Saturday, June 23, 2012

Camp and Calvinism

Well, Maya came home yesterday after an exciting 4 days away at school camp.

Maya had a great time but was also really happy to come home.  She flew into my arms, and into Leo's when he got home and spent pretty much the entire afternoon snuggling, sing-songing and hugging us, telling us how happy she was "to see us back" (translating literally from Dutch).  For once I didn't correct her and just put my arms around her.  Last night she fell asleep alarmingly early for her (8.15), her feet still on the floor as I think she literally fell asleep the second her head hit the pillow.  

This morning more of the same, lots of snuggling, lots of declarations about how she missed us and how happy she was to be with us.  

She didn't say much about camp, only about her day at De Efteling, the Dutch version of a theme park, the theme being fairy tales, but more in the true Brothers Grimm versions than Disney's sanitized happy ones.

Ah, Europe.  No candy coating.

No wonder they were tired, huddled masses.

She also talked about going swimming and that she slid on the blue slide a lot of times by herself.  Of course I am supposed to just know what the blue slide is.  She mentioned a few times that her friend "M" didn't want to leave school camp and cried and they had to carry him on the bus.  Been there, that's not a fun one.  Always grateful when that doesn't happen to Maya.  

Maya has a tough time telling us about things that happen.  She always reports that school is "fun" and once in a while in her own time she can tell other things but largely what happens when she is away from us is a mystery.  And not in the way that kids don't talk about stuff, because I know all kids are scant on details.  

This is where Maya's communication issues are really visible, she just doesn't know how to tell us, she cannot come up with the descriptions when he is asked, often when she wants to tell me something it takes her a long time to get it out.  She doesn't stammer or stutter but the trip from her brain to her mouth takes a long time.  

Personally I think it is because she thinks in pictures.  The pictures are clear in her head but putting them into words is often too challenging for her, particularly when there is time pressure, when somoene is waiting to hear what she has to say.  

If only her brain could be hooked into some kind of printer, then I think what we would get are amazing stories and movies in full technicolor.

We've had to learn how to be interested but not pressure her too much with lots of questions.  So we accept "fun" and the little bit she says and leave it at that.

Last year at school camp we really didn't hear anything about it, about what the kids did, about what Maya found fun.  Of course they told us that they had a good week but no real details.  They only let us talk to the kids once when they are gone and I get it, otherwise 50 parents would be calling all day long but at the same time I didn't really appreciate that camp is a black hole where we never get to hear what has gone on there, what our kids have done, etc.

I mentioned this a few weeks ago during Maya's end of year progress report that it would be great to find some way to give us some information about school camp.  I suggested having some kind of pre-addressed postcards that we parents could address that they would mail to us on the last day of camp and they thought that was a nice idea, I even offered to pay for the cards and the stamps for all the kids and come to the school and address them.

Of course, because the Dutch are such fiends about privacy, that was a total no go.  Yeah, because I had an autistic child with learning difficulties just so that at some point in her life, I would put Maya in this school, because they take the kids to school camp, just to hatch my evil postcard plan, just to have access to the kids' addresses so that I could write them down and then break in and steal someone's stereo.

OK, they have their procedures.

But they did do something with my suggestion.  Each parent received a little booklet about school camp which detailed what the kids did every day.  Each day they talked about the weather, what the kids did, what they ate and what their favorite thing was about the day.

It was great to read about Maya's activities, although I did have to laugh a little bit because although the Dutch word for camp is the same as in English, as with everything Dutch, it has an entirely different meaning.

The Dutch really show their Calvinist roots in their culture and etiquette.  They prize discipline and conservatism (in the personal sense, not politically), they pride themselves on being thrifty in all things, any type of showmanship, whether it is over wealth, material possessions, accomplishments, general gregariousness or a cherry atop a sundae is considered extremely bad form.

The Dutch are very no-nonsense, don't-make-a-fuss-people in everything and making something a big deal, by having overly festive food or drink or shows of anything are considered very bad form.

Enter Dana.

So, while I expect "camp" to be a lot of hikes, trails, outdoor activities, weenie roasts, toasting marshmallows, singing by the campfire and excitement.

This is what they did:


-unpacked suitcases and organised house
-spent the afternoon at the large playground, played on the trampolines and took a walk around the camp
-had spaghetti for dinner and sliced cucumbers with the kids in the house.  Maya helped set and clear the table.
-After dinner walked to the camp store and the kids could each choose an ice cream
-showers, pajamas and teeth brushing, read the children a story about Nijntje (Miffy) and quiet play until bed time.

-Maya helped put everything on the table for breakfast
-Together with the kids made a picnic lunch of sandwiches, and fruit
-Spent the day at the swimming pool.  Maya wanted to go down the big slide and the first time she stalled on the steps and finally went down it with her teacher.  After that she did it about 50 times by herself.
-In the afternoon they watched a movie and before dinner took a walk and played by the playground.
-In the evening all 35 kids came together and they had a barbecue with the entire group.
-showers, pajamas and teeth brushing, with a note that Maya washed her own hair and to bed.

-After breakfast they spent the day at went to De Efteling which of course was the highlight of the week.
-For lunch the kids ate croquettes and french fries (the Dutch snack foods) and in the evening they ate soup, sandwiches and a hard boiled egg.
-In the evening, the kids were tired so they did a movie night and the thunderstorm kept the kids up late.  Maya's teacher mentioned that Maya helped her friend "M", one of the little boys in the house who was scared and crying during the storm.  She went into his bed, held him and said in English, "it's going to be okay, it's only a storm."

-Ate breakfast, packed their suitcases, played at the playground and then came home

All in all they told us that Maya did great.  She dressed herself every day, helped set the table and clear it at mealtimes and helped the other kids who are not as self sufficient as she is.

While camp may not be quite the adventure it was for me as a kid, as Maya's roster of activities reads, to the untrained eye, very much like any other day anywhere else, I have to bear in mind that for these kids, just being away from the security of home, the familiarity, the break in the routine is a way bigger adventure than spending 4 weeks at sleepaway camp as my brothers and I did during our childhood.

This is huge for them.  And the fact that they could get along without any major episodes is GIGANTIC.  

So, even though it doesn't have the same level of excitement as the American summer camp experience of my youth, Maya's Calvinist, no nonsense, run-of-the-mill experience is no less exciting for her as mine was for me.

It's great having her home.

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