My own ugly slash beautiful truth about Girls Camp

So I took my oldest child to Girls Camp yesterday for Valiants Day.  She was not that keen on going because she didn’t think she would like it.  I was not that keen on taking her because I knew that I wouldn’t like it (but I did suspect that she might, at least a little bit, once she got into it). 

I never went to Girls Camp when I was a young woman.  I just wasn’t interested.  I wasn’t interested in a lot of things in those days, but now I can honestly say that unlike the YW Recognition Award, which I sometimes wish I had earned, even if I’d never deigned to wear it, Girls Camp is something I have no regrets about not doing–not that there’s anything wrong with it.  I see why a lot of people enjoy it, but it’s just not my scene.

Unfortunately, the whole reason I was at Girls Camp yesterday–ALL DAY, FOR 12+ HOURS, NOT INCLUDING TRAVEL TIME–was that our stake asks the mothers of girls with “special needs” to accompany their daughters to camp.  My daughter has Asperger’s System, and at this point in her development, she doesn’t really need a full-time chaperone.  Her biggest problem now is that she’s unpredictable and she tends not to edit her thoughts before speaking her mind, which makes her annoying, but not dangerous or out of control.  But whatever.  I was there in case she had any problems, which she mostly didn’t (as I expected), so I tried to keep myself fairly removed from her while still being accessible.  Since I was the only adult as far as my eye could see for large portions of the day–the YW were running most of the action–this was a little awkward.  I felt like a third wheel.  Or a fifth wheel.  Or a nineteenth wheel.  Unnecessary and this close to being in the way.

I asked some adult leaders at the beginning what they wanted me to do while I was there, since I had no idea what was supposed to be happening, and they told me to just feel free to roam and help out where necessary–which is simply not explicit enough for me to work with, especially when everyone seems to be doing just fine without my help (including my daughter).

My Valiant daughter did have a couple problems over the course of the (12+ HOUR) day:  1) the dining hall was way too loud–all that singing/shouting/screaming for joy + banging cups and plates, etc.–she didn’t enjoy that at all, and 2) they had to put on skits and her group’s choice of skit was not to her liking.  In both of these situations, where I theoretically could/should have been helpful, I was really not all that helpful.

I offered to take her out of the dining hall and eat with her outside, but she declined (I think she didn’t believe she’d really get fed, and since I was obviously as clueless about Girls Camp as she was, I don’t think she believed anything I told her to the contrary).  She suffered through lunch, but at dinner time, while I was off powdering my nose, one of the adult leaders took her to get some ear plugs.  (That was helpful.)

As far as the skit issue went, I did my usual mother thing, which was to talk her through her concerns and try to persuade her to see it a different way, or else to suck it up, try something new, or otherwise just let it go.  These are all skills she needs to work on, but my powers of persuasion were not cutting it yesterday, and at that stage of the game I was probably not patient and long-suffering enough to try a novel approach.  Not that I ever lost my patience or my temper with her at any point yesterday (not to boast because it’s I assure you it’s quite unusual for me not to lose my patience or temper with her), but I was SERIOUSLY ALL DONE WITH GIRLS’ CAMP, and I still had a few hours left to go, and I was basically on auto-pilot by that time.  What ended up happening was that between the other girls and another adult leader, she was persuaded into doing the skit, and she ended up having a great time.

In other words, I was just window dressing yesterday.  The up side was that I got to see my daughter have fun, and I got to see just how unnecessary I was.  The down side was that I was at Girls Camp for 12+ HOURS, and on the 1+ HOUR drive home, I was seriously hoping that my daughter would go inactive between now and next time, when the stake will ask me to go with her to Girls Camp FOR THE WHOLE WEEK, FOR THE NEXT SEVEN YEARS.

As well as I know my children–which is much better than anyone else knows my children–sometimes I know them a little too well.  Sometimes I have this idea of what they need and can’t see my way around it because I’ve been dealing with the same things for so long, and sometimes it has just been so long that I am all out of energy to think of something different.  This is when it’s useful to have a fresh pair of eyes look at the situation.  I’m around my kids all the time, so I have a different perspective than my husband, who isn’t around them as much, and definitely a different perspective than someone who doesn’t even (have to) live with them.  Plus, there is the fact that my kids are often more inclined to buy certain things when they’re pitched by someone who a) doesn’t (have to) love them and/or b) isn’t talking through clenched teeth.

I am grateful for all the other adults who are helping to raise my daughter, but I’m especially grateful for the ones who work with her at church, who don’t have to love her but do anyway–in deed, if not in emotion.  Not everyone is fortunate enough to have this level of support from their ward, which makes me sad.  (I’m sure it makes Jesus sad, too.)

