The Parent Trap: Happy Camp/Sad Camp

The yellow bus arrives at 8:30 a.m. I am not ashamed to admit that I am glad to welcome its arrival. My children greet the bus with very different reactions. My daughter is always happy when it pulls up to the curb, while my son looks upon the vehicle as a convict must when the dingy prison bus arrives, carrying him to his incarceration.

Hey, it’s only camp. You know about camp – that summer place where millions of kids across the country get to play games, swim and otherwise have a good time. The camp my kids attend is similar. They have trips to places like the zoo and the movies every Monday. Swimming (thankfully at a pool that hasn’t rejected them) is enjoyed every other day. Since it is a camp for kids with special needs, they do some different things, like concentrating on journal writing and socialization skills.

Socialization is my daughter’s favorite subject. She needs friends around and there are, regrettably, very few in our neighborhood. But camp gives her free rein to interact with kids that she knows and likes, and who return the favor. Her comments about camp run on a loop in her head, constantly reminding me of every event, every activity and every friend she meets.

My son is a different sort. I am convinced that, if given the opportunity, he would climb to an available cave on the highest mountain and live a happy life. Of course, the cave would need electrical service in order for the hermetic life to become tolerable. That is necessary for his computer, Nintendo Wii and whatever electronic devises he can carry. Give him a microwave to heat up macaroni and a decent bed, and he’d be all set.

Because of his mindset, socialization becomes work. What is fun for most of us can give rise to a multitude of anxieties. Autism is often a nasty master, and I often think that it has him by the throat. I know that a lot of people will find this unbelievable. But I am not telling any false tales to parents who live with a child with autism.

So every morning I wait, watching my daughter coiled with rapt anticipation while my son twitches with anxiety. It is a daily documentary which plays on my porch, reminding me every day of the highs and lows which accompanies having two very different children.

It turns the corner, the “cheese bus” as my son calls it. They’ll have a good day, I know. Her happiness will continue, while his anxiety will gradually melt away. But I also know that when the bus returns in the afternoon, she will sadly wave goodbye to her friends, while he runs to the front door, wondering what he has missed.

The Parent Trap is a weekly column by Patrick P. McNally that will appear on every Tuesday. See others here. Read other NEast Philly columns here.

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