She drove an expensive looking SUV and had an accessorizing small dog. Her shoes, hair and nails looked like they would be appropriate in a big law firm or a clothing boutique where one makes appointments to be assisted in shopping. Everything about her said "put together" except for the expression on her face. Her mouth and her eyes exuded the same apprehension that I felt. She seemed stressed and distracted as she helped her daughter out of the car, which was right next to ours. The girl, blond, well groomed and about Josh's age, had Downs Syndrome. She seemed unsure as well. They must have been first timers.
I wondered if this girl's mom was also doubting herself for signing her child up to be dropped off at this overnight respite camp for the weekend. Did it feel wrong to her to leave her daughter who had so many needs in the hands of people who seemed to run a good program but didn't know or love her child? Was she tempted to drive back home and protect her beloved child with the safety of known routines?
I happened to have a dog with me as well so we chatted briefly about our dogs. We did not talk about our children.
Had we been in a different context, we probably could have talked for hours about the complexities of raising children with special needs. We might have given each other advice about how to forge our own path when our kids are not neuro-typical. Maybe we would have compared notes on the zillions of programs, doctors, and therapies that we've tried.
But we were not there to be friends or compatriots, we were both there to drop off our kids at overnight summer camp. I have been taking Josh to the Saturday day program at this camp for kids with special needs every couple of months for the past year. Josh has done well but he has never gone anywhere overnight without either Alex or me. An overnight is a completely different thing because it involves meds and, well, sleep. Establishing good sleep has been a long, Tolkienian journey for us. Also, Josh is not at a place, cognitively, to understand that I would be dropping him off on Friday morning and then picking him back up on Sunday afternoon. What if he thought that I was just leaving him there? He has no way of asking questions like, "Where is my mom and why are we doing this thing that is so out of our routine?"
And the med thing is complicated too. If Josh does not get one of his meds, he will eventually dehydrate and pass out and, possibly, die. Also, if he doesn't get his artificial cortef, the "fight or flight" hormone, he could fall into seizures or, even death.
Even with these dark scenarios, I couldn't help but to smile a bit when I reached the front of the line at the nurse's check in station. Some of the kids who had already been checked in had come with multiple bags of medications that made our stash look minuscule in comparison. The keen and appropriate questions that the nurse asked me assured me that they knew what they were doing. Everything was neatly documented and double checked.
Josh's one-on-one buddy for the day, Andrea, was chatty, energetic and confident, like a compassionate chipmunk. She walked us to his cabin and reminded me that there would be two staff on duty in the 20 kid cabin all through the night just in case there was a need.
Josh seemed serene and mature. After we went over all of items in Josh's overnight bag and double checked details about his personal routines, Andrea asked Josh if he was ready to go horseback riding. After doing a little hand flapping, Josh stood up and said, "Yes". My heart both rose and broke a little as I drove down the hill from the camp. Oh, man. I hope I'm not a mess this weekend.