At any rate, I’m sure I will have a better experience at Girls Camp when I’m (forced to) attend and they actually give me an assignment other than shadowing my daughter.  I can’t say I’m looking forward to it, because that would be lying (which also makes Jesus sad), but if I can support a program that helps other people’s kids (and helps parents by taking the kids off their hands for a week), that will be a good thing.*

For someone else, probably not me.  I’ll probably be an empty shell of a human being when it’s over, but we all have sacrifices to make for the Kingdom.

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  1. Thanks for this story. Our ward just finished Girl’s Camp, and as a dad of a 9 y/o with Asperger’s. Not sure I”m looking forward to it :-)

  2. Oh, I am soooooo not looking forward to this day…

  3. Rebecca, it will be slightly better if you have a regular assignment for next year. Better than stalking your daughter from a distance. But it will last five days. Not sure how that works as a tradeoff.

    As a Dad, former bishop, and occasional one-day PH volunteer at girls camp, I’ll have to admit that one evening, or one 24 hour period can be handled fairly well. Not sure I could handle 5 days of it, but at least the food is better than scout camp. I think it is the constant screaming, screeching, yelling, cheering at the top of their lungs, that gets particularly annoying.

  4. Nameless says:

    I attended girls’ camp last year as a level leader. I had not gone to girls camp since I was in YW. My experience as an adult was a mixed bag.

    I wanted to go so I could share the experience with my daughter while being remote enough to not cramp her style (she was in level 4 while I was over level 2). That was good. Interacting with most of the girls was good. I had some incredible senior counselors. That was good.

    What was bad was a perfect storm of events that just about sank me. One of my girls has Down’s Syndrome. Of course that week she got her period. Another of my girls had some serious emotional issues but her ability to fit in and fully participate in activities was compounded by the fact that she was sent to camp with a pair of glasses that had only one earpiece. How do you participate in a first aid relay with glasses that fall off? Another of the girls was so mean and cliquish that she kept the rest of the camp constantly in turmoil and the less hearty slinking off to other levels. One girl spent more time at the nurse’s office than in our camp. Mostly this was due to homesickness and she ended up going home by the 3rd day. Finally, there were only 2 adult leaders in my level. Standard procedures are to have 3. The other adult had to go home for a period of time that included one night in the middle of camp.

    I learned that girls’ camp is not for the faint of heart. I learned that you don’t want to have shower clean up duty on the last day. I learned that having a private bathroom is a sweet luxury. I also learned that a big part of a child’s success at camp is what you don’t see–the parents and the preparation the child gets before they get to camp. How independent are they? Has the child been set up for success by being sent with the proper equipment? (One of my girls did not have a sleeping bag–only 2 blankets…..not an acceptable substitute.)

    Rebecca, what a great thing it is that your daughter didn’t need you. Hopefully the camp leaders will see that and allow you to detach next year. Maybe an assignment such as I had in a different level. You will also be able to relate to your daughter’s experience and ask more pointed questions about her time at camp. Congratulations on surviving!

  5. Very funny post Rebecca! I’ve only got scouting stories and oh my I could go on and on . . . But I’m about to enter the Girl’s Camp era. I’m sort of scared.

  6. Nameless, I was only scared before. Now I am officially terrified.

    SteveP, at least you will not be there for a whole week. That should be the source of some comfort.

  7. I really need to hear this today! I won’t be able to go to girls camp this year. As much as I’d love to go I think it’s in my daughter’s best interest that i don’t. I would be the fourth leader from our ward…with only 7 girls going. I wouldn’t be needed, i’d be there just to enjoy the camping, but I’d be in my daughter’s way.

    I am glad your daughter is doing so well with her aspergers.

  8. I worked as an EFY counselor (a story in itself) and ended up as the counselor for two of the kids from my ward. The first had Asperger’s and the second was unbelievably helpful.

    EFY lasted only a week, but it took only hours to appreciate the help and support that comes from being able to (no disrespect intended) attack things from different angles.

    Thanks for your story!

  9. Cynthia L. says:

    RJ, kevinf has a great idea about getting an assignment next time. I understand you don’t really want to go at all :-) but being a cook or something (my mom’s assignment of choice) would give you a reason to be there other than being a 19th wheel. Bless you for going. The 5 days I spent as a Girl’s Camp adult leader were some of the funnest, but longest/most exhausting ever.

  10. Kristine says:

    The Stake makes you go if your special needs kid wants to participate? Seems like we ought to be able to do better than that.

