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...

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Father's Day, also know as my dad's birthday, has arrived.

We tried to get reservations at Brennan's, which recently reopened, in honor of my husband, the father to our sweet child, but they were booked solid. So we will have to make do with a barbecue and poolside celebration at Justin's house across the to whip up something for that. Note to self...

I must say that the men in my life have left the outward firebrand stuff to us women. In my family, we women are an emotional bunch, myself included. Not to say that the men don't have their moments. My father recently overheard a phone conversation I was having with the secretary of my son's pediatrician in New York, one in which I had to spell "New Orleans" and in which I established that a request to transfer my son's medical records to his pediatrician down south had apparently never been received. His unbridled id let loose and he exclaimed in the background, loud enough for the secretary to hear, that what she was telling me was bullshit. Plus, "Who doesn't know how to spell New Orleans?!?!!!?"

"I don't have to take this, " the secretary said. "He's a very nasty man."

Oh, honey, I wanted to say, you have no idea.

When Dad has a bee in his bonnet about something, he will move heaven and earth to help. Deep down, he's a big softy. When my mom would lay down the law with me in terms of punishment, it was Dad who would try to break through that a little. When Mom told me I couldn't go to a showing of Rocky Horror with my high school friends after a dance, it was Dad who, when picking me up from said dance, drove us by the movie theater to see if any of my friends were hanging out. When I went to a clothing store with Dad to get one trendy piece of clothing (trendy for eighth grade), it was Dad who asked me if I was sure I wanted anything else, wallet opened to the ready, even though the trendy dud had cost fifty bucks.

Dad was the one who, in grade school, would turn all my friends upside down. It was a major attraction of overnights or of having friends over, having him pick them up and make all the blood rush to their heads. Seven to ten year olds love that stuff. He used to swing me from his arm like I was a monkey, until the day I let go and fell on my head - right in front of my grandmother.

Dad would introduce me to culture on occasion - I watched 8 1/2 and The Seventh Seal with him once we got a VCR. We ate out regularly at Japanese places where we were the only Caucasians in the place, we had a favorite French place where I first tasted escargot, we had good Indian food on a regular basis at restaurants and at home when post-docs in my dad's lab brought some for parties, and we found a Chinese food place where my dad got the cooks to make the food like we were in Sichuan. Best chicken I've had, though my mouth was swelling up from the spices. I got to know the Beatles, the Stones, the Who, Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix, the Band, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Frank Zappa, the Fugs, and other great bands and music makers from his record collection...but he still hasn't forgiven me for partially ripping the banana off his Velvet Underground and Nico album. Dad, now that I love the Velvets so much, I know why you're ticked...but I was into scratch and sniff at the time, and it was so tempting...

My dad would also make sure, as I got older, that I was making choices in my life that were right for me, and would sustain me. His competitive streak manifested itself in me in this aspect of life - if I set my mind to something, I was going to be the best at it. Dad helped me with college selection, his softy side letting me apply to one art school where my mom had forbidden me to apply to such places. He went on a college visit with me to Smith and came away from it wanting to go there himself...but he held himself down and went over the considerations with me. Was the college awarding BFAs? What would provide the better background for me if I wanted to have an art career or a career teaching art? When my brother went through the college shuffle recently, I know that Dad did the same for him. It's what's made my dad a successful lab manager and grant writer all these years.

Of course, Dad's bullheadedness can be detrimental to himself as well as others. Ticked that, because an electric bill was a little late, the power company sent out a disconnect notice for the first time, Dad decided not to pay the electric bill for a while. The nanny we had for my brother at the time had to repeatedly head off the power company employees when they entered our backyard to try to cut our power. She deserved some combat pay for that one.

Dad was a one to two pack a day smoker for a number of decades, thinking his good genes would help keep him alive and well into his nineties, as it did for his ancestors. He would even smoke almost to spite all of us who were trying to get him to quit - I gave up on convincing him a long time ago to quit, because it was like beating one's head against a wall. Good, Dad, real good...especially since he does cancer research. A recent bout with chemo once they found cancer in one of his lungs convinced him to quit...and left us all with that "I told you so" stuck in our throats, because, deep down, we believed in his invincibility, too. As if to put that supposed invincibility in relief, he also got some major government grants at a time when the money was and is shrinking for such things. He would be recovering from his treatments in his office and deciding how many people to hire for the next year. When it rains, it pours, I guess.

