School starts for teachers tomorrow. Most of us have already been back for weeks, preparing our classrooms for the kiddies to arrive on Thursday. Our two days of professional development begin tomorrow.
It was a busy, fun and productive summer. We celebrated my grandmother’s 100th birthday, (the “real” day is actually this Thursday.) Our cousins from all over the country came to New Jersey and we celebrated for nearly three weeks! I think I wound up seeing more of New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York with my Western cousins than I would have ever done had they not been here!
We took a “historic” tour of Greenwich Village, visiting the places Grammy grew up, the apartment she and my grandfather lived when they were first married, the church my grandparents were married in and another church where my father and his brothers were baptized.
We went to the beach – so incredibly close, yet for some reason, a place we hadn’t gone in over a year, and to the Poconos with a trip to Bushkill Falls. We got to see another one of our cousins play in a performance of “Rock of Ages”. We went bowling, to a trampoline park, to the zoo and to the pool. We watched a Mandala be constructed in my own home town!
All of this happened in just those three weeks! The rest of the summer, I worked at Camp Maple, where I have worked for the last seven summers, so although we were outside and having fun with our campers….it wasn’t quite “my summer” yet.
On Friday, we take DJ to college. He is one of the last of his friends to leave for school and he is ready to go. Dave and I….maybe not quite so ready to have him leave, but we are excited for his new adventure. That might officially end summer for me. A new batch of Kindergarten parents, leaving their babies with me as I leave my “baby” in Massachusetts. It is going to be a week filled with bittersweet tears for all of us!
Occasionally I participate in a blog share called Five Minute Friday. I check out the word of the week in the morning and think about it during my day wondering if it something I could find something to write about. Today’s word is FILL. Right away, I thought it was a week I would skip. I had no idea what to write about fill that would be interesting enough to share on my blog.
I got home from the last day of Camp Maple and Dave and I decided to watch an episode of Orange is the New Black. I am still catching up and loving every episode!! The doorbell rang while we were watching, which is odd for the middle of the day. It was a man from the US Census Bureau. Last year we were chosen to fill out a survey that has turned into a much bigger project than we had thought. Now we are on a list where we get surveyed in person a few times a year. Not a big deal, not a lot of time but I don’t always know when they are coming. Now when they show up at our door, the surveyor fills in the survey at our dining room table as he asks us all of the questions.
As the man entered our home, the first thing he saw was our door mat which says, “A shelter dog rescued this family.” He stepped backwards, his eyes filled with fear saying, “You have a dog? I am afraid of dogs.” I pointed at Emmy Lou, who was sleeping on her favorite pillow on the floor. He wouldn’t even look her way. Dave told him, “She’s nothing but 17 pounds of sleep.” He was still very apprehensive and I really think he wanted to do this another time but I told him that he was lucky to have us both home at the same time and this would be the best time to do it. He very hesitantly entered the living room. Emmy didn’t move a muscle. She continued to sleep, obviously not a guard dog!
I led the man into the room to go to the dining room and again told him not to worry at all about her because she was very indifferent to people and would probably never leave the pillow. He refused to walk past her pillow asking instead to walk through the kitchen and around to the other entrance to the dining room. As we sat there filling out the survey, he kept jumping in his seat telling me that he thought he heard the dog. Of course, Emmy hadn’t left her spot.
It probably took about thirty minutes total to fill the entire survey. He was a nice guy and had finally been able to calm his nerves a bit. We even found out through a bit of chit-chat that he lives in the same apartment building as my brother and even knew who he was, calling him “Chip the hockey guy.” Small world. He left without saying goodbye to Emmy Lou, but we got the survey filled out and I got a story to share because of it.
Anyone who knows me well, knows that I am not a gardener. My mom used to joke that she had a “black thumb” and I think I inherited that from her. I occasionally get plants from students and I love them and do my best to keep them alive, but I am not always successful. Last year, my friend Peggy who is a florist, sent the most spectacular purple orchid to the funeral home in memory of my mom. There were so many flowers sent there and we were able to do what we wanted with them when the services were over. Since the mausoleum where my mother is buried doesn’t allow real flowers inside, we knew they could not go there so my family and I chose the ones we loved most and kept those. I can’t remember what we did with the rest. There was some talk of donating them but that day is such a blur I can’t recall.
I chose to keep that stunning orchid and I actually kept it alive for months. Peggy gave me some tips for sustaining it. I remember crying the day that it lost it’s last flower. I googled how to preserve it and keep it so that it would bloom again but it never did. I still have the glass vase and the branch, (which is obviously dead) sitting on a shelf. I can’t bear to get rid of it. There is nothing to it anymore. It has made its way from the dining room, where it bloomed for so long, to the kitchen, where it sat on the window sill after it died and now to the counter right near the trash. I just can bring myself to do it yet.
At Camp Maple, where I am working this summer, there is a small interior garden in the building. It is in a courtyard in the center of the building. If you have never been in the building, you’d never know it was there. Last week, the women that maintain the garden asked us if we wanted to let our campers help out with the garden. Our campers are all boys and have different needs and intricacies so weren’t sure how they would react to this. We told them that we’d try it out and see how it went. Today was the day. The counselors discussed it ahead of time and made a plan that we’d see how it went and see how long the boys would be able to last in the garden. We would stay as long as they could handle it.
