My son has been going to a weeklong sleep away camp for about 6 years. It is for kids ages 7 to 17, who are deaf or hard of hearing, blind or low vision, or a combination of both. It is run by the Lions of Illinois Foundation, and named Camp Lions. They have different weeks available that a kid can attend, in a few different locations. I remember the first year he went, along with his younger brother. I was scared that they wouldn’t know how to survive without us parents, to help them with everything. Boy, was I wrong. I remember sending envelopes and stamps, just as the supply checklist required. I remember waiting at the mailbox every day for a letter saying, “come get me, we are being tortured, “or “I can’t understand people, no one wants to be my friend”. Happily, that letter never came, nor did any letter for that matter. They were so busy and happy, that they never had time to write a letter. They even ran into friends that they knew from school many years ago. The camp was something they looked forward to each summer, even if they had to forego the phone, tv, and tablets. This is a camp that requires them to completely unplug from the electronics they are using every day, which is what they need to do often.
My oldest son turned 18 a few days ago, so he no longer could attend the same camp where he was a big fish in a small pond. He knew many kids there and the counselors loved him, as he was a mature kid, who followed and enforced the rules. The next option for his summer was the adult version of the camp, named Helen Keller Adult Camp. There the attendees were 18 and older. My kid was back to being a small fish in a big pond. Again, the thoughts ran through my mind…” How will he survive without us?” and “Will we have to pick him up early because he is not ready to be away with a group of strangers, adult strangers?” I talked to other parents about the camp, trying to get them to send their kid. Who wouldn’t want a kid-free week for $15??!?!??! At the last minute, we had a taker! My son’s girlfriend of a few years was able to go. Now, at least he knew one person that was going to be there. But then another fear started creeping into my mind. My son’s girlfriend is Deaf, and very shy. She uses American Sign Language to communicate, and she had never been to camp before. She had spent nights at a relative’s house, but never been away from home for a week. Will she be okay, being away from her environment, with adult strangers? Will my son want to go home too? I can’t even imagine the thoughts and questions going through her parents’ minds. But all was set, and no one backed out.
Luckily, when we got to camp, a few counselors were familiar to us. So that made my son happy. There was even a mutual friend that both my son and his girlfriend knew from Special Olympics. At that point, my kid, I mean my adult son, told us to go home. He was fine and would be fine all week. He would soon be the big fish in the big pond. He would make sure that his girlfriend was fine, since he is the kind of boyfriend that opens doors, gets her food and a drink, or grabs her a sweater. He will forget about his fears and be by her side. He is the compassionate, polite, and thoughtful human being we always knew he was. Just don’t ask me how he got that way….
For more info on Camp Lions, go to www.lionsofillinoisfoundation.org
A Typical Mom to Special Children