I heard from a good source that while Micah was away at camp last summer, he relished in dirt. I heard he even went to bed one night with dirt caked on his teeth. Maybe that’s what summer is all about. Small rebellions, wonder, and freedom.
In the summers of ’86 and ’87, I packed a duffel bag with banana clips, a cabbage patch doll, and horseback-riding boots and headed out to New Hampshire to spend my summers at Camp Winamac. The camp surrounded an icy Lake Whittimore, and although it was picturesque, I don’t remember ever swimming in it. I don’t remember playing tennis, or archery or making pottery, although I’m sure I did those things.
Mostly, I remember the freedom. The freedom to make up dances in our cabin to Blister in the Sun, the freedom to drill holes in cubbies, hide in crawl spaces and spy on our camp counselors with their boyfriends. That was the carefree 80’s, unstructured and enchanted. Camp when campers were unregulated and unsupervised. No wavers. No safety nets.
In hot footlockers beside our bunks, we stored ungodly amounts of candy in addition to the raw Nestle cookie dough tubes we purchased from the Bennington Country Store. We ate off that raw dough all summer, and it’s a small miracle I’m alive to tell about it. But that’s what camp is about—miracles and magic. It’s about feeling a million miles from home and feeling BIG. A big kid without helicopter mothers and vegetables and clean teeth.
When Micah turned nine, there was no way in hell I was sending him to summer sleep-away camp alone. Despite all of my own fond memories of Camp Winamac, I just couldn’t do it. I tend to cling and worry. Nevertheless, I didn’t want to deprive him of an amazing experience, especially because deaf and hard of hearing kids rarely have access to summer programs with sign language interpreting. So what did I do? I volunteered his first year as the camp photographer and followed the kids around with my camera, sun-screen and bug spray. Yes, I admit that I helicoptered. But I also had the opportunity to see with my own eyes how Family Center on Deafness trained volunteer interpreters who made a thousand sacrifices a day to be the voice and the ears for my son and his deaf and hard of hearing friends.
Thanks to Family Center on Deafness (FCD), Micah and his deaf and hard of hearing peers have an opportunity each year to attend Camp Warrior along the Wacissa River in Florida. There, they ride horses, speed on ATV’s, swing on rope swings, and taste what it feels like to be big and independent for perhaps the first time. There, volunteer ASL interpreters stand in the intense heat, slip into ice-cold river water, sweat and sacrifice in order to stand in the gap between our deaf children and the other hearing campers. The interpreters are the gatekeepers, providing access to the talent shows, bon fire stories, cafeteria table chatter, and every team activity. Without these super hero interpreters and deaf counselors, our kids wouldn’t have the opportunity to attend camp, to challenge themselves, to conquer fears and experience the sacred moments of summer.
After his first summer, I let Micah venture off to camp without me, and each year I am in awe of the ways camp has shaped him to find his own voice and courage.
In the summer of 2015, Micah had his first crush on a hearing middle school girl, and he asked one of his interpreters to help him voice “will you go to the dance with me?” For hours, he practiced the words, trying to shape them on his tongue. When the other campers in his cabin fell asleep, a counselor said his determined voice could be heard in the dark– will you go to the dance with me? Will you go to the dance with me?
It’s not easy, approaching a pretty girl, being vulnerable, risking rejection and humiliation. For Micah, voicing those words to a girl was the most courageous thing he’d ever done, but he did it, and she said yes! He was only eleven, but he was going to the camp dance with an older, beautiful hearing girl, and he felt BIG. Maybe like the biggest man in town.
The following summer, at the talent show, Micah tied a handkerchief around his eyes, and played a solo on the drums. His deaf/blind drum performance was a smash hit. The hearing kids cheered. His deaf and hard of hearing friends waved deaf applause. His camp counselor hoisted Micah on his shoulders and carried him off the stage like a rock star.
I wasn’t there to see it, but maybe that’s what makes it so special. Part of the magic is letting him have these experiences on his own. But the staff at Family Center on Deafness shared these stories with me, and I treasure them in the ways mothers treasure the particular moments when they realize their kids are growing up and it’s beyond glorious.
Transporting and providing the staff for the deaf and hard of hearing kids of Pinellas County to attend Camp Warrior is no small expense, but Family Center on Deafness is dedicated to providing summer programs for our kids. No child who would like to attend camp is left behind. For the families that can’t afford the expense, the Family Center on Deafness offers scholarships or supplements the cost with their annual poinsettia sale fundraiser. If you live in Pinellas County, please consider purchasing poinsettias this Christmas season through FCD.
During the Thanksgiving and Christmas season, FCD gets ready for summer, and 100% of the poinsettia sale will go toward providing summer programs for our deaf and hard of hearing kids. Every little bit helps! If you don’t live in Pinellas, please consider donating and giving a life changing gift. Click Here to Donate to FCD summer programs.