...makes a fuss when something doesn't go right.
As I mentioned, Matthew was at tennis camp last week, with his cousin. They had a great time. Loved it. The programming was great: tennis in the morning; followed by soccer and two hours' swimming in the afternoon. Can you spell E-X-H-A-U-S-T-I-N-G?
On the Monday, first morning of the camp, I lingered for a while at Matthew's request. Again, no longer to my surprise after the previous couple of weeks, I was the only parent who stayed beyond drop-off. But whatever - it was fine with me. I ended up staying for almost an hour that first day, until Matthew was ready to wave me off.
During that hour, I truly didn't mean to spy on things, but I really couldn't help but notice some stuff that struck me as careless, and potentially unsafe, on the part of the two leaders.
When I signed Matthew in at the entrance to the play structure area (where the kids were gathering until it was time to start the day), no one greeted him...or, as far as I could tell, the other kids who were being dropped off. Had I just left the area after checking him in, the leaders would have had no idea who he was.
When I pro-actively introduced myself to the leaders, I asked a couple of quick questions, including how they were going to handle the younger kids going to the bathroom. One leader indicated that there were bathrooms in the building and that the kids could just avail themselves of them whenever needed. I was a bit concerned about this answer because the bathrooms were on the other side of the building from the gym, and it's a public building with people constantly going in and coming out of it. I asked how they would monitor the kids coming and going as they needed the bathrooms, and one of the leaders responded by saying, "well, are you thinking that we could use a buddy system or something like that?" Keep in mind that this is the third week that the camp was operating - I was a little bit horrified that this hadn't already been worked out, particularly given that over half of the children were between the ages of five and seven. While working out the details with them, I also noted out loud that Matthew was a child who had not been to school, and so he wouldn't necessarily know some of rules that other children might take for granted. I said also that Matthew was a bit of an internal processor at times, so he might need a second to absorb instructions. The guy in charge said that I shouldn't worry - that they spell everything out to the kids and don't leave anything to chance. That sounded good to me.
Five minutes later, at 9:00, the leaders called the kids together and said that they would drop off their lunch bags in the gym before heading out to the tennis courts. As they started walking towards the rec centre entrance, one child pointed out that there were a few backpacks lying on the ground by the playground entrance. The leaders didn't know whose backpacks they were, but then started to look around the playground; lo and behold, they found three other kids who were apparently part of the tennis camp. No roll call was taken, so at that point I still wasn't sure that they had all of the kids. I asked how many kids were registered and, when they answered, I started counting to ensure they had fifteen kids. I figured that if they weren't planning on taking roll call with their list, at least I could count. So much for their commitment about not leaving things to chance.
As the kids and their leaders walked into and through the rec centre towards the gym at the back of the building, I hung well back, not wanting to interfere with the group, but just to stay in the general area so that Matthew could see me if needed. I noticed that the two leaders walked ahead of the kids, talking to each other - they didn't monitor to see if everyone got in the door...for all they knew, half of the kids could have taken off across the parking lot. Sure enough, when I walked through the rec centre entrance, I noticed that Matthew and one other boy around his age had broken off from the group and were exploring one of the other rooms of the rec centre. I waited quietly, looking to see what the leaders would do. They did nothing. Everyone else went into the gym and, as I watched, Matthew and the other little boy continued to play - immersed in their antics and oblivious to being separated from the group. I waited for another few minutes before I realized that no one was coming for them. I called to the boys (and explained that they must stay with their group, etc etc), and ushered them through the halls and into the gym where the others had dropped off their bags and were lined up, ready to go out to the tennis courts. One of the leaders noticed the two kids I brought in, and said "oh - thanks," without seeming to comprehend that there was a problem. I suggested very gently that one of them might want to walk in front of the group and one behind, to make sure that the kids were all accounted for.
I went out to the tennis courts with the group and stayed there in the background (out of hearing distance) and gradually felt better about things because the leaders were clearly in their element at this point, and the kids were having a great time. Eventually, Matthew waved me off.
