camp and do something completely different from take care of children. The main highlights were watching old cartoons, going for a swim in the lake, and planning for our whole week off.

New Shutterfly pics, if you’re interested.

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