Aside from being overly tired, and having lost some hair, Dad weathered it all okay - thus far. However, he will always be a cancer survivor, not to mention a survivor of some tumultuous times. And now that my brother is graduating and attending Dad's alma mater, to boot, my grandmother worries about what Dad will do with himself now that his "partner in crime", so to speak, is heading out from the house and leaving behind an empty nest.

I personally see no need for worry.

Dad has always had a penchant for throwing himself into all kinds of hobbies. Wine collecting, gardening, model train building and collecting, and building computers, not to mention close study of cars and new technology, have all been things he has pursued with zest and a sense of competition, even. Aside from possibly getting more sleep, I think something else will come along that will ignite those creative and competitive fires within him once again. He might still be somewhat involved with my brother's lacrosse league in some capacity, though my brother will have moved on. He'll still be checking out the car magazines and building the computers. In the past few years, both my parents have been developing a cooking repertoire, with the help of the Internet, Food Network, and some good grocery stores in their area. I'm proud to report that Dad was thoroughly enjoying using his birthday smoker to do its thing to some brisket, and he was simultaneously grilling some lobster outdoors and happily directing my mom and my brother on preparing the rest of the menu while talking to me on the phone.

Happy birthday, Dad. And many more! There'd better be...

Friday, June 16, 2006

Well, here's a short account of my first week of counseloring at a local day camp:

One week down, seven more to go.

I'm working with some great counselors every day, and the kids, for the most part, have been great, too...BUT. There are always some exceptions, and there were about three of them this week.

I expected there to be some kids who might be somewhat wacky. Just communing with all the counselors in the first week revealed some who were clearly affected by the events of the past year. One counselor had returned with his family to their home, which had taken on some water due to Broussard's decision to dismiss the folks who were supposed to be manning the pumps in Jefferson Parish. He said if it happened again, his family would be picking up and moving.

However, there's only so much stuff us counselors are equipped to handle. We had a maximum of thirteen kids this week, and under normal circumstances, three counselors should be enough to handle that many kids. Throw in one VERY needy kid with a tendency to separate from the group on a regular basis, however, and one counselor is out of the game, period. Throw in a second kid who wants to hide under desks on a regular basis, and it stretches the personnel resources. Throw in a third kid who is bound and determined not to listen and to thumb his nose at the counselors on a regular basis and...Greater New Orleans, we have a problem.

I know we have consultations with the camp director and notification of parents as disciplinary measures. If worse comes to worse, we can let our fingers do the walking and call up the local family service and counseling organization for tips from the professionals for how to deal with a kid.

But THREE of them? It leaves all of us counselors who have to deal with this on a regular basis wondering what the hell we did to deserve all this tsuris, as they say in Yiddish. Every time we have brought this class into the art room, they have done things to tick off the art teacher, who doesn't deserve it either. One of the kids, the needy one, was brought in to the camp director after a disastrous field trip, in which the kid lashed out at an offending kid and cursed at him. Early on in the week, this same kid said that he didn't want to be at camp, that he wanted to be at home playing video games and swimming at his pool there. According to my other counselor, who brought him in to the director's office, she told him repeatedly that he wasn't going to be sent home, and he kept screaming that he wanted to go home.

I talked to a friend of mine, an education director herself, about the situation, and she said she wouldn't have tolerated that. The only thing that would convince anyone to keep a kid such as this in the camp, though, would be money. I think the family service folks will have to be on my cell phone's speed dial from here on out. Today the needy kid wasn't in class and it was a gazillion times better...we could really devote our time to the whole class. Even the other two kids who have been driving us nuts were better. It made me feel like less of a failure, for certain. I still can't shake that nagging feeling that I've gotten a preview of what will possibly be coming down the pike for my own son.

Other insights into seven and eight year old behavior? They are a very active bunch that love to play games and to do a lot of hands-on activities. This group was largely disappointed when a recent field trip to a cooking school was structured like a cooking show in which they got to eat the food - they thought they really were going to do some cooking. A good bunch of them loved to do puzzles. Each had a favorite board game, to boot. Swimming was the ultimate, however - and most of the kids delight in riding on a counselor's back, or on being launched in the air by my guy counselor, the strongest and biggest of the counselors. I was one giant ache every day from having some kids riding on lil' ol' me in the pool - but the cure for that is to start another day with such a wild and crazy group.

And then there's my son, who is enjoying camp, but who wants to sit with Mommy at dismissal instead of with his own preschool group. Oh, the pitfalls of working at the same place your own child is attending - I'm just glad they didn't place me with his class. That really would have been awkward! The counselors for his group marvel at how polite he is - glad I taught him that much, and he listened. He expresses his usual frustrations from time to time - a good yell until someone tells him to talk about what's making him mad. Heck, I've certainly felt like doing that in the past week.

