We have been home a week and I am catching my breath. Finally. Wash is done. Some friends seen. Some discussion. Most notable, Julia finished a week of Girls Rock Camp. And rather spectacularly. Girls Rock was a challenge – for me, for Julia, for the staff. I don’t know how much accommodation they have offered in the past. Some of the staff are educators who understood a lot about Julia. But I need to back up.
The blurb from the website:
“Girls Rock Camp Madison is an intense, one week day-camp for girls ages 8-18. Campers of all skill levels learn guitar, drums, keyboards, bass and vocals, form a band, write a song and perform at the end of week for friends, family, and hundreds of screaming fans.” (http://girlsrockmadison.org)
On Monday evening, after the first day of camp, I wondered if I was too optimistic when I enrolled Julia. She had an okay first day. She refused, once loudly, to make a few transitions. She tested the limits a few time—once playing ‘her’ drums when asked not to. She “needs a lot of support” was what I was told when I picked her up. The director, teachers and coaches seem to be committed to helping her to succeed but to be honest with myself this first foray into a camp for typical kids without formal support was pushing the envelop. The question on that first night was whether I pushed too far.
My intense wanting her to succeed is not the only ingredient needed for success. Even her desire is insufficient. Damn, there is no getting around that village!
When I dropped her off on Monday, the director told me that if they could not handle her, they would call me. She had hoped that Julia and I could visit during their first week of camp in late June. Unfortunately, it was when we were in Italy and I didn’t remember committing to a visit before camp. I may have. Or may not. Even if we had visited, Julia would not have behaved differently and I don’t think one visit would have really acclimated Julia or helped her to bond with anyone. She is not like that. A visit would have been good for me and good for the staff.
I dropped her off at nine into a busy church basement room crowded with 45 other girls and instructors and coaches. Julia was happy to go but immediately centered all her attention on making her name tag—something that was meant to take a few seconds, putting a few stickers on the pre-printed name tag, became a big deal that she didn’t want to be taken away from. Okay, that is not surprising for Julia, but surprising for everyone else. But you know, a room full of noisy strangers. We all have our coping mechanisms. Julia’s are just a bit left of typical.
Camp ended at 4 and I came to pick her up, feeling almost light headed because I did not get a call during the day but walking in raised all my momma worry radar. The director and a coach very quickly pulled me aside and asked me to stay a bit after for a chat to talk about Julia’s behavior. She was not always compliant, raised her voice saying “no” once, did not want to move on to new tasks and had trouble staying away from the drums whenever she was in a room with drums. Julia is playing drums for this camp. We talked strategies and they impressed upon me how much support Julia needed. A lot.
They asked me to stay for awhile on Tuesday after drop off to observe to offer suggestions and step in, if necessary. I had a mammogram right after drop off and another appointment in the early afternoon and a meeting on Friday morning. There was someone I wanted to see on Thursday. I cancelled the mammogram, my friend cancelled Thursday. I held on to the rest of the plans. The plan was not for me to become Julia’s aide but i knew that could make everyone’s life easier.
I drove home on Monday evening feeling pretty awful. I hadn’t acknowledged the stress I was carrying about about the day. I hadn’t acknowledged how much I needed a break from Julia after our traveling. At that moment, I wanted nothing more than to be the mom of a typical camper who streamed out of the building at the end of the day full of stories and a few complaints about the day. I just want easy for a few days even though I know well that there is no easy with Julia. I mean, I can leave her with her drawing or ipad games or plastic dinosaurs or lego and she will not bother anyone for a very long time, but I have never been satisfied with leaving her be alone. Not for her. Not for me. In my gut I was crying for my ‘just desserts.’ I arranged a month of travel and interesting stimulation, I arranged a month on growth and education. I wanted to see some miracle result of all that culture. All that effort. All my hard work. I wanted a break. I wanted her to walk into that camp, the camp that she really wanted to do, and behave just like all those other girls. And I was crushed that she didn’t. That was the gut speaking, not the head. Not the heart.
Big breath. And another one.
None of that was rational.
Julia did go into a crowded, noisy strangers and managed to survive the day, keep a beat sometimes on a drum, eat all the food in her lunch box, listen at times to what was going on and more. For Julia, and I would guess for some of the other girls there, the day was an incredible success. It was/is not easy but this is the first time for such a thing. For such an experience.
