“Can I go upstairs, Mom?” Kevin asked, dropping his book on the table while he danced and twitched in the aisle, his eyes darting around the ferryboat. “Sure. I’ll wait here,” I replied. I could tell Kevin was nervous about this school outing to Orcas Island, but excited as well. The rest of the 6th grade students were seated on the other side of the boat, talking together and eating their sack lunches. For them, this was just the first day of a four day trip to Camp Orkila. For Kevin, it was most likely a day trip, a chance to see the camp and determine if he could get past his fear of staying there with the other kids.
His clothes and sleeping bag were packed in the car just in case, but I didn’t expect that he’d decide to stay. His psychologist and teachers agreed with me that taking this trip, would be good for him, however, and it would help him work through his fears. Maybe I should have insisted that he participate, rather than giving him the choice, but it’s just so hard to know with Kevin.
Bounding back over to the table, a bewildered look on his face, Kevin breathlessly exclaimed, “Mom! A girl is sitting next to Greg with her head on his shoulder!” Greg was Kevin’s greatest enemy and best friend all rolled into one.
Suppressing a smirk, I decided this was one of those learning opportunities of which parents are expected to take advantage whenever possible. “Well, Kevin,” I said in my best June Cleaver manner, “I would assume that it means she likes him”.
“Greg?!” He asked incredulously, “How could she like Greg?”
“She must see something in him that you don’t see.” I replied. “But she’s really pretty!” he said. Struggling now to keep from laughing, I continued, “Kevin, there is someone for everyone.” Quietly processing that information for a moment, his head cocked to one side, and his brow furrowed, Kevin suddenly smiled and said confidently, “If Greg can get a lady, then so can I!”
The day was looking more positive than I expected. Kevin was in a good mood, he was interacting with some of the other students, something at which he usually fails miserably.
The sun was beginning to shine more brightly the closer we got to Orcas Island. Maybe I had made the right decision bringing him up here after all. Pulling into the dock on the island, I asked Kevin for about the hundredth time, “So, do you think you might want to stay at the camp?” And, for about the hundredth time, he answered, “I don’t think so.”
After a couple of turns on the wrong roads, we finally arrived at Camp Orkila, parked next to a teacher’s car we recognized, then started down the path to the main lodge. As we stepped out of the woods and into a clearing, several buildings and the beach came into view. Kevin stopped suddenly, his eyes got wide, his face brightened into a broad smile, and all my talkative son could manage to say was, “Wow!”
The two of us took an unescorted tour around the camp, through a couple of cabins, and down to the beach, Kevin asking me questions such as, “Will I be able to read in bed?” and “What will they have to eat here?” Apparently satisfied with my answers and what he was seeing, Kevin then asked, “Did you bring my sleeping bag”? “Yes, it’s in the car,” I replied. “Great!” Kevin said, jumping up and down delightedly, “I want to stay!”
Bursting with pride at him getting over his fear, I took him with me to find the teacher with the clipboard, the person who could assign him to a cabin. We found her at the main lodge, where the kids were all seated cross-legged on the floor, listening to a talk on the rules and procedures. I signaled to Kevin to sit down with the other kids as I tapped the teacher on the shoulder and beckoned for her to step outside the door with me to talk.
“Hi,” I said, “I’m Kevin Syltebo’s mom. His teachers told me that we could come up here today and he could decide if he wanted to stay or not. He just told me that he does want to stay, so what do I need to do to get him into a cabin?”
Gripping her clipboard more tightly and talking in clipped tones, she replied, “I know that they told you that, but he can’t stay. I don’t have a place for him.”
Unbelievable! I drove all the way up there, against all odds Kevin decided that he did want to stay, and I was being told that he couldn’t. I got Kevin out of the lodge and shared the bad news with him, saying, “Kevin, I’m so sorry. It turns out that they don’t have room for you in any of the cabins, so you can’t stay after all.”
Fighting back tears, Kevin turned from me and stomped off angrily as I shot an accusing look back at the stoic teacher who was breaking my child’s heart. “I’ll never be happy again!” Kevin shouted at me over his shoulder, overcome with emotion. The overly dramatic statement might have been funny under different circumstances, but at that moment, I felt exactly as he did. Tears were burning my eyes as I followed him back to the car, trying to think through what I was going to say to him.
As we drove silently out of the camp, I looked at the clock and realized that we had three hours to kill before catching the return ferry to Anacortes. I didn’t want to spend all of that time parked in line, so asked, “Kevin, why don’t we drive into Eastsound and see if we can find a bookstore?” I knew that there was a good chance I could buy him out of his dark mood with at least one great book.
“Bookstore?” Kevin asked from the backseat, looking up for the first time since leaving the camp. I grinned, feeling smug at how well I knew my son. Nothing cheered Kevin up like a trip to a bookstore. After buying five new books at the quaint store we found, Kevin was his old cheerful self again, jabbering about the two of us taking a trip back to Orcas Island in the summer. “We’ll stay in a hotel,” he said, “not a camp”. “Good idea,” I replied.
“You know, Mom?” he said, “I liked Camp Orkila in the daytime, but tonight, when it gets dark and cold, I probably wouldn’t have liked it anymore, when I couldn’t read in bed”. “You’re right, Kevin,” I said, smiling into the rear view mirror at him. “I want you to know how proud I am of you, even though it didn’t work out today, that you went up there and decided that you were brave enough to stay”. “Thanks, Mom!”, he said happily going back to reading his new books, proud of his accomplishment and glad to be heading home to his own bed.
By Danna Syltebo
* Stories From the Heart is an ongoing series of user contributed heart warming stories, that shine light on the Autism experience.