I'm Lindsay Ferrier, a Nashville writer with a passion for family travel, exploring Tennessee, and raising kids without losing my mind in the process. This is where I share my discoveries, along with occasional deep thoughts, pop culture tangents and a sprinkling of snark. Want to get in touch? Use the CONTACT form at the top of the page.
June 21, 2012
I actually wasn’t going to write the story of what I hope is our worst summer camp experience ever.
This time I was going to take the high road. The blogless road. The boring road. I would simply e-mail the camp’s director with a well-thought out, reasonable list of the problems I saw with the camp- and why my daughter wouldn’t be coming back.
But once I started writing the e-mail, I got more and more annoyed… and when I ended it with “What the hell?” and found myself completely unable to delete those words, I realized that my irritation might be better … released … in a blog post — one that (AS USUAL) doesn’t mention any names or identifying details.
So here goes.
First off, it’s important to tell you that Punky has been going to summer day camps for the past three years. She’s learned to take care of horses, make flowers out of tissue paper, act in a professional theater, and mold and fire clay into some very interesting creations that are “too precious” to display. Summer camp also has taught her to make friends quickly with complete strangers, and she’s become very skilled at it — By the end of the first day, she routinely comes home with a handful of phone numbers and addresses, and generally spends the rest of the summer chatting with her new friends on the phone and mailing letters back and forth.
This year, Punky chose acting camp for the second year in a row (which she LOVED), as well as the camp I’m writing about today, which is for 5-8 year-olds and is the summer program of one of her favorite activities during the school year. On Monday, I picked her up after the first day of camp and expected her, as usual, to be excited and giggly and eager to tell me about all of her new pals. Instead, she was somber.
“I only made one friend,” she said sadly. “And she had other friends. So I sat by myself at lunch time, and I had no one to play with on the playground.” She started sniffling and my begged not to go back the next day and my heart broke a little. I was in a quandary, because these are the kinds of things your kids needs to figure out on their own, right? These are the situations where you take a step back, even though it hurts, and let your child navigate her own way. So I gave Punky the whole “It sometimes takes time to make friends,” and “Give it a few more days” and “I’m sure it’ll be better tomorrow.”
After some thought, though, I e-mailed the camp’s director to let her know what was going on. I assured her that I wasn’t trying to hover, but thought she might want to mention it to Punky’s teacher so that if she noticed Punky sitting by herself, she could encourage her in some way. The camp is small, the children are young, I had already e-mailed back and forth with the director several times on other matters, and I figured that if I were the teacher, I’d want to know if one of my kids was having trouble.
The director didn’t e-mail me back, but I gave her the benefit of the doubt. She was busy and surely she’d said something to Punky’s teacher and it would all work itself out.
The next afternoon, though, was the same as the first. “I met a few more people,” Punky told me, “but I still sat by myself at lunch time and at recess. It was okay, though, because I sat by the air conditioner at lunch and imaginated instead.”
Well, shoot. This did not sound like my daughter AT ALL. “Punky,” I said, “Try to make it through the end of this week and you don’t have to go back next week.”
“YAYYYYYYY!” she said excitedly. “Thank you, Mommy!”
Yesterday morning, Dennis took Punky to camp as usual and called me right after he dropped her off.
“I walked her to the door,” he said, “and do you know that not one teacher made eye contact with Punky or me or greeted her when she walked inside? They all just stood there. It gave me a really bad feeling. Why don’t you just pick her up early after your appointment today and let’s just call it quits?”
And that’s what I did. When I got to the camp about an hour before dismissal, the kids were all crammed in on a tiny playground, while the teachers relaxed in folding chairs. The first thing I noticed was that a boy was standing about 20 feet away from the teachers, holding his eye in pain and crying loudly. No one paid any attention. Then I saw two little girls who looked to be around six years, playing alone across the parking lot, out of sight of the teachers and far away from the playground. I made sure the boy was okay, then went up to one of the teachers and told her I was checking my daughter out early. She was pleasant enough and helped me find her in the crowd of children.
As we prepared to leave, the teacher asked Punky, “Now are you going into first grade or second?”
“I’m going into third,” Punky said. The teacher looked at her, confused.
“Oh,” she said. “You’re in my class.”
Oh no. Oh hell no.
PUNKY’S TEACHER DID NOT EVEN KNOW WHO SHE WAS.
This after three full days of activities, experiments, and lessons.
As we left, I asked Punky, “Have you ever actually talked to her before, one on one?” I was still trying to process how it was possible that the woman didn’t recognize her. Punky gave me a strange look.
“Of course I have, Mommy,” she said. “She’s my teacher!”
I struggled writing the e-mail to the camp director last night, telling her that Punky wouldn’t be back. I don’t want to be one of “those” parents. But she needed to know why Punky wouldn’t be returning. This is finally what I settled on:
Just wanted to let you know that Punky will not be returning to camp. I picked her up an hour early today and checked her out with her teacher, who was very surprised to discover that Punky was a member of her class, and had been in her room for the last three days. Given the fact that Punky has been struggling this week and that her teacher doesn’t even know who she is, I think it’s probably best that this experience be relegated to our family’s “One day, this will be funny” file as soon as possible.
Still waiting on the funny.
What would you have done?