Hope this week will treat us all better...

Thursday, June 08, 2006

I began to write a post while I was out of town recently, but due to some BUSY circumstances, I haven't been able to continue. I'll see if I can come back to it, because it was all about a subject near and dear to me: good ol' hot glass.

However, I recovered from a visit to my family recently, on the occasion of my brother's high school graduation and of a lacrosse tournament his team won ( his last lacrosse games before college begins for him in the fall) only to find that my trip up north was a good breather from all the havoc of New Orleans and the vicinity. I came home to a house that smelled unfamiliar, even, and not just because cleaning up after our cats is not my husband's strong point. Dan told me that garbage pickup missed a week, so the stink lingered on our street for a bit. Oh, well, back to life as usual in these parts, I guess.

I received a call from the Montessori school informing me that my son had been admitted, which elicited a major sigh of relief from me. I ran into an instance of one hand of the school district acting in complete ignorance of what the other hand was up to...actually, it was more like a couple of instances. Some vestiges of the old systems of evaluations have resulted in a strange meeting with an Orleans parish school administrator, who basically rewrote the evaluation my son had already received from professionals on an official school form and then offered my son a place in a pre-K gifted class at a different school. Here's where the offer turned into Deal or No Deal - to accept the place in offered class, I would have had to forfeit the school application for the Montessori, when I hadn't even heard from them yet. What would you have done?

Personally, I hate being railroaded into most any decision, especially, I'm discovering, when it comes to my son's education. No deal for the different school. I walked off with a copy of the official evaluation form wondering if the administrator knew something I didn't know. It was a bizarre offer and ultimatum, and I was glad I had at least another option open: a deposit towards another school year at his present preschool.

Was I ever ecstatic when I got word of his Montessori placement...and then they asked for my copy of my son's official evaluation. It was easier for me to bring it to them instead of leaving it to the school office to obtain what was technically an in-house document, possibly because the parish school administrators are tough to communicate with right now due to their "traveling" status - no real permanent building to work out of right now. Weird, but okay.

Know what else is weird? I now have a job. I am now a head teacher at a local camp that my son is also attending...thankfully, I will not be teaching his class, and I will also have two other counselors working with me. Large portions of the day are preplanned, to boot, though I will have to stuff my post-pregnancy body into a swimsuit for large portions of each day. Maybe I will get my son up extra early and take advantage of the early care at camp to work out some - but that would be cruel to him.

As it is, I seriously broke down after my first orientation day with the other counselors and the camp supervisor, and it concerned the babysitting for my son, which fell through that afternoon and was pretty much nonexistent for the following two afternoons, too. I was just at a loss as to who to call, really, since I had only utilized one sitter since we moved back, and there were occasions when she just wasn't available that piled up as strikes against her employment as my son's sitter. With the help of my fantastic husband and the ears of Edie and Justin, we lined up one sitter for the next day and I got the morning sitter at camp to stay the day after with the incentives of more money and a ride back home. I'm very lucky to have such a support system, especially since I haven't worked outside the home in, oh, four-plus years.

Initially, I think my supervisor's gentle admonition that I find someone to watch my son, because, though he was good, the orientation was adult-activity time, was one that cut into me more than she knew, because looking after my son had been my job all these years. Asking me to switch gears like that was a little crazy for me, and I came away from my first meeting with kids way younger than I as my co-workers (the other senior counselor for my group - well, I'm almost twice his age!) feeling as though I might have bit off way more than I could chew. Justin, with his usual quasi-bullheadedness, advocated that I give 'em an ultimatum or just quit. Sometimes the man is all id.

What I tend to do is to say, even at my lowest, that tomorrow's another day. It's something the doomsdayers who believed in the date 6-6-06 as a horrible omen have to admit, even. We're all still here...and today, we might have bonded together a bit more, my fellow counselors and I. Our jungle-themed room is coming together, thanks to the great idea our senior counselor had and the great execution by all of us in getting it together.

Next up tomorrow, I have to get in the bathing suit and demonstrate how well I can swim - not to mention a demonstration of my gut and my butt. This is your body post-pregnancy kids...

Any questions?

Oh, good T-shirt for the folks in the northeast, worn by a counselor today:

This is your brain: (the NY Yankees symbol)
This is your brain on drugs: (the Boston Red Sox symbol)