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.

Refusing to Dumb It Down

There are times, especially in the car when my wife is already stressed about bad drivers all around us, when I get shushed or “strongly encouraged” to shut up, because I’m explaining something to our daughter and the mounting verbiage starts to intrude upon my wife’s peace. Given that my wife has a master’s degree and reads voraciously, I find it ironic and amusing when she tells me during these times something to the effect of, “Just give her a simple answer and stop trying to explain everything so much.”

But, aside from trying to tone it down in the car or during other times when the wife needs peace and dunce-cap_NOquiet, I won’t dumb it down for my daughter, and I don’t think you should dumb it down for your kids, either. I’m sure when the stress levels aren’t high, my wife would almost always agree with me on that. Maybe.

Now, there are two very good reasons for this.

The first might be pretty personalized to me and not applicable to all of you: I might as well get into longer explanations and, using somewhat simplified language a 7-year-old can grasp, speak to my daughter more or less like a grown person. Because she’s going to pelt me with endless questions anyway. I always thought this was supposed to stop around 4 or 5, but apparently my daughter is gearing up to be an encyclopedia when she grows up, because there are always more questions, no matter how thoroughly I think I’ve exhausted a topic.

The second reason should, I think, apply to almost all of us: If we want smart kids who can make their way in life, let’s not treat them like idiots. Now, I know that not all parents have huge vocabularies or deep education and that not all kids read and speak a grade or two above their current level, like my daughter does (if only her math skills were progressing at the same accelerated pace, but with the two parents she has, that might not be realistic to dream). But you don’t need to be a scholar.

My mom, bless her late, short-tempered, boisterous and passionate heart, spoke to me pretty much like a grown-up. Although she read a lot (mostly novels, and many of those Joan Collins, Andrew Greeley or Sidney Sheldon), she wasn’t highly educated. Barber college was the height of her educational pursuits. But she had opinions, she was sharp and savvy, and she and I were sometimes as much buddies as parent and child, particularly in my early years when she was raising me mostly on her own. From early on, I was able to speak and write well, thanks to my mom as much as my genes and schooling, I suspect, and I was sometimes more comfortable and confident speaking to adults (and listening to their conversations) than I was with kids my own age. Kids my age, I had pretty much decided, were more for playing with than having discussions with.

I am determined to give my daughter the same edge, so that she can speak to adults not simply as elders but at times as peers. While she may be young, she’s a human just like the grown-ups are, and she has opinions. She deserves to be heard at times, and so she needs answers to complicated questions. If I speak down to her, I do her a disservice. There will be many times adults will lead her astray in life, intentionally or unintentionally, and I want her to be able to recognize when that happens and stand up for herself when it does.

Besides, as she grows and matures, it heartens me in a benignly passive-aggressive way to have heard my wife say something to our daughter in the car the other day and the little girl try to tweak the words into something that would serve her needs more than ours as her parents. When my wife tried to correct her, the wee goddess sweetly answered, “But mommy, your words implied that…”

That made me proud. It gave me hope that our daughter will shine in this harsh world and hold her own against it.

Am I buying us trouble by being so eager to arm my daughter with not just basic learning but also understanding of subtleties and broader contexts? Oh, yes. She will probably be better able to maneuver and fool us when she hits her teens than most of her friends.

But I’d rather she be out in the world well-armed, well-armored and well-trained to meet the monsters big and small waiting for her.