At home on Monday evening, we talked about everything the coaches and staff talked to me about. “Listen and do what the other girls do” was my mantra. I would have never told Cheshire to ‘do what the other girls do.’ Ultimate persuasion was a bribe reward. Great behavior on Tuesday would translate into a new tiny pony to go with the pony she got in Italy. The rest of the week went better every day and we bought 3 ponies. By Thursday, I don’t know whether she needed the pony as a reward but she still wanted the pony. Which was very much okay with me.
On Sunday there was a noisy, crowded, light-blinking, amplified rock and roll concert. Julia had make up put on her—she went to sleep in the blue eye shadow and promises to never take it off. I dropped her off at yet another unknown venue where campers and staff could rehearse and making a great deal of noise. Julia was in there with the best of them. No, she did not bond with her band mates. I have not seen her hanging out with any kid in particular, saying hello or goodbye to any kids. Julia is still tolerated, not embraced. But, at least in this session, she is the only kid like her and this is a camp about exploring individual talents and working together. Lots of little egos here from what I see. The girls are learning community but the energy is high and I don’t see much time for reflection. She does know the names of her band members and her coaches. The coaches and staff has been very, very friendly, and no kid has been unkind. This sounds like other campers were unfriendly which I am sure was not the case. She loves playing the drums and wants to go back next year. The staff agreed to take her next year.
And she played! She stayed in the back of the audience area before her band played. She got on stage on cue (She had said during warm ups that she was too scared to play on stage and so had to over come those feelings). She started the band with a loud 1-2-3-4 and tapping her drum sticks together. She was focused and attentive to what was going on. One of her coaches crouched beside her in case the band needed an alternate drummer but Julia kept it together, only losing the beat a very few times during the song which was very common among the less experienced drummers.
One note: just before the show was to begin, a beautiful, large balloon bouquet was brought on stage. It was obvious that the bouquet was unexpected and staff fumbled to find a place to put it. They settled on a corner not far from the drum set. It did look good. But Julia is deathly afraid of balloons. When we walk the farmers market and she sees a kid with a small balloon animal, she obsessively watches the kid and his balloon making sure to cover her ears at the slightly chance of a pop. We live a balloon free life which generally does not impose many restrictions. I hesitated for a few minutes when I saw the beautiful balloon bouquet. It was something special that someone did for their kid or the camp or the staff. I hated to be that mother who complains about some treat and ruins it for everyone, but I had no choice. I knew that if Julia saw that bouquet when she got on stage, she would not play. Would probably not stay on stage. I screwed up my courage — which takes less energy every time I do it — and talked to staff who promptly relocated the bouquet backstage. Julia never noticed it. I did what I had to do for Julia but I wished I could have apologized to the person to made so lovely a gesture. When I asked that they be moved, I suggested that the bouquet be repositioned on stage after Julia’s band played. That suggestion was completely forgotten in the excitement of the show.
Somewhere in Madison, there is probably someone who was disappointed to see their gift disappear, unacknowledged and rather unappreciated. I am so sorry.
After Julia’s band played, she went to the backstage lounge and ate her lunch sandwich. I think she needed some quiet, almost alone time. I retrieved her after another band or two and she stood in front of the stage with other campers and family members, listening and bopping to the music. Which was loud and complete with feedback and some painful musical mistakes.
No ear plugs! No complaints!
After the last band played — the band with the really good singer whose grandmother I sat next to and commiserated with before the show and on line waiting to get in — Julia joined the other campers on stage without assistance and sang the very loud camp song and danced and bounced on the very crowded stage.
Success is such a small, simple word for what this experience was. What Julia did would have been completely impossible five years ago. Probably even three years ago. Possibly even last year. She needed support. A lot. And she did it.
Afterwards, I watched girls and parents and grandparents and friends streaming out of the loud, stuffy venue. It was successful for so many girls. There was lots of support for lots of girls. But for Julia it was . . . No. As unique as I perceived the experience to be for Julia, at that moment Julia was just like everyone else. For a moment, she was as typical as they are. And I was so very grateful.
Julia brought home her drum sticks. “Can I play drums at home?” She asked in the car. And I have absolutely no problem with that at all!