Thursday, June 22, 2006

Near the end of week two, and things are better. I'm enjoying myself a little more, and the kids seem to be doing good, too. The needy kid, however, is still a problem. The camp director still keeps giving him chances, and I'm a little afraid for the campers with each chance she gives this kid. He was involved in several camp altercations, and we finally hit on a solution to the management of this kid - he needs a shadow. He had a counselor there with him on a field trip, who was there just for him, and once she was gone in the afternoon, the problems cropped up again.

I wish, in a way, there had been this kind of support for me when I was doing the things this kid was doing. I took every joking gesture, every stray comment, as some sort of insult, and my first response, rather than asking the person to stop or going to teachers or counselors, was to lash out as well, just like this kid. Because of my personal experiences, however, I feel that the camp director is walking a major tightrope over a canyon with nothing to break her fall, and she could well take us all with her. I hope her gestures regarding this kid are right.

My enjoyment of camp is helped greatly by the staff I am surrounded by, an active involved bunch who seem to take things in stride and with a good sense of humor. A recent circle game that the director was teaching us elicited a comment from a counselor that had me laughing off and on for the rest of the day. We had to pass an object around the circle, saying to the person next to us, "This is a plate (for instance)."

The person says, "A what?"

We say, "A plate."

Person says, "A what?"

We say, "A plate."

The person says, "Oh, a plate."

And everyone keeps passing objects around like so, until it becomes one major chorus of "A whats?" and "A (fill in the blank)."

The comment? "I'd love to see this game played with the elderly sometime!" All I could think about were my campers eighty to ninety years later trying to play the game. What a hoot!

Another funny was an art activity mishap involving my son. He was running a Matchbox car through some paint on a piece of paper, and he did what he always does with toys on wheels: he lay down on the floor to watch the wheels turning. Only problem was, he laid his head into a paper plate of paint and came up with it covering half his hair and face. I saw him later that same day, after he had been cleaned up, and I saw his hair in the sun, gleaming with some streaks in it, and my first thought, without being told anything, was that he'd gotten into some paint. I joked with the counselors about his highlights, telling them I had no idea there was a hair salon at camp. I didn't tell my husband, but I did ask him what he thought of our son's hair, and he thought it was chlorine from the pool that had done it! I explained it to him after his guess. Amazing what kids will get into...

Throw in the most boring planetarium show I've ever seen, a great peanut butter play-dough making session, and some shoe wrestling high jinks, and it's been one heck of a week. A friend of mine emailed me recently, attaching a recent New York Times article discussing the increased incidences of suicides and the growing numbers of depressed people in our area, and all I could say to that was what follows:

These days, I'm working as a counselor for a summer camp out in Metairie, on the west side of New Orleans. Life is going on down here...the kids I'm working with are great, the fellow counselors are a great bunch, too, and my drive is all right getting to the facility. My son is really enjoying himself at the camp, too (and I'm glad I'm not in charge of his class; I'm dealing with a group of older kids).

What helps me is blogging about the whole situation down here. The Central City murders of five kids happened only a half-mile away from us, and that was the straw that broke the law enforcement camel's back. Having the National Guard here is only a preliminary step, however - the biggest problem is a massive overloading of the criminal court system here, and not enough prosecution muscle of the criminals that are caught. The ones that go through the system are let go pretty quickly as a result, spreading the word that operating in New Orleans dealing drugs and doing other nasty things has few consequences.

However, where you gonna house all these prosecution people, when the ones who live here are still having trouble getting home repairs straightened out? The ones who are trying to do it in the "dead zones" have to combat theft of major appliances that get delivered and of fixtures too big to be placed in the house or delivered too early to install. It's rough...and there but for the grace of God we would be. Luck and high ground (location closer to the river) prevented flooding in our area - this time. No one in this area is completely out of the water, so to speak.

What are the effects I have seen on the kids? One of them in my group already had significant behavioral problems before the storm...and since then, added to his repertoire of behaviors is a tendency to hide under tables. Another kid is angry at times that his best friend had to move away due to the storm. A recent field trip to a cooking school in a New Orleans shopping center went well, but the route the bus driver chose to take back to camp went right through Lakeview, and things got a little quieter on the bus. It's been nine months, and aside from there being less trash and debris than there has been (Mount Lakeview, as the median pile was called, is gone), it is a ghost suburb, harrowing to travel through in broad daylight. Once we crossed over the infamous 17th Street Canal, things brightened up because it was back to relative civilization.

It's something everyone outside of all this, the rest of the world, fails to see, even if they come here for a very short while. The Katrina effects are NOT over.

However, the rewards of being here, at least for us, are great. We haven't given up yet...and I guess the best place for me to be right now is with these kids, who hold a great measure of everyone's hopes for recovery in their little hands, whether they know it or not. The counselors' job right now entails giving these kids a good summer - and we seem to be doing it for ourselves in the process.

I hope that last assessment stays with us as we continue with our jobs for six more weeks. We all are going to need to keep the energy up that we've had with the kids, even though I know personally I wake up as one giant ache every morning. My way of dealing with it is to suck it up some and get moving with the kids, because they hit the ground running and drag you with them, whether you like it or not. And strangely enough, I'm getting to like it...

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