There’s a lot to be said about summertime in the desert, but one thing is certain–you’ve gotta get out-of-town if you can! Our plan for escaping the 110+ degree heat this July has been to bring the kids to my hometown where we will be staying with my parents for a few weeks. Alas, the best laid plans…..
While it appeared that we traveled in the wrong direction last week, we have really been enjoying ourselves here in the Midwest. It’s always a treat to spend extended periods of time “at home” seeing family and friends, but the biggest thrill for me this trip is that my kids get to go to outdoor day camp. There is something about my little ones experiencing an outside-all-day, muggy, buggy, running-through-the-grass, picnic table, nature walk, arts-and-crafts summer, straight out of my childhood memories, that makes my heart swell. So it goes without saying that I was the most excited person in the car when we headed to camp on that first morning.
When we arrived, the camp director greeted us in such a warm and welcoming fashion that my kids instantly felt at home. I have to say, I was pretty surprised to see how both my 3 and 5 year-olds were ready to jump right in with new kids at a new camp in a new town…they seemed confident and curious, and I couldn’t have been more proud.
A quick, easy good-bye to my 3 year-old, and the director walked my other daughter and me over to the 5 year-olds’ meeting spot. I’m not going to say that I didn’t notice that she was the first girl to arrive, because I did. But I was hopeful that this would be a non-issue, and she would slip right into the routine as smoothly as her little sister. However, instead of introducing my daughter to some new friends (boys), the director assured her that more girls would be coming soon. The message that got communicated here was “kids more like you will be coming soon for you to be friends with, but these folks sitting right here are not them…so just hang tight.” And while I’m certain this was not the intention, the expectation was set that the boys and girls would not want to engage with one another (nor be expected to), and a great opportunity was missed for calling on similarities, creating common ground and celebrating uniqueness. The director could have just as easily said, “Hey everyone! This is Annie. She’s from Arizona. Has anyone ever been there?” Or, “Annie, this is Trevor. He has a little sister in your sister’s group.”
Of course the director was only trying to make my daughter feel at ease. I know I’ve made similar assumptions about who kids would most likely feel comfortable with in new situations. But is this type of guidance helpful or harmful? If Annie felt confident joining the group of boys when we walked over, this introduction probably caused her to feel otherwise. It seems like some attempts to help kids feel more comfortable may only prove to make them feel more uncomfortable. And at the end of the day, assumptions and expectations that limit friendships limit kids and rob them of opportunities for diverse experiences from which they can learn and grow.