  11. Kristine, from a liability point of view that sounds like a pretty sensible approach, however.

  12. esodhiambo says:

    Good news:
    Camp is only a four year program, so the other three summers would only be if your daughter wanted to be a youth camp leader.

    I actually appreciate your stake’s policy, and will consider suggesting it in my own. We had a very scary/dangerous event with a YW with special needs (not Aspergers–some emotional issues) and if a parent had been present, the outcome would have been much better.

    I must admit, though, that I would be tempted to read my book in the car if my daughter was doing as well as yours was.

  13. I loved Girls Camp when I was in YW, but I must admit, I still only vaguely know how much work it takes the leaders. I served in YW for a few years (my favorite calling ever), but never could go to camp because I couldn’t take the time off from work. I was too peripherally involved to know how much work was really going into it.

    I remember my first year when I was 12, not wanting to go. At all! I’d gone to a school camp the previous summer, and it was pure hell, so I wanted nothing to do with Girls Camp. I was still recovering from the trauma of the the previous summer (and Girls Camp would include some of the same girls as the school camp, and they’d not been nice), so I could see nothing good that could come of it. Out of 18 YW in the ward, I was the only hold-out, and the YW leaders spent weeks trying to talk me into it. My mother didn’t intervene on my behalf or try to talk me into it; she took a hands-off approach, so I was on my own. I finally caved. Absolutely terrified and already crying, I bade farewell to my mother at the stake center and boarded the bus to camp.

    And I loved it. Yeah, I was surprised to. And I went every year after and had a blast each time, even the year I ended up in the hospital. But that’s another story.

  14. Kevin Barney says:

    My wife has gone to girls camp in various capacities, but I think she actually prefers the cooking gig.

  15. Dear Huldah,

    Don’t leave us hanging!

  16. CS Eric, it involved an obstacle course, a rope between two ledges to cross, and an unfortunate head-first fall. And the first thing my head hit was a rock. Luckily I was knocked out and don’t remember it :-). It surprised everyone (including the doctors) that I had no skull fracture or neck injury, but aside from a concussion and a few stitches, after a night in the hospital I was mostly fine.

    The rest of the girls in the ward were pretty traumatized, though….

  17. Kristine, an experience or two in our stake pretty much cemented the idea that if your kid has specials needs, the parents need to be there and be primarily responsible. You really wouldn’t want it otherwise.

  18. Where do you draw the line about special needs needing a parent? It’s difficult to say. How does your stake define it? I have a kid who wears glasses. That’s special needs. I have a kid who had an IEP (for school) for speech and language but now no longer does. That’s special needs. I have a kid who has an undiagnosed language learning disability, that’s special needs. My daughter is allergic to beef, is that special needs since she has to watch her diet.
    What about my friend’s daughter who is hypoglycemic and has to watch her diet?
    Who is the judge about what special needs are ok and what aren’t? It is an interesting question.
    I completely think that church leaders should not be overwhelmed with children that are too much to handle, so I get why a stake might come up with the policy. I am just very interested in how they came up with a list of candidates. Aspergers is high functioning autism and may or may not be more difficult to handle that other young women with various personal or behavioral tendencies (like being mean, being sulky or unwilling to participate, being disrespectful, breaking the rules, being obnoxious, being sick, being homesick, etc).

  19. merrybits says:

    I was our ward’s YW camp director one time a few years back. Camp was up in the mountains in California – really beautiful scenery. I spent the entire four days trying to keep a very ADHD girl (who happened to keep forgetting to take her meds) from literally walking up to and along the very edges of the cliffs – remember, I’m talking about mountain peaks. Never, ever again.

  20. Kristine says:
  21. Lately I have wondered if I have Asperger’s, seriously, because things that seem perfectly reasonable and apparent to me, to say, don’t go over well with other people and I’ve always hated social things and noises and crowds. If I do have it, for the sake of the parents with kids who have it, it’s not as lonely as you’d assume. It feels honest to me. Not inconsiderate to others but more like a freedom to be who I am. When I was a child and didn’t fit in for a variety of reasons or even now when social situations leave me bewildered I don’t feel as bad as “normal” people might feel. I feel more a bit confused then I go do my thing.

    As for camp, that is just not fun to me ast all. I bet if you took a blind survey of girls who went to camp, maybe 20 % would say it was worth it.

  22. I got back from Girls Camp yesterday; it was the first of what I expect to be years of spending a week of my summers going to support my daughters. There were things I definitely didn’t enjoy about the week. (The idiot “prank” rules would be high on the list.) But my overriding feeling about the experience is astonishment–I am astonished at how much I bought into it.

