Summer camp: an American rite of passage. A land of loose discipline doled out by barely-out-of-high-school (or not even) counselors; one-upmanship between kids trying to awkwardly prove themselves; games of kickball punctuated by craft time; matching T-shirts on field trips; Chinese checkers at folding tables.
There is so much to be learned amongst the noise and sweat of a hundred obnoxious children.
This summer at the one of the city of St. Pete’s recreation-center camps, my boys have learned such timeless classics as armpit fart noises; how to wrap their arms around themselves, turn backward, move their hands up and down and their head side to side and act like they're kissing someone; and how to flick a coin to make it spin — essential information for the journey to manhood.
Another thing we’re learning about on that journey: Bullying. My almost 8-year-old son has dealt with some of that. Like, full-on took-his-money-type crap. We talked to the counselors, talked to the jerkface kid, talked to our own kid to try to teach him how to deal with it, and allegedly it stopped.
Yesterday, though, D left his water bottle somewhere and watched as some girl took it and he never went to her and said it was his. Then, today some little thief asked to hold his Pokémon cards (that he snuck to camp because I told him not to take them because I know he’s an easy mark), then the kid ganked the most powerful one.
Is it wrong that inside I’m thinking, “Seriously, child? Grow a pair! Stop letting people take your stuff — that I pay for!”?
I cannot stand the thought of kids picking on my son, taking advantage of his gentle nature, and the fact that he doesn’t stick up for himself.
And he’s not even on social media yet. I Shudder. Oh, how I shudder.
The thing is, yeah, put him in martial arts, whatever, I’m down for that for plenty of reasons, including so he can defend himself. I know we live in a world of ill-intentioned people. But still, my son is not the one who needs to change.
D is a lovely, caring little boy. I mean, he’s not perfect; he often has no self-control when he needs to use it, and often won’t stop talking when he should. But he’s not mean. He doesn’t like to see people get their feelings hurt. I’m proud of him for that, and for recognizing the asshole kids and avoiding them.
Still, the feeling of not being able to protect him from the bullies he encounters is really an infuriating, helpless feeling.
But we’re learning as we go.
And summer camp might just be the thing to teach my kids about the intricacies of social interaction — how to find good people you relate to and stick with them, and how to weed out the ones who'll end up on MugShots.com one day in the not-too-distant future.