Thursday, August 4, 2011
"Sometimes our attitudes choose us"
Again, I wrote this last night:
Tonight was a tough one for me. Seems like a theme of this week right now. My buddy Keith is up here as a counselor for the week. Keith is an EMT and is jacked; I think his biceps are the size of my head! The first time I met this guy he was rooming with me in the lodge (the camp staff house) a few years ago. I heard stories of this guy picking up junior staff and putting them in the trash can and all kinds of stuff like that. When I heard he was not only moving to camp that summer, but also rooming in my room, I was…cautious. I met him and he immediately pulls out his new machine gun with a bayonet on the front of it. He says "yo Ray-man! Check this out!" as he jams the gun into the bed frame, lets go and the gun is hanging there. In the bed frame. I liked him right away.
Keith is the guy that you don't mess with. You behave if he's your counselor. His groups always have a blast. Most end up with a new nickname. Most will hear him joke that you need to "man up, cupcake". And Keith can take a lot of stuff and keep his group in control. That's why when on Sunday night he told me and Chris (camp director) that he just about had it with one kid I got a bit worried. Keith must have sat this kid down close to 20 times before today to talk to him about his behavior. I watched as this kid mouthed off to him and ignored him. I talked to him earlier today about why he needs to behave. I told him that if he keeps acting out and picking fights and ruining everyone else's week I'd have no choice but to send him home. That was about 2 hours after lunch. By dinner time I had to go out to this groups' lean-to site because the kid was acting out again. The way it was told to me was that he picked a fight and another kid was ready to throw punches. I walked out with Keith and the kid is laying on the trail. I wasn't going to send the kid home yet. I was going to make him pack his bags and tell him that if he doesn't shape up he'd be packing bags for real. Then I saw the kid he picked the fight with. A good 10 minutes had gone by and this kid was still sitting with clenched fists. It was obvious that I couldn't keep this kid in the same group. And if he wouldn't listen to Keith, he sure wouldn't listen to anyone else. So we made the decision to send him home.
Sounds like the right thing to do. And I agree. There're 10 other kids in that group that were being affected. But still, it breaks my heart. The parents showed up and as I talked to the dad, this kid's story came out a little bit more. He is 13 years old and adopted. He was the kid that no one else wanted. He was the kid that had to fight for attention. He was me at his age. The more of his story the dad told me the more I looked at him and saw me at his age. I know exactly how he feels. I know the anger that he feels. I know the abandonment. And I know how much it sucks that we just did the same thing to him. We kicked him out too. We were very clear many times that we don't want to send him home and would rather keep him here if his behavior changed. We also stressed that he was welcome back again next summer. I even invited him and his dad to a father/son canoe trip in September. But I also know how the 13 year old mind of a kid with his background thinks. And all he sees is that we kicked him out. Part of that is his own attitude. Part is his own hurt. Whatever the reason, he's hurting because of us. He's looking for acceptance. If he's like I was, he's even looking to be kicked out. It sounds strange but it's what I did too. I wanted to see how far I could push people until they booted me too.
I stand firm by the decision to send him home. But it still really sucks. My heart breaks for this kid. You can say the same old crap that "we all choose our own attitude" and maybe you're right for - most people. But sometimes our attitudes choose us. When you go through what this kid did it's not so easy to choose a different attitude. It can be done. I did it. But it takes a lot of effort. It takes a lot of time. And it takes a lot of patience from others. It takes a lot of healing. When you experience the kind of hurt and betrayal that he has you're heart is naturally filled with a lot of anger and hurt. And it's not easy to turn it off. No, let me rephrase that: you can't just turn it off. Not until you begin to deal with the betrayal and hurt. That's what takes time. What really sucks is that I understand this kid's heart and can't do anything for him. That really breaks my heart.
On a different level, I think about this kid 20 years from now. I think about how just like I understand his pain better than anyone else here, he too may find himself in a situation where he can help someone else through their pain. But for now, it just sucks.