Noah faced his first bullying incident last week. But before I get to the details I want to talk about his summer camp.
This year I signed Noah up for day camp at Bridesburg Rec Center. He had attended preschool there and the Kindercamp in summer but this was the first time he was going to attend the camp for the school age children. The program runs from 10 to 2 on Monday through Friday, in 2 four week sessions. The cost is a mere $170 a session. The first session includes a daily swim lesson, a weekly field trip and a lunch (which Noah doesn’t eat because it’s too processed). The camp is structured on the kids doing their own thing. They have a playground, a sprinkler, sports fields, game tables, crafts, lego area, action figure table, sand hill and lots of grass for kids to just hang out. The kids are mostly free to do what they want when they want, including when to eat lunch. There a few adult teachers who lead the camp but the bulk of the counselors are neighborhood teens who themselves went to the camp when they were younger. I love this aspect, as a teen I taught a girl scout summer day camp and I like to envision Noah as a counselor someday. The kids also have access to a table where they can buy snack food, popsicles and candy. And while I am not thrilled with the selections I do like that for the first time I give Noah money and he figures out how he wants to spend it. As a result he has really learned the value of coins and how to add and subtract them – while buying ice pops and Doritos. As you can tell I’m quite pleased with the camp as I have been with our preschool experience there.
The camp is part of a neighborhood rec program. Bridesburg is a very old neighborhood that is fairly traditional, white and blue collar. And while the lack of diversity is an issue for me I do like that the neighborhood is so invested and involved in the rec center. Many of the kids who go there are the kids of parents who also attended the programs when they were young, and possibly even their parents. And the bulk of the school age kids who attend the summer camp are ones who also attend the neighborhood elementary school that is right next door to the camp. These kids know each other, and each others families. Noah is an outsider however I signed Noah up with some of his little friends and though he hasn’t really made any new friends he has really deepened the bonds he has had with his already existing friends – which mostly happen to be girls.
Only Noah and his friend (we will call her) Rose attended both sessions of the camp. And the two of them were inseparable. Rose is an only child and very spirited. She rules the roost, but Noah is pretty easy going so they make a fine pair. But over the course of the summer Rose has gotten a bit possessive and jealous about Noah. She wants him all to herself and in a way she has prevented him from making new friends at camp. Her father says Rose has always been jealous – she was left in an orphanage in China at the age of 3 months and spending time in an institution where attention was fought for and fleeting has left an impression. Rose gets visibly upset if her parents even look at another a baby let alone hold one. So Rose and Noah have been a constant twosome, tied at the hip while at camp. And it hasn’t gone unnoticed.
Last week a big group of girls, the bulk of them around 9 (I guess) went up to Noah and Rose and asked if they were boyfriend and girlfriend. I am unclear what exactly transpired other than the girls were chasing them around, Noah was knocked down , his knee skinned and his Croc broken. The girls told them they wouldn’t leave them alone until they kissed. They made them kiss. At some point during this Noah hid in the bathroom and cried. (He told me that.) When I arrived to pick Ray up from his Kindercamp Noah and Rose were having a picnic under a tree and there was a gaggle of older girls around them. I asked N&R how their day was going and Rose said “BAD.” And then she told me these girls around them made them kiss. At this time it was the only portion of the story I got. But I immediately addressed the girls – shaming them for picking on 6 year olds and shooing them away from the area. I then went to the head of her camp and told her the kissing part of the incident since that was all I knew.
When all of it went down I was really upset. But I quickly realized Noah didn’t really want to keep talking about it. He has some pride and was trying to be brave and unfazed so as far as I was concerned since I scolded the girls, the counselor scolded the girls, there was no repeat incidents and it didn’t ruin Noah’s enjoyment of the camp then I was good.
Rose’s parents were more upset and wanted the parents of the girls to acknowledge the incident as being their child’s fault. And as a result they kept bringing it up with me and the counselors in front of Noah, who so badly wanted to pretend it didn’t happen. Part of their issue was they wondered if the kids were picked on because Rose is Chinese. And that may very well be part of it – she is a minority at a camp in a neighborhood known for being not entirely tolerant to differences. But to me it seemed just as likely that they were picked on because they were not known neighborhood kids and because it’s been funny to watch this pair of 6 year olds walking around like a married couple for the last couple of weeks. Whether it was one of those reasons or all three- it doesn’t matter. The parents aren’t going to admit the problem at the core is that they don’t like Chinese people and have a change of heart. Of course when Rose’s parents talked to the counselor about the discussion with the parents they were told the girls had different stories and denied things and their parents believed them. To which I said “Of course. You’d probably do the same thing.” I know I would unless my kid had a history of not being believable, but at our core we all want to think our kid isn’t capable of bullying.
So there it is. Noah was bullied. As far as I know there has been no further issues. Noah is sad that this is his last week of camp. He had a great time. He’s gotten to be so grown up there. He’s had a great time with his friends, Rose in particular. He is now a fully skilled swimmer and no longer needs any floatation device. And he’s insistent he go there again next year – and that he’ll watch out for Ray who next year will also be old enough to attend. What I love about the camp is the freedom the kids get because that is truly what summer should feel like. Just chilling with your friends with all the fun at your finger tips. But then again the lack of supervision is an issue if bullying becomes a problem. I guess we’ll just have to hope that it doesn’t.