It turned out to be the best day so far! The three women who run the program were patient and kind with them. They took them from area to area explaining the different plants that were growing. They each planted beans which shouldn’t take much time to sprout. We weeded the cobblestones, watered the vegetables and added to the compost that they have created. One of the boys found a caterpillar that was just beginning to create it’s chrysalis. This fascinated all of them. Each of those boys was engaged the entire time we were in there. They asked if they could come back again tomorrow.
In that hour, as I sat there weeding with the boys, I felt a calm come over me. I think the boys did too. They entered that garden and explored on their own. It seemed to make them calm and comfortable as they worked around the courtyard. While they were gardening, they were practicing social interaction not just with each other, but with grownups as well. They had the chance to play in the dirt and the mud as they squeezed the soil between their fingers so it was a great tactile activity for them.
All of the counselors noticed the change in temperament and attitude that came across the boys while we were in there. We have decided to go back again tomorrow. It might be a fun way to start or end each day. The best part is that they will be able to watch the progress they are making in that garden as they come to camp each day for the next five weeks and that will give them a great sense of accomplishment.
All weekend, my Facebook feed has been filled with photos of friends’ children who are leaving for sleepaway camp. They all look so happy! Neither of my boys ever had the desire to go. They are kind of homebodies. DJ especially! Drew toyed with it a bit last year. We even went and looked at a sleepaway camp and he seemed excited about it, but in the end, he chose to play summer ball and stay home instead.
Dave went to boyscout camp and soccer camps that were sleepaway, but I never went to sleepaway camp . The first time I slept away from home was college! Since the boys never really showed any interest, we never really pursued it. If it is something they really want to do, we will research it more, but for them, day camps just seemed to be a better fit. Both of them have still attended day camps nearly every summer. They have loved the sports camps and town camps. DJ was a junior counselor for a few years but this year, instead of camp, he will work part time at my father’s store and continue to umpire.
Drew is going to be taking classes at The Adult School summer camp. He is so excited to do a TV Production Workshop for four weeks. DJ has been taking TV Production classes in high school since he was a freshman and Drew has heard him talk about it for years. DJ loves it so much that he is looking at colleges where he can continue to pursue it. This has made Drew very enthusiastic about taking the course.
My summer job is working at Camp Maple. My sixth year working there. It is a camp for students who have special needs but don’t require the extended year program that the schools offer. It is a place where the children to go where they are provided with a creative, nurturing environment to help develop key life skills, build confidence but most of all, to have fun!
I will often hear how awesome it is to be a teacher because we “get summers off.” What most people don’t realize is that most teachers aren’t paid in the summer and have to get other jobs to keep up with the bills! Luckily, I get to work with a great staff, great kids and the half day program still gives me time to enjoy summer vacation.
Whatever camp or summer activities you have planned, I hope you have a safe, happy and healthy time!
Last night I attended the wedding of two friends. Yes, last night. A Monday evening. That’s what happens when you work on Broadway and a large number of the guests do too. Monday night is an off night for shows so it was the perfect night Julia and Doreen to tie the knot.
I have known them for years. Not only was I lucky enough to teach their two daughters Olivia and Ruby, but their son Cooper attended Camp Maple where I work in the summer. These women never fail to amaze me. Their three beautiful children all have special needs of varying degrees. This doesn’t phase them in the least. They take it all in stride. I don’t think I have ever seen either of these women break a sweat. As Cooper demanded to stand between the two of them during the entire ceremony instead of letting them stand side by side, what did they do, they put their arms around him while they joined hands behind him.
This is so typical. When Olivia needed a break from the mayhem of the reception back at the house, the two of them left their guests to tend to her before getting back to the party.
Doreen and Julia met 16 years ago while Doreen was touring with a Broadway show. They went to St. Louis where Julia was working. Doreen continued to act while Julia was a stage hand. During their years together they have fostered about 12 children and adopted the three lovely ones I have had the opportunity to work with. These two women make me laugh whenever I am with them. I have never met a more caring and devoted family.
As I was taking photos during the ceremony last night, I could not help but focus on the looks of love and respect on the faces of everyone there. The love was apparent everywhere I looked.
Julia is leaving for 7 weeks soon to be the production supervisor for the tour of Motown the musical. They wanted to do this before she left. While she is gone, Doreen will hold it all together on the homefront. They’re a team. A well oiled machine and I for one admire them.
Today I began my summer job. It is a half day camp counselor job in my town. Camp Maple is camp that is offered to children with special needs who reside in Maplewood and South Orange. The program, run by the Maplewood Recreation Department, provides opportunities for gross and fine motor development as well as cognitive and social growth. It runs for six weeks. The children in our camp are students who do not require an extended year program at school, but work better in a smaller group setting. It is a group of children with a wide variety of ability levels and emotional challenges.
Our campers swim three days a week at the town pool, and we go on weekly field trips. We do arts and crafts with the campers as well. All of the counselors at Camp Maple are adults and are CPR and first aid certified.
This will be my fifth summer with Camp Maple and every year I look forward to doing it. We often have returning campers and it is great to see them again each summer. I am not a certified Special Education teacher, but working at Camp Maple gives me a better understanding of the problems such children face in their development. It helps me further my own growth as a teacher when I return to my classroom each school year.
Camp Maple is a place for the children to go where they are provided with a creative, nurturing environment to help develop key life skills, build confidence but most of all, to have fun!