I felt so insecure about the whole security thing that I confess - I went back two times that day just to check on Matthew and my niece, to make sure they were ok. Don't worry, I didn't let anyone in the group see me. In fact, I would have been embarrassed if I'd been caught standing behind that bush and spying on them in the swimming pool or, later, on the soccer field. I just eyeballed the group to count the number of kids, and made sure to locate Matthew and my niece, and then took off again, covertly running from bush to bush all the way back to the van. Crazy woman, I know!
When I went back (for the fourth time that day - can you tell that I got little done that day?!) at 4:00 to collect Matthew, the kids were all in the playground again, where parents had been instructed to come for their children. Again, I was a bit shocked by the lack of oversight. Frankly, I could have walked off with any one of the kids because there was no sign-out procedure and, more often than not, no leader present to monitor things. I hung around for ten minutes until my sister arrived for my niece, and then we collected the kids and walked into the rec centre to collect their stuff. The kids were hungry, so we sat down for ten or fifteen minutes so that they could snack on their lunchbox leftovers. A few minutes into our wait, one of the leaders walked through and asked if we'd seen a particular kid - one of the older ones. We answered no, and then my niece asked why he was looking for her. His response was that her parents had arrived but that he wasn't sure where their daughter was - he thought she'd already left with a parent! He proceeded out the gym towards the tennis courts, calling her name. A moment later, the girl in question appeared, having been in the bathroom, and we let her know that her parents had arrived. As I looked out the window, I could see the leader walking around the field outside and around the rec centre, calling the girl's name.
Minutes later, one of the other kids (the youngest five-year-old in the group) wandered through the gym, carrying his backpack. I asked him if a parent had come for him yet and he said no. My sister said that he was a kid from that neighbourhood and that he was very familiar with the building, but my response was that this wasn't the point - the point was that there were people/strangers wandering through the building continuously, and that no one was tracking where this little one was. I walked the boy back out to the (fenced) playground area where the kids were supposed to be waiting.
By this time, I was simply done. Call me crazy, call me paranoid - I can live with that. But this seemed too much. I hemmed and hawed about what to do. I don't like making a stink. (Other than when it comes to Shaw Cable) I'm very uncomfortable about complaining. I worry about what people will think of me and I worry about whether the leaders will treat Matthew differently as a result of having to deal with his mom. I felt sick to my stomach at the thought. But then I thought - well, Ruth, what will leave you feeling worse? Doing nothing, and knowing that your child may be at risk; or doing something that may result in the organizers and leaders of the camp thinking of you as a crazy mom? That made the answer obvious.
So I swallowed my discomfort and fears, and called the camp organizer that evening (who had not been present at the camp during the day), and had a long chat with him. He's a terrific guy who has done amazing things for the profile of tennis in this city since moving here from Australia a number of years ago, particularly when it comes to promoting tennis for kids. So I wanted to make sure that I supported what he was trying to do with these brand new summer camps. I told him (very truthfully) that Matthew had really enjoyed his day - in fact, he was raving about it from the time I picked him up til the time I put him to bed. But I also laid out my concerns. And, to his credit, he responded in the exact way that I'd hoped he would: with understanding; concern; and, most importantly, a commitment to rectifying the situation immediately. And he did. By the time I arrived the next morning, new systems were in place, and I felt significantly better. Because I felt uncomfortable with the two leaders, given that they would know who it was who talked to the organizer, I decided to tackle things head on again, and so I sat down with them for a few moments and started the conversation by saying that I'd called the organizer the previous evening with a few concerns. I noted that my intention had not been to spy on them, but that I couldn't help noticing things that had caused me concern. I hoped that they understood. They were a bit stiff and cool, but I felt good about having closed that loop by talking with them directly. I also made a point, for the rest of the week, of engaging the leaders in brief conversation at the beginning and end of each day, and to keep those conversations positive and encouraging.
So that's it. I hated, hated having to do that. But in the end, I also felt great about mustering up the courage to deal with it. I don't want to be the parent who complains. But more than that, I don't want to be a parent who regrets not trying to protect her kid...and the other kids.