Last year when Taz went to camp, he spent the whole entire time hanging out with a 6-year old instead of 10-year olds like him. It had been an awkward year for him already, having started the school year at a new school, and then finishing it back up at his old school because the first school was too rough on him. It was a learning experience for all of us, and we were lucky to have ended it on a good note. But the whole ordeal took a toll on his self-esteem, and suddenly my outgoing guy who was generally well-liked at school was a little less sure of himself and totally out of his element when it came to meeting new people.
So this year, I was intent that things would be different.
DQ was in my corner on this project of ours to condition Taz into making friends and not being alone the whole week. She began keeping an eye out for all her friends younger brothers, learning their names and ages as well as judging their temperament to see if they might be someone Taz might like to hang out with. I began talking with Taz about it, encouraging him about how to handle situations and hang out with kids his own age this year. If Taz had been 13 or 14 while I talked with him about making new friends, he would have shrugged me off and told me to stay out of his business. But one of the coolest things about 11-year olds is how open they are generally to new ideas and suggestions, and even to mothers and sisters butting into his life.
Camp came and I drove Taz up that morning. DQ was already there since she’s on teen staff, so it was just the two of us. The past week we had gone through our fair share of turmoil as he spaced on all the things he was supposed to do in favor of playing videogames all day long. As we drove, the discussion we had about the abuse of his free time turned into a fullblown argument – me at my wits end, and him feeling totally unheard. We drove in silence for another 10 minutes before it clicked what was going on.
“You want to know what I think?” I asked him. He turned slightly towards me, but kept his head ducked down so he didn’t have to look at me. “I might be wrong, but my guess is that you’ve been playing a lot of videogames to avoid some of the stuff that’s really going on, huh?” He seemed a little more interested in what I had to say, this time looking at me to hear more.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“I mean, you’re on the videogames all day because it’s a way to keep in touch with your friends, right? It’s so you don’t really have to say goodbye.” This past school year was his last at the Santa Rosa schools, as he would be attending school in Petaluma in the fall. In the process, he was leaving behind all his friends, and many of them he probably would never see again.
I glanced over at Taz as he quickly swiped away at his eyes. He nodded yes.
“And this week you’re going to camp and are going to be in a new situation with new people, and that’s kind of scary, isn’t it?”
“I’m really nervous,” he admitted. “I mean, I want to make friends. But what if no one likes me?” With the root of the problem facing us, the fight was suddenly forgotten. I didn’t have an answer for him. All I could do was reassure him that his sister would never let that happen, and that I was sure he would come away from the week with a friend. But the honest truth was, how was I to know how it would turn out?