    I am, basically, a cynical and sarcastic smart-ass and doubter, and there are relatively few things associated with the more prevalent doctrines and operations of the church that I would claim to have a strong testimony of or even much affection for. But by the last day of camp, which ended with a game that recreated Lehi’s dream, the girls following PVC pipe through a thick grove of trees blindfolded, with “tempters” and distractions all around, the sincerity and emotional fervor which the YW leaders–and, really, the girls themselves–invested in the occasion simply overwhelmed me. It was just a silly game, just another program (but then, I think just about everything in the church, or in any church, is really nothing more or less than another program, for better or worse, once you get down to the heart of it), yet I wept when my daughter made it to the end of the walk still holding on, and I found myself groaning in disappointment and anger when I saw girls that I knew being tricked into letting go of the pipe (some of the “tempters” were damn good at their assignment…) and having to sit out for a while before being taken back to the beginning and starting again.

    Peer-pressure spirituality? Mass-tears-induced manipulative emotionality? Yeah, sure, there was some of that; probably a lot of that, actually. But just the same, I’m not so certain that you can–or should–always distinguish all of that from the genuine article. My daughter bore her testimony at the end of camp, which is something she’s never done before. And it was a good one too–smart and simple and well-intended. Artificial or not, Girls Camp is one program that seemed to work for us. We’ll definitely be going back; I hope we’ll return with the same feelings next year.

  23. backandthen says:

    “As for camp, that is just not fun to me ast all. I bet if you took a blind survey of girls who went to camp, maybe 20 % would say it was worth it.”
    In the Us it is probably the case but in Europe YW camp is one of the few occasion teenage girls can have fun without having to wonder if once again they are going to have to stand for something they have been taught or believe in. It is one of the few moment during the year when they can relax and have simple fun without fearing peer pressure. It is one of the few times when they can have spiritual experience on their own without their parents being involved or around.
    Some of my best memories as a teenager are from YW camps and I know it is the same for my sisters.
    This year my youngest sister is quiet displeased because the camp will be only 3 days instead of 5 but she will get to go to the first EFY in France.
    I can picture everything that has been said but you all need to remember that the church is not just American anymore and that the youth programs are a great source of strength for those outside the US.

  24. a thought says:

    interesting. it’s funny as in my stake I had offered to help on one of the stake youth events (in which volunteers were requested) but was turned down due to the fact I’m a single sis. I have a grad degree in a health care field and had offered to work w/a teen w/special needs and that was also denied.
    I hope next time your stake considers seeking volunteers. Believe it or not, there are some of us who sit home lonely in the summer and seek opportunites to help and to serve and to try to do our tiny part to help those in your type of situation.
    Oh well!

  25. AspieMom says:

    My Asperger’s Syndrom daughter is now 20 and attending college. She did not do all the years of girl’s camp, but loved it when she did go. My husband pitched a tent at a neighboring campground her first year. He was close just in case she needed him. She didn’t. She did great. All the leadership knew of her situation and took her under their wings. BLESS THEM! Anyway, it DOES get better, each year she will amaze you with her new abilities.

  26. Oooh, just the thought of having to spend a week at girls’ camp with my Asperger’s daughter is enough to make me want to go inactive! You would have had to drug me and throw me in the back of a van to get me to camp when I was a kid, and now that we live in a much hotter, more humid, and buggier place I’m even less enthusiastic about the idea. But I’m pretty sure my daughter wouldn’t want to go anyway. She has friends at school, but none at church.

  27. I loved your comments and your sense of humor. I too think it is okay to not be excited about it. I agree that it is a great experience for them and am grateful for the program. You must be a wonderful mom to spend the time with her at camp.

  28. I love girls camp, and I am sorry that your daughter did not have the best time. It was such a testimony building experience. Hopefully your daughter will go next year and have a better time.

  29. You may not need to go next time, especially if she did well this time.

    I’m YW president and we just got back of 5 days of ward YW camp. One of the girls, a just 13 year old, with Asperger’s went. Her mother had just suddenly died 5 weeks before camp…but she had been looking forward to having a week off and seeing how her daughter did at camp. We had a small group of girls and 3 YW leaders so plenty of leadership.

    The YW did great – got on everyone’s nerves at times because she repeated herself a lot but we all know her disability. She learned tons of new stuff (e.g., she didn’t know how to turn a flash light on) and had fun too. Prior to this, she had only been away from home for a 1-night sleepover about 2 months ago.

    We got to know and admire her so much more. It was hot and buggy and a “stretch” for all of us, but especially this girl as she was so out of her element and comfort zone yet still was game for everything.

    I told her that her mom was looking down on her at camp all amazed and proud of what she was doing.