Erin is doing a great camp right now--a theater camp that she is working very hard at. She plays several roles, including Nod, the pirate and in a different scene, she is one of the "extra" oysters. She loves the acting and the art class and the teachers. She is, however, having a hard time with some of her peers. "I can't describe it," she tells me, "They treat me like I'm different." Not all, mind you, but some. And here is the thing--she is different. She doesn't watch TV so she knows none of the same shows or characters the other kids do. (And the ones she does know probably seem kind of babyish to the other kids.) She doesn't have a cell phone or any video games. She loves hiking and biking and reading--things many her age won't admit to even doing, much less liking. What makes her really different, however, is our choice to homeschool. A choice that she has come to identify with very deeply and a choice that she continues to say she loves and "never" wants to do differently. She simply isn't used to be in a building all day with a regimented schedule (dance/movement from 9-10, acting class from 10-11:30, Art from 11:30-12:30, Lunch until 1, rehearsal from 1-3, closing workshop from 3-3:30). And she really isn't used to be judged based on what she is wearing, reading, or who she is hanging out with.
The result? She comes home in tears from being so tired and from not having gotten outside all day. She comes home upset because she wasn't able to get her favorite color marker ("The other kids formed a circle around the box and some of us couldn't get through.") She comes home not wanting to play the circle games because "the other kids don't give me a space in the circle." Last week it just built up and built up (with me knowing little about it because she was trying to maintain a happy attitude about it all) until Friday when she was sobbing all the way home. Saturday she wanted nothing to do with going anywhere (not even the Farmer's Market) and on Sunday we had to force her to go kayaking with us. Force her. Not cool.
By Sunday night, she was done. The idea of going back to camp on Monday was too much for her. At first I wanted to take the traditional Parental Responsibility route--you know the one, "You have made a commitment to the play and we have paid a lot of money for you to do this and you promised to see it through and blah blah blah..." but as I listened to my baby girl, I couldn't say those things to her. My child who talks like she is 15 and is really only 7, was in trouble and all the money or responsibility in the world was not going to help her unless I connected with her. I needed to be a safe place in her currently very scary and confusing world. "What do you want to do tomorrow?" I asked. She wanted to go through with the show, but didn't want to go to camp. We made a list of things that could get her through the week. But the next morning, she wanted to do none of them and was back to a sobbing mass. There was no way I was going to drag her to camp that day.
I had to go down there anyway because Megan is doing a program for younger kids at the same place. I took the opportunity to speak to the director who was shocked that any of this had taken place. "I know," I said, "Erin is very good at hiding it all. She does not want you to know anything is ever wrong." The director wrote me a note to give to Erin, inviting her to rehearsal that afternoon, just to talk. Erin accepted that invitation and ended up having a pretty good afternoon. I stayed just outside the room and she could see me the whole time. She went back again today and I was there all morning, going back and forth between her classes and Megan's class (with a 1/2 hour jaunt across the street to the museum with Evan). Daddy picked her up early this afternoon and now she is home with me. She didn't want to go for a swim up at Mud Pond (normally a favorite spot) and we are respecting her need to just be home. Tomorrow if she wants a half day again, we'll do that. Whatever she needs to get through the week with her heart intact.
Where am I going with this? A handful of people have said to me, "This wouldn't happen if she went to school." What they mean is that either she would 1) be immune to the teasing or 2) know how to cope better with these kids who are simply, "acting like kids." And I guess I'm so horrified by these comments I don't really know what to do. First, I don't WANT my kid "immune" to the teasing! I can't imagine living with the Erin who has been coming home from camp--the one who cries at the drop of a hat, the one who is so tired she can't think, the one who doesn't get to go outside and when she could, the one who simply doesn't want to go anywhere at all! If that is the price of "immunity" then no thank you. And as for the second reason--I have no words. Maybe these kids are acting like kids...but that should NOT be the way kids act! Blowing it off as if it is simply "reality" is stupid. It shouldn't be reality, and until more people realize that and change it, more kids will act like that and even more kids will be the victims of it. I have no intention of fixing the problem by throwing my kid into the middle of it and saying, "good luck!"
So back to the camp...today is Tuesday and she had a good day. Now that the teachers are aware of it, they are doing a great job heading off problems before they occur. Erin is getting more personal attention from the director and more pats on the back for her ideas. Tonight the girls are sleeping in a cooler basement, so hopefully they will sleep better and feel rested. We will work things out one day at a time until Friday when we will give her the biggest hug for holding herself together, being true to herself and her values, and doing a great job this week. Saturday we'll rest all day and Sunday I'm hoping for my baby girl back--heart and all.