As usual, before I dive in, I need to credit the title. This quote is by Jenny Lawson, from her book “Furiously Happy”.
Earlier this year, a friend suggested I take Ryan to Camp Sunshine, which is a camp in Maine for children with life threatening illnesses. It kind of sounded like fun, but Casco, Maine is over 1800 miles from home, and the thought of making that journey with Ryan was daunting, if not downright terrifying. I would be going alone, and he is a runner, and I just could not see it happening. Well, my friends encouraged me, hassled me, and basically browbeat me into sending in the application. We were accepted, and all of a sudden I was filling out forms, faxing stuff and sorting through the travel arrangements Camp Sunshine had made for us. As I waded through, I continued to worry, bugging people with questions, fussing about how afraid I was. Well. The morning, (the very early morning…dark o’clock, to be exact), of July 17 got here, and Ryan and I found ourselves en route all the way across the country to Sebago Lake in Casco, Maine. Ryan had the best time on the flight, absolutely loved the take-offs and landings (me, not so much…I whimpered audibly when the plane landed in Austin). Once the flight was behind us and we were tucked in to our room, I took the time to be proud of myself for overcoming my fear of flying alone with Ryan. All of the hoopla and drama was for nothing, we had made it and it was totally easy.
We got up Monday and headed for breakfast. Well. Not exactly. BEFORE that happened, I had woken up to find Ryan gone. Gone outside, out of the suite. Woods right outside our door, a street, a lake, a pond…and not a single person outside. As I started to search, he came up a small hill, so I didn’t really have time to freak. I spoke to the front desk, and by lunch time they had found a way to Ryan-proof the room. As well, he was assigned a 1:1 volunteer (Jessi), and Shannen, who was yet a second set of eyes, and the counselors, etc, had been alerted. So we ate breakfast, and then I signed Ryan in to his day camp. It was at this point that I would come face to face with my second fear of the trip. I did not see it coming, and once I realized it, I couldn’t escape. We had games. Ice breaker, getting to know you kinds of games. One involved getting in a circle and holding hands, and we had to pass a hula hoop around the circle without letting go. All of a sudden I was in a circle with a stranger holding each of my hands, and I couldn’t let go. I ended up just telling myself that I had just flown across the country with Ryan, I could DO this. The next game involved putting masking tape on everybody’s nose and one person had to go around, basically bopping you on the nose, to collect all the masking tape. Yeah. A stranger was bopping my nose with hers. And I didn’t melt, or whatever I thought might happen. The other games didn’t involve touching anyone, but I felt empowered, and a day or 2 later, when I trailed behind a group on the Challenge Course, the very last activity of the day involved getting in a circle and everyone grabbed someone’s right hand with their right and someone’s left with their left, and then we had to untangle ourselves. I joined this activity voluntarily. Kinda gave up close and personal new meaning, but I was so thrilled with myself. So excited at having been able to participate. On Wednesday, I decided to take Ryan out in a paddle boat. I was afraid of the kayaks, and just felt like the paddle boats would be a better option. Ha. I paddled by myself. His weight and mine, and not only did he not paddle, every time the pedals came towards him, he put out his foot to stop the motion. By the time we got back, my knees were useless. I tried to get out of the boat, lost my balance, and ended up crawling on to the dock, while the volunteer hauled Captain America (he wore his Captain America hoodie about 75% of the trip) out of the boat. But Thursday afternoon I returned to the waterfront, determined to take on the kayak. I had decided, somewhere along the way, that I did not want to go home and later think “Damn, I wish I had…..”. Mostly I wanted to take that kayak out. So I put on a life jacket (inside out…how the hell was I supposed to know? We don’t wear life jackets daily here in the desert, and I don’t travel much), and approached the kayak. The volunteer got ready to help me in, I put one foot in the blasted thing and down I went. Banged up my knee good, but got in and settled, and rowed out on to the lake. I spent an hour on the water, rowing, just floating, just enjoying the peace and quiet. I love the water, love what it represents. Finally I took it back in, managed to get out without falling on my face, and went back to the room. I was so pleased with myself. I had overcome so many obstacles, so many fears. It is a great feeling when you realize you have conquered your fears! I conquered most of them, anyway…there were 2 Daddy Long Legs spiders on a tree on the challenge course that sent me running the other way, but that doesn’t count.
Along with all the activities, there were parent support group times. I got to 3 of the 4 of them, and it was one of the most powerful experiences I have ever had. I have Jenise here, and we do an awesome job holding each other up. Online I have Brenda, Marie, Jen, Ann, Alicia, Leah, Laura, Beth, Jessica, and we also hold each other up. But there is something about a roomful of parents all fighting for their child’s life. We laughed. We cried. We talked about the things that set us off. About our triggers. About how we cope. About our fears. About how our other children are handling this. We said things that someone else needed to hear, lifted each other up. We talked about how our lives were derailed. We talked about accepting help, and how so very hard that is. And how very necessary it is. We talked about doctors who couldn’t figure things out, and about the doctors that will hold our hearts and gratitude forever. We described ourselves in terms of how we handle our child’s illness. Boxes and boxes of Kleenex were passed around. As we told our stories, either we cried or we touched someone’s heart and they cried. A memory was triggered. Almost everyone openly wept when they discussed diagnosis. That still triggers me, and it was 8 years ago. It never goes away.
There was a wealth of knowledge in that room. We know more medical stuff than we ever wanted to know. Some people were medical parents even before they were cancer parents. There were 3 families, including us, with kids with Down Syndrome. I connected with them, and we will stay in touch.
I came home renewed, revitalized. Less afraid. More empowered. Ready to pick up the sword and battle on. Camp Sunshine IS a magical place. I am so glad we went. I am changed, for the better. I am part of a community now, a community that gets it. It sucks that any of us have to be in this club, but since we are, I am grateful beyond words to have been a part of this past week, and I look forward to returning, without fear.
I am going to attempt to insert the pic of me in the kayak. I may be braver, but not much smarter.
Look! It’s me!!! What a spectacular week.