Monday morning around 3: First night at camp and I am not sleeping. For no good reason. Tired from the 4-hour drive up to the northern part of Wisconsin. Lake country up here. And more pine trees lining the road than disiduous varieties. We are installed in a tidy cabin with a view of Moon Lake at Camp AweSum, a week long camp for families with kids on the autism spectrum. Gentle rain falls, light blanket temperature quite nice for slumber and sheets from home that are worn soft with washing and wear. Julia has her own room but a few cracks of thunder brought her into my bed. There is room for both of us but not when I need to turn on the light and dig into a book.

There was dinner and a welcome today. There is a big staff and many volunteers. There is a range of kids, ages and abilities. For the next five days, the kids will spend the mornings in camp activities, parents will be free to indulge in scheduled water sports, hiking and crafts or conversation, reading or absolutely nothing at all. Families unite for lunch, spend a quiet hour in cabins and then the rest of the day doing more scheduled or unscheduled camp activities together. There is evening programming and a number of camp fires.

Julia was not social with other kids and she mumbled lines from the movie, “Happy Feet” when adults asked her questions. After supper when most others were outside near the water, Julia found some Lego to assemble, alone and inside. When I decided it was time to head back to our cabin, she wanted to join some kids playing volley ball. I was too exhausted and we headed home. Now, a few hours later, I must regret that I did not let her stay and play. I did not fall on the bed into dead sleep.

Not sleeping pushes me to believe that we are not off to a good start. Demons arise–worries and complaints, nothing novel. Feelings of failure and worthlessness. There is no right effort at 2 in the morning. I do recognize this packaged doom. I can bring it anywhere and everywhere. Even sitting on a screened porch, listening to lovely rain.

Tuesday during parent alone time: I have the choice this morning to read and write on a porch swing overlooking the lake with a cup of peppermint tea or canoeing. Why do I feel vaguely guilty for not choosing the canoe?

We will be late for breakfast every morning! I am giving up wanting to be like every one else. Even among those with great differences, we can be different. The staff here wear green tee shirts that say on the back, “It will be ok.” I am taking that to heart. What is very, very true about this place is that behavior-strange, odd, defiant looking, loud, scared or any combination– is not merely tolerated, it is accommodated and woven into the fabric of activities. It is almost easy to be here with Julia. Julia woke up this morning and after saying that she needed more time in bed, she asked if we were staying for the rest of the week. She is having a good time.

Julia is talking up a blue streak, much of it not on point or relevant to the circumstance. She is perseverating on “happy Feet.” Strangely enough, we watched it for the first time in years just before we left home and last night while the adults were treated to a ‘without kids’ supper (complete with wine that a few more experienced adults brought and the staff ignored), the kids watched what else but “Happy Feet.” At least now there are more kids and staff who know what Julia is talking about. She makes conversation bids more than she ever has but has no idea that listening and follow up come after a bid.

I am one of only two uncoupled families. The other is a grandmother and granddaughter duo who are seated at our meal table. We sit at assigned tables which is one a a number of rules aimed at a regularity that is easy on these kids. I am enjoying the grandma’s company and I think the feeling is mutual. I have moments of self pity but I notice they are fewer than in previous times. And parents are generally bonding no matter the shape of their families or kids’ social skills. I’ve always believed that I did not necessarily become friendly with individuals in groups because we shared some interest. Not law or theater or violin playing kiddos or neighbors. I tend to hang on the outside of group gatherings of these like minded clutches waiting for my uncomfortable inability to fit in rear its head. How wonderful to be proven wrong as the years pass! I feel undeniably bonded to our China travel group and now here in just a day, I am finding comradeship at this camp. Come to think of it, I have this more comfortable feeling at church as well, finding someone to talk to during the previously dreaded coffee hour. I am sure it is me. Perhaps mellowing, perhaps accepting more in me, perhaps just seeing more similarities than differences.

Yes, this is respite that I’ve rarely known since I met Julia.

Julia found a puzzle that we are working on in the lodge during free time. I asked for it to be left out and was warned that others might work on it as well. I has survived two days and indeed others add to it. It is fun to return to it with more pieces added.

There is one boy, a staffer and a volunteer in the lake. He didn’t want to be with his group. He wanted to swim. It is cold! I’m going to move inside when I finish this. The three of them are playing with enthusiasm, without a hint of inconvenience or complaint. It is somewhat of a miracle. If this was my kid, I’d be apologizing to those adults. But there is no need! At all! This level of care and dedication brings tears. I am so grateful. And a smile, I am so grateful for the staff who took a kid I don’t know swimming on a cold morning.