16 July, 2011

I can't wait till I have a chance to synthesize my two email addresses so I don't have to go to as much effort to post here. I can never really dash off posts here, and just end up posting things on tumblr that are too long for tumblr and that I don't really edit the way I would if I was posting them here. Posting here has started to feel like a Big Deal where I have to write something well-organized.

This may be selfishness as a staff person, in fact it totally is, but I think the level of intense surveillance I'm required to keep up working at this camp is a little bit ridiculous. Someone I know recently got threatened with being fired because she forgot two of the campers she was supposed to bring to the pool--obviously forgetting to bring someone to an activity is bad, but I doubt she would have gotten in much trouble if she'd been with the campers and just lost track of time or forgot they were supposed to go somewhere. I think the really bad thing about what she did is supposed to be that she left them unsupervised, but they're two teenage girls with intellectual disabilities, not convicted felons. I'm sure their parents leave them home alone just as the parents of most teenagers do, but when they're here, suddenly we're supposed to be treating them like very young children.

And I mean very young--I volunteered in a mainstream first-grade class this spring, and I was surprised every time the teacher allowed a 6- or 7-year-old to go walk to the bathroom alone, because I'm so used to the idea that IF YOU'RE RESPONSIBLE FOR SOMEONE, YOU HAVE TO ESCORT THEM EVERYWHERE. Even adults with disabilities who live pretty independently and definitely walk to the bathroom by themselves when they're not at camp.

It kind of reminds me of the way Danny's teachers usually acted like there was something dangerous about special interests, but for his birthday they let him have a party totally focused on his special interest, and allowed him to talk to them about it. It was like they could hold two contradicting beliefs at once; there was a part of them that thought his special interests were cute and perfectly acceptable, but when they were doing their job, they thought the opposite. The rules about how to treat campers seem to contain a similar paradox, at least in their application. We know lots of them can do this stuff on their own. Most of us would say, if asked, that disabled people deserve to be treated "just like anyone else." But we don't treat them like anyone else at all, and if another counselor doesn't stand in the bathroom while their camper is taking a shower, we all cluck about it. We don't act like it's just a deviation from policy, but like it's actually dangerous.

I want to come back to camp next year because so many of the campers are really special to me and given location, taboo, and different writing/Internet abilities, we can't really be good friends outside of camp; but it's hard for me to imagine I will come back, because it's such a time-intensive job that I rarely get the chance to even read books or write posts or letters.

I keep daydreaming about trying to get a job at one of the two camps I enjoyed going to when I was a teenager. One of them is CTY, which is supposedly an academic camp for kids with high test scores, but is functionally a social space for kids who are different from their classmates. In my group of friends there, almost none of us had any friends at home. The other camp is a farm camp where the campers work on the farm and do group therapy together; when I went there, there were a fair amount of kids who had learning/developmental/psychiatric disabilities and had come to camp because someone decided it would be good for them, but there were also a lot of kids who had no disabilities and just enjoyed the environment. And, importantly I think, you didn't always know which was which. I've written some snarky things about this camp but I really admire what they do, ultimately.

I keep getting excited about the thought of applying to work at CTY or farm camp, not just because they're places I like, but because, oh my gosh, the freedom of being allowed to let campers go to the bathroom by themselves and only closely monitoring them if they actually need close monitoring and support! But then in the same breath I can't not just be staff, I can't help thinking how ridiculous it is that once you put people under a certain label all these new potential dangers emerge, like, THE DANGER OF WALKING BACK TO A CABIN ALONE, and, THE DANGER OF PUTTING YOUR HAND ON THE KNEE OF THE BOY YOU HAVE A CRUSH ON, that you must be protected from by your staff!

(On a totally different note, I've been meaning to link this since I read it, their parents are fantastic.)


  1. Disability is used in such a negative connotation today. We need another name for it, especially when it comes to autism. And we shouldn't let fear control our lives so much. We should be learning how to take action in spite of fear.

  2. As long as we're being selfish, I will admit that this post made me happy. Especially the stuff in the "taboo" link.

    People talk about "us" and "them"... I know I'm them. Sometimes other people don't realize it, but I always know I am. So like one of scariest things you could do for me would be to get long term work in some kind of institution (although maybe your camp functions as one). I would still like you, but... I don't even know how to explain it.

    However, the fact that you still get confused and contradicted over this stuff even when your "Staff Vivian" is repeteadly being rewarded means that, I think, you will always be "them" too. I would never consign someone to that, but as long as it's going to happen to you anyway it's great to have the company.

    And so here I am smiling about something bothering you. Will you still call yourself selfish after that?