Our Week Day at Family Camp
Last summer when my autistic son refused to stay at scout camp because he had to sleep in a tent and eat food made in their dining hall, I did some research and found they had a family camp with cabins we could sign up for. I was excited because then we could just bring Galen (our autistic son) to his troop everyday so he could join them in earning merit badges and doing all other fun camp things while still being able to sleep indoors and eat mom’s cooking.
So six months after we made family camp registration, our family packed up the van and spent 3 weeks in a national park-hoping camping trip (mostly in Utah and Arizona). We even got Galen into a tent (that took 3 nights) and hiking on trails. And two weeks after that we again threw our camping supplies in the back of the van and headed off to Family Camp.
We drove the 2 hours to the middle of nowhere, dropped our 12 and 14 year old scouts off to join their troops and continued down the road for the Family Camp. It took 25 minutes to get to the Family Camp from where the troops were staying, down a long and winding road. Then we met the director, handed our health forms over, all of which are supposed to be signed by a doctor. Did I mention that meant 6 Camp Physicals just for Family Camp?, Yeah, we are a family of 9.
Then we were directed to our cabin and told our cabin councilor would come along and share all the rules with us, and they handed us the paper wristbands that we were supposed to wear all week so that the Family Camp would know we belong there. Of course these wristbands are the kind used in water parks and fairgrounds to show you paid for entrance that day. We went to the fair on Saturday, and had wristbands just like this. My toddler chewed hers off in ½ hour.
We emptied our van into the cabin and I let my husband park the van and hike the ½ mile back into the cabins. By then I had already had to pull the knife that is part of the cabin’s supplies out of my toddler’s grip and turn off the stove. The stove’s controls were on the front, right at toddler level. Our cabin counselor came and ran down a list of things that makes camp more fun (an interesting euphemism for nicely requested rules. Of course our 9-year-old with a mood disorder saw right through that.)
Interesting things about the family camp cabins, they have a kitchen sink with hot and cold water, a couch that pulls out into a double bed and 4 bunk beds, but no toilet or showers or baths. The nearest facilities was an out-house down a little trail. When we were on our national park trip, our 4 year old, who we are currently trying to potty train, did a really good job keeping dry. We also managed to be close to restrooms with flush toilets and running water for each of our campsites, which he was constantly running off to, but whenever our bathroom stop included an outhouse or pit toilets, then he refused to use them and would rather go in his pants. Of course some of those out-houses looked like they would be happy to eat anybody under 8 , sucking them in in one swallow, to go swimming forever in the lake of urine and poo. So I could see why he would refuse.
It wasn’t a large surprize that the toddler’s diaper was nasty and leaked all over. I bathed her in the kitchen sink and started a dirty diaper bag (that we set outside the cabin for odiferous reasons).
After we settled into our cabin we hiked off to the lakefront and spent 25 minutes in an orientation of the rules, buddy system, buddy boards and boat cabin before we even set foot in the water. By that time, our 9 year old (with a Mood Disorder, and a learning disorder) was already throwing a fit because there were too many rules for him to remember. We had to keep on top of Clay (our 9- year-old) because he began throwing sand and rocks. But he eventually calmed down and went in the water, where he became unhappy because it was too shallow in the area he was allowed without passing any sort of swim test. His main complaint at this point was that he couldn’t even remember what he was supposed to do for his swim test. So he and the 4 year old, 2 year old and 7 year old all played in the shallow water.
I decided that because we could only take out any boats with someone who classifed as a swimmer, that the week would be more fun if I took a swim test, so I went and got my suit on. Upon my return I requested a swim test for both me and Clay. After jumping in the water and being shocked with the cold, I started the 6 laps that were required, but because I need to wear my glasses to see anything, I usually have to swim with my head out of the water. After 4 laps of the side stroke, surprised at how out of breath I was, I stopped to catch my breath. When I didn’t feel caught up in my breath after a short break, I gave up wondering if I played too hard this weekend (if dragging kids to a parade and a fair and then packing for a camping trip is playing). or was just out of shape. Clay didn’t pass his swim test either. He touched bottom too many times in his required 2 laps, he wasn’t very happy about that, but did try again, which he also failed. We cheered him for trying, and trying again, because that is a big accomplishment for Clay.
When the toddler begin to get shivery, we pulled the kids out of the water to head back to the cabin. One of the staff felt he had to tell us that Clay had been throwing sand and rocks, so we apologized, recognizing that they had no comprehension that not engaging the anger issues is often the best approach to defuse the bomb that Clay was becoming. At no time did Clay pose a threat to himself or others, but he did pick on his siblings a little (we were on top of that too).
I checked the activity board, that afternoon they would be making postcards and offering swimming lessons for those who would want it. Tomorrow they would offer sailing lessons, (for those with swimming qualifications), an unspecified fitness class and another craft project. On Wednesday they would be doing more swimming and crafts and so on the rest of the week. So the scouts were doing archery, wood carving, riffle shooting, high ropes courses, video game design and the Family Camp does crafts and swimming, all with many rules to follow. Yikes. I started to miss the hikes and activities at the national park, that were parent led, and available whenever we wanted them, I also felt jealous of my scout boys.
