Bears Gotta Roar Sometimes

This was first week of the little goddess going to the summer camp run by our city’s Parks & Rec Department.

The last week, too. It will be back to the YMCA in the neighboring community soon.

But that’s the kind of thing that happens when you have a week of a little girl in a whole new situation and caregivers forgetting the difference between containment/control and enjoyment/enrichment, when your girl is run like she’s in training on a hot-ass day, when you are part of a blow-up with one of the camp site directors and then you go into an emergency meeting with the director of the entire summer camp program and the two of you become the bear parents…with mama bear particularly fierce.

And if you notice from the date of this post, the girl started camp this week, and it’s only Wednesday.

We haven’t bailed on something this quickly since the wife and I ended up finding roaches were infesting the first apartment we rented together, right after we moved in.

On the face of it, the camp should have been perfect. People in the community are always raving about it (at least how “safe” it is), several of the little goddess’ school friends would be in the same camp, the cost was less than the YMCA (which is who we turned to for daycare in the toddler years, preschool and last summer’s day camp needs), and the camp was closer to our house.

But the first day of camp was a disaster. I’m used to picking up a happy daughter even from school…and especially from day camp and summer camps in the past. She was miserable, though at first I thought it was sunscreen in her eyes, which was indeed a problem. However, my wife (since she wasn’t driving) had a better view of things with the little girl in the car, and when we went to get frozen yogurt, she still had the better view, sitting across from our daughter. So that, combined with mama bear instincts, let her figure out our girl wasn’t happy at all.


There are multiple reasons, but let’s get to the core one: Kickball.

More important, kickball in 90+ degree whether with high humidity and bad air quality.

Among other uncomfortable things, my daughter was apparently presented with a choice of playing kickball in the hot sun at the peak heat of the day…or sitting on the blacktop in the hot sun. Now, the Parks & Rec folks insist there were other activities available inside and away from the sun, but if they had really communicated that to my daughter, she would have jumped at that opportunity. She wouldn’t have suffered a hot activity that was making her miserable.

Moreover, she talked about how they kept “encouraging” her to play kickball. From what it sounds like, it was more like pressuring her.

The second morning of camp, my wife and I took the on-duty site director aside after dropping our girl off, and this was a woman who barely looked old enough to drive (turns out she’s just out of college). We asked about policies and procedures regarding the heat, and where the line was between being “encouraging” kids and “forcing” them to do things. Instead of answers to any of the questions, we got platitude about our “special treasure” (and how we of course would want to make sure she’s all right) and nervous giggles and deflections.

Not a single straight answer or specific policy could issue forth from this “director.”

Basically, the woman had no answers, no ability to comfort or communicate clearly, and apparently no ability to deal with irritated parents (especially a black woman, who instantly becomes “scary person” to young white women around here especially), which made my wife become a bit irritable and sarcastic and caused the young lady to tell my middle-aged mama bear partner, “I don’t like your tone”…as if my wife was a schoolchild.

We demanded a meeting with the overall camp director that afternoon, who was easier to talk to but who clearly had decided he was going to side with his staff no matter what (“I can’t believe she would have been like that,” he told us) and had apparently decided in advance that my wife was an evil bitch (“Even you apologized for your wife’s behavior on the phone with me earlier,” he said to me in the meeting, which I hadn’t; I acknowledged my wife got heated when our questions weren’t answered. That’s not apologizing for someone). So, we got the meeting, and the director heard our words but we know full well he didn’t listen to them and doesn’t care to even question whether his program has flaws in how the kids are handled and the parents are treated.

So, we’ve readjusted, and there are only a couple more days to deal with these people and we now have some alternate plans worked out. But now my wife has had to be pegged as “angry black woman” again simply for doing what any parent, mama bear or otherwise, should do: Look out for their kids and demand good treatment of them. I don’t get pegged as anything scary, of course…being the white guy, I’m just a parent, even though I called them to task on all the same things my wife did.

The irony of all this is that the “city” we live in, Saco, is more affluent than the “city” where the YMCA is, Biddeford, which has a lot of poverty. Lots of people from both communities don’t like to cross the river to go into the other city. People in Saco are especially guilty of this; amusingly, Biddeford’s downtown is way more useful and vibrant right now than ours. Point is, though, so many people here see the Parks & Rec program here as golden, but would never consider using the YMCA program in Biddeford. Never mind that at the YMCA, the counselors interact with and support the kids; the ones here at Parks & Rec seem like mere crowd control.

But I don’t want my daughter getting an experience like she’s in a minimum-security youth facility. I want her to be somewhere where people see her fondly and give her choices, and the kids aren’t simply herded and worn out for the ease of the counselors.

Sometimes, mama and papa bears have to roar. But I prefer that we don’t even have to growl, because most of the time it’s much better to just calmly snuffle and grunt and go back to our dens and deal with daily bear business.

Always look out for your kids…and always look for the people who will do the same on your behalf when your kids aren’t with you.

2 thoughts on “Bears Gotta Roar Sometimes

  1. I can see that reasonable parents would be protective of their children and expect the same from the people into whose custody they give their children. Your concerns should have been answered and appropriate action taken to insure the safety of your child is foremost in their minds. Now that being said properly, all I have to say is “what a bunch of idiots” and keep them on track.

  2. The “sternly worded letter” will be going to the TOP top dog in the organization soon. The wife penned that to make sure it had the appropriate…uh, gravitas…and my 20+ years as an editor honed it into one of our usually lethal wordy weapons.

    Fortunately, we don’t have to unleash such letters often.


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