Thursday, September 6, 2007

Pact Camp: Challenges on Planet Barnacle

This is part of a series of posts about our expereinces at a camp for families formed through transracial adoption.
Intro is Pact Camp: An Introduction
Part 1 is
The Information
Part 2 is Challenges on Planet Barnacle
Part 3 is First Glimpses Out of the Race and Adoption Fog

Challenges on Planet Barnacle

Pact Camp logistically was hell for me and the kids. We struggled mightily with food, relationships and scheduling. It didn't seem like others struggled, so I fear this was an unfortunate planetary misalignment for our family. We are a little high needs and quirky.

I had anticipated a few challenges with food and had called and talked with the camp organizer in advance. I brought extra snacks and lots of oatmeal, she told me the kitchen would be aware of our food restrictions and work with me. Sounded like we were good to go. I was in no way prepared for what we came up against. The kitchen understood there were people who couldn’t have eggs, corn, wheat, and pineapple. What they didn’t get until 3 days into it (despite my repeated conversations) was that it was all the same 6 year old boy. Their repeated offering for his alternative food choice was a big plate of tofu and creamed vegetables.

Now, we’re pretty exotic and diverse eaters. A normal month will see us eat foods from around the world: India, Japan, Africa, Thailand. My son loves seaweed, roast duck, taro and buckwheat. But handing him a plate of baked tofu and veggies just isn’t going to make it past his 6 year old palate. For 3 days I had a kid who fed on a few offerings from each meal. A breakfast of sausages and oatmeal isn’t that bad, but follow that up with a lunch of a slice of turkey and some grapes, then a dinner of a few ounces of chicken and some potatoes chips and by bedtime I’m facing an angry, starving beast who can’t sleep.

The final straw: Tuesday dinner we scavenged the buffet and came up with a plate of mashed potatoes, then hopefully headed to the kitchen for the “alternative” offerings – yet another scoop of tofu. Theo started whining, I burst into tears and we fled to the quiet of the trees to regroup. I skirted most of the other campers (because I hate to have people checking on me when I’m on the edge), and we found the camp organizer, who had already heard from the kitchen. She told me where I could find a kitchen to use and told me how to get to town. The kids and I piled into the car, and I only had to pull over twice to cry on the way to town. Once there, we filled our bellies with tons of delicious sushi, had an Ben and Jerry’s pity party (think 3 spoons and a pint of vanilla ice cream in the Safeway Parking lot). We made it back to camp about 11:30pm relaxed and armed with 2 bags of foods Theo could eat. From then on meals were tear free.

The other food challenge was the large presence of what our family considers junk food. Sugared cereals for breakfast, cake, cookies, or brownies for lunch and dinner, fruit “punch” and Nestle hot cocoa for drinks. My kids know we don’t eat these things, and we talked about the possibility of them being offered at camp several times before we arrived. But again, none of us were prepared for the onslaught. Every meal included a long conversation about why we don’t eat those things, why they are so fun to eat and how hard it was to have them available and watch other families eat them.

Probably the food issues would not have thrown us for such a loop if all of us weren’t emotionally raw from navigating the foreign seas of life with others in charge. Remeber, we're homeschoolers living in a city that is knee deep in child-let learning and reflective/active listening theories. At 9am, we were split into groups, 4-5’s, 6-7’s, etc and adults. We were in our groups until lunch time, then we had 45 minutes to eat and connect and then we were back in our groups for another 2 hours until “Family Time.” Family time was compromised by planned talks and activities with the amazing presenters and the hair clinics. Finally dinner was at 5:30, and then more programs planned at 6:30.

It was too much for us. Being group by age alone was enough to freak out my kids – the kids they connected with weren’t always just their age. Groups were further divided into boys and girls, a completely unusual concept in our part of the world and very disorienting to Theo who values the balance of boy and girl energy. The time away from each other was too concentrated, and the short time for meals was stressful. I quickly abandoned the hope to participate in the evening programs. We’re often winding down for bed around 6:30. And my kids don’t do well on shorted sleep.

Rosie’s group had an amazing adult working with them, a social worker and attachment expert from Minnesota. She “collected” Rosie (a la Dr. Gordon Neufeld) the first day, and Rosie was devoted to her the rest of the week. This soothed most of the experience for Rosie, though she still dreaded the act of separating through most of each break.

Theo, however, didn’t have an adult he was oriented towards and, from his telling, the kids in his group were not particularly kind or respectful towards each other or the counselors. Actually, it wasn’t just Theo who noticed this, our daily conversations with the head counselor for the 6-7 year olds mirrored Theo’s concerns. The counselor worked so kindly with Theo to help ease his experience. But the truth was that Theo’s cup just wasn’t getting filled. The rambunctious set of boys he was often group with , the very structured set of activities and the lack of time for imaginative play left him hurt, angry and aching by the end of the first 2 hours of the first day. And it just got harder from there. He and I talk a ton, worked with his counselor and cried a lot together. Finally Theo and I spent Thursday afternoon and Friday morning together playing foosball, talking and walking around camp.

So camp was wildly hard for us. I don’t think I’ve ever done anything harder that didn’t include a trip to the hospital. That said, because of the amazing information and presenters for the adult sessions, I anticipate going back next year, armed with my husband, plans for lots of alternate meals and a very well spelled out schedule of freedom and connection for Theo and Rosie.

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