The Summer That Never Was

     To go back to where I had left off, several months ago, at Camp/ Vacation/Respite/Time Out/Relief. Well, it never actually happened…
     After several weeks of 12-hour days at the library, we finally succeeded in getting Yelena to camp. I took a day off from work and we drove her three hours up to Maine. She was excited and she seemed perfectly happy - happy to be there and happy to see her counselors and her friends. We left her there and drove to the beach and had a celebratory meal of lobster and beer and a refreshing swim in the ocean.

     Everything was fine for about a week – just enough time for me to begin to feel the earth under my feet again. One afternoon at 5 pm at the end the first week of camp, I received a phone call at my workplace from the camp director and the special-needs director. I was put on speakerphone and Yelena was in the room as well. It was unfortunate (from my point of view) that she was there because I wasn’t really able to speak openly and ask the kinds of questions I wanted to but I think that was the intention on their part. It was a fait accompli as they had already made up their minds.

     The incident involved Yelena stealing Magic Cards from another camper. After the theft was discovered, she was given the chance to returning anything else she might have stolen, with complete amnesty, no questions asked.  Yelena said that she didn’t have anything else that was stolen. About an hour later, she was caught with more stolen Magic Cards trying to trade them to another child. Apparently since the incident involved other children, the staff felt that Yelena has lost the trust of the other members of the community and that there was no alternative except for her to leave. So at that point, late in the afternoon they told me on the phone that I needed to come and get her within 12 to 18 hours. When they asked me what time  they should they expect me to be there, I said that I needed to speak to my husband and would need to call them back later. Hoping against hope that my husband could talk them into keeping her, he called the director to be told that Yelena’s belongings were all packed and that she had been isolated and was waiting for us to pick her up in the infirmary.

     I took another day off of work and we drove up to Maine. When we got there we spoke to both the director and to the special-needs director whom we have known for about 5 years at this point.  We were told that Yelena had made a really close group of friends and she was welcome to stay in touch with them and would be provided with their addresses and phone numbers. We were also told that she was welcome to come back next year for a week and if that week worked out well that she could stay for another week. The special-needs director also suggested a number of treatment modalities for Yelena that when I looked them up later realized that they were for autistic children not for children with any of Yelena’s diagnoses.

     We had to back the car up to the infirmary so that no one could see her getting into the car so that she wouldn’t create a ’’disturbance”. Yelena got in the car, lay down the backseat and cried all the way home. She refused to speak with us.

     Yelena asked me for the addresses and phone numbers of her two friends which she had been promised, I contacted the special-needs director and after several months of e-mailing back and forth with elusive and evasive answers, I finally gave up and Yelena gave up asking. What bothers me most is that they promised Yelena and that promise was broken. One more broken promise in a life of broken promises and each one takes her farther and farther away from us and away from her recovery.

     A month or so later I got an email from the camp (I’m still on their mailing list) saying that if I register now for next summer I could get a significant savings for camp at the early bird rates from 2014.  I sent a note back to the director basically saying that I wasn’t quite sure how to handle this and do you have any suggestions. I was still thinking there was a possibility that Yelena might go next summer. She never replied. Thinking it through, I am not going to send Yelena for one week or potentially two weeks to this camp again where she could bounce back home at any minute, I need to find someplace where she can be for the whole summer and where they are not going to send her home because they understand that would not be the right thing to do for this child. So, I guess I am looking for another camp for next summer.

     This had been Yelena’s 5th summer there and she loved it. It was also a JCC camp and Yelena’s connection with her Jewish identity is very special to her and something the camp cultivates and stimulates really well. Camp was the highlight of the year for Yelena. We felt that they knew her and they were comfortable with her and they could deal with her. It was a special needs camp and I didn’t really have any idea that a special needs camp would send the child home for something like stealing Magic Cards. A diamond ring, a computer, an iPad maybe but not Magic Cards. I thought they would work harder to try and work it out with her. I know those cards are valuable to the kids but it’s still hard for me to understand how our five your relationship with this camp has fallen into basically no relationship.

     Coincidentally, at dinner tonight, Yelena mentioned the whole incident about not even being able to say goodbye to her friends when she left camp. She is still very angry about it and so am I.
     I don’t mean to say that I am placing the whole blame on the camp. Stealing has been a serious problem for Yelena. It is the one issue that frightens her father and I the most because it really could lead to jail when she gets older if we can’t find a way to deal with it. Yelena, of course, after crying the whole way home from camp and not really talking to us much for a few days, started to tell us that the whole thing was the camps fault, her counselors fault, etc. It is almost impossible for her to take responsibility for her actions and to accept the consequences. It is a hard thing for any of us but it seems to be an almost unobtainable goal for Yelena.