We hung around the cabin through dinner time, made a nice spaghetti. But I bumped the stove when I reached grab and glass and it turned on and melted the plastic bag that was on it. After dinner we decided to go for a walk and find the shower house, with laundry and flush toilets! About a block down from us and behind the row of cabins sat 2 shower houses and a brick storm shelter that doubled as a game room. My kids had fun playing fussball while I perused the bookshelf looking for interesting games and books. Finding nothing too interesting, I wandered over to the shower house and used the flush toilet in a little closet and looked that the layout of laundry facilities; 1 washer and 1 dryer in each bath house, and a laundry sink. The showers were tucked into the toilet closets, I am not sure if there was enough room to actually get in and out of the shower, I never had to try and find out for myself. We all used the flush toilets, but Reuben (potty training 4 year-old) refused to.
Before we made it to the lodge Reuben was smelling stinky and and obviously wet himself, but I had neglected to bring the diaper bag on the walk, so we let him live with it until we got back. Down at the lodge the councillors were singing (yes, literally they sing activity announcements) about the religious meeting that was going to happen down at the group fire pit. We had just found a box labeled “yard toys” with badminton rackets and birdies with a net already set up.
Badminton was the most fun, teaching the kids how to serve, attempting to volley the birdie, even though the net was set up under trees and powerlines (and the birdie kept getting stuck in the tree, and knocked off its course by the power lines.) After badminton and time watching fish on the dock we wandered back to our cabin, and I had finally figured out how to get Reuben clean, because I felt they would frown upon us dumping a poopy bottomed boy into the lake (and they allow no access to the lake when the beach is closed). I realize we could wash him in the laundry tub, like we have often done at home, when he was smaller. So I got all the stuff to bath Reuben and we went back to the bath house (14th block of the day with toddlers in tow for those of you counting), and that is when I found out it only had cold water in the laundry tubs. So I double checked all the shower stalls to see if there was any chance of an actual bathtub, and ended up scrubbing the poo off the butt and legs of a 4 year old boy in a laundry tub, who was screaming, because the water was nearly freezing.
Some of the kids begged to go home, nothing new, we survived the last trip, and I didn’t let my optimism for it die no matter how hard they begged (and they learned to enjoy most of it too), but I had to admit to Mike, that maybe this wouldn’t work out, but we would sleep on it and see if we couldn’t get Galen to join his scout troop for some activities tomorrow (and maybe even for us to find something interesting to do). As the day finally waned we did our scripture study and family prayer and tucked the kids into their beds. Then we went to the kitchen/ living room, pushed the table to the counter and had just enough room to lay down our king sized air mattress that was so awesome on our last trip. The mattress set up with not even an inch to spare between the table, that was pushed up to the counter, and the couch. We didn’t use the pull out of the couch because a double is just too small for the 3 of us.
I held off until the last rays of sun were shining before setting off on the hopefully last trip to the outhouse before morning. Then brushed my teeth and snuggled in for a well deserved good-night’s sleep.
Clay did come out of his bed several times to stand at the foot of our mattress, finally I woke up enough to ask what he needed, he said he couldn’t sleep. My bladder had awoken me, and I had already started dressing to go to the out-house again, and asked him if he needed to go too. He said yes, so we went. At this point the out-house that is snuggled off a short trail in the woods, might as well have been up a 50 foot climbing wall as far as accessibility was concerned,and there are no lights inside of it, so you better hope you have a flashlight. or you will be groping around in the spider infested outhouse in the dark. And there was quite some nice specimens of wolf and daddy long legs hanging around (literally) in there. That must have worked for Clay because slept the rest of the night.
Naturally, our toddler, who is still nursing refused to take to her crib and insisted she stay physically attached to me all night. And then the air mattress must have sprung a leak (at a seam most likely) because it kept deflating in the night, and it turns out that I wake up when my hips or shoulders press against a hard floor at night, of course moving off the air mattress to deflate it requires waking the toddler/baby, but the husband was already awake. We re-inflated it 3 times. Then the toddler/baby and I moved up to the couch to sleep. The couch is only 4 feet long. At first the cushioning felt good, but then the crick in the neck and the cramping of the legs get you. I was up and dressed before 6 am. I had given up on sleep and also on this trip. We were not going to managed this trip if I couldn’t sleep.
So I made muffins, and packed up, and as the children got up they were mostly happy to hear that we were going home. By 8:30 we were finishing cleaning up and headed up to the lodge to let the staff know we would be going. They were just getting done with a morning meeting and made check out painless, handed us back the health forms, the ones that were supposed to have doctor’s signatures, and did a quick cabin check.
We then called our boys and troop leader to let them know we were not staying. Luckily, both the 12 and 14 year old scouts were having a great time.
After the 2 hour ride home, I put away the food and slept for 4 hours. All the kids crashed before 10:30 tonight, I look forward to more sleep. I don’t like to give up, I don’t do it easily, but while lying in my own bed, all that ran through my mind before I fell asleep was “There is no place like home, there is no place like home, there is no place like home.” And I clicked my heels together 3 times.