Gary told me that Scott wanted to go to baseball camp. I’d received a brochure from the YMCA that described various units of day camps over the summer, and baseball for his age group and presumably experience was available.
I signed him up. Eagerly. Summertime with it’s multiple days of either no structure or structure-I-have-to-create is not easy for me. Ever, but last summer was worse. This would be Scott's first experience with full-day day camp and I was looking forward to it like a cold drink after a hot workout.
I dropped him off on Monday and left after introducing him to his coach.
When I picked up up Monday afternoon and asked how his day had been he initially said fine. Yet as the afternoon wore on he was saying he didn’t want to go the next day. I told him that we had made a commitment and that he had to see it through. Inwardly my heart sunk at the prospect of the threat to the time away that I’d been waiting for all summer.
Tuesday morning he didn’t want to go. So when I dropped him I asked the coach if things were going ok with him because he’d expressed hesitation about returning. The coach said he thought he was doing ok; it was clear he was inexperienced and so he was keeping him in the least experienced group. He added though that by Thursday they were going to have the younger teams playing with the older and he wasn’t sure how Scott would do…
That afternoon at pickup Scott was saying he wished he could get sick so he didn’t have to go to camp. This was an unusually strong expression of reluctance: he’d expressed reluctance to go to school before, but never to the extent of wishing himself sick. The dilemma for me was that the next day, Wednesday, Connor was going to a friend’s, and so was going to be the first free day for me in weeks of summer vacation.
Reluctantly I concluded I may have to wait a little while and observe Scott’s camp. I tried to give myself an out, thinking if he didn’t express reluctance again I could feel ok about just leaving at next drop-off.
He expressed ‘reluctance’ again.
So I decided to hang out, ‘just a little while’ (maybe I could linger a half an hour and still have a nice chunk of alone time to look forward to.)
So I checked him in and the coach told him to get his glove and go play catch. Most of the kids were paired up in a long line and balls were flying back and forth. Scott took his pack over to the shade tree where the other children left theirs as the coach and I watched. It took him an inordinate amount of time to extricate his hat and glove from the bag and then it took even longer because he had to put them on first, and then he had to zip the pack completely closed. It was enough out of the ordinary, how long it took, that there was a sort of awkward feel. Then he walked toward the line of children tossing balls, and actually walked right through the flying balls to take his place at one side of the line. He wasn’t hit, but I was astounded that he’d shown such little self-preservation and the coach acknowledged this by kind of laughing. It was hard to get the flavor of that laugh: was it, “boy he was lucky”, or was it because it seemed funny by resembling something from a Charlie Chaplin movie? Was it a ‘god he’s stupid’ kind of laugh? Or, a ‘boy I sure didn’t expect him to do that’ kind of laugh? But I didn’t have time to contemplate the nuances of the laugh because I was watching Scott and my anxiety gauge was rising. Everyone was paired up and he was just standing there. He had an uncertain look on his face, a sort of smile, but his eyes squinted against the morning light. He didn’t know what to do and so just stood there holding his glove. His face looked so vulnerable and I felt compassion at his dilemma in the sharp ache of my heart. The coach busied himself with something else and appeared to not notice. We waited. We waited. Several minutes went by and they were agonizingly slow. I finally said, “He needs help to find a partner and include himself.” The coach immediately singled out one of the helpers, a high school or college kid sitting on the bench nearby and told her to go play catch with him. As she walked out to him I used that opportunity to throw a tennis ball for Riser, our golden retriever who was still alive then, while I continued to observe Scott.
The girl would toss the ball, and it would hit Scott in the face. He did not seem to be able to get his hands positioned quickly enough to catch the ball before it would hit him, and it always seemed to take him by surprise. The girl was not cruel at all and adjusted her style; moved closer to him, made sure his glove was positioned first, threw it more slowly. He still got hit in the face, and he was heartbreakingly brave about it. He didn’t cry, he didn’t yell in frustration, he just dutifully ran to try to find the ball so he could throw it back to her. I saw it hit him at least 3 times.
I realized that it was going to take longer than a half hour for me to evaluate this situation and I sat in the car and watched some more.
The time for catch concluded and now they were going to play some other game that involved wearing a colorful vest of some kind and running. He was given a vest and could not get it on. The other children ran around him and he tried and tried (and tried) to reposition it and get it on correctly. It was upside down, it was backward. There were helper coaches on the field and no one saw that he was struggling, and no one came to help him. I felt like there was a squeezing hand on my throat, and on my heart as I watched. The first round of the game concluded and he hadn’t played at all. The second round began, and this time he walked up to the coach and appeared to have asked for help. The coach bent down and repositioned it. He began to run with the children, but I don't think he knew the parameters of the game; he was just content to run around. I don’t know if I had been an outside observer with nothing at stake if he would have seemed to stick out from the group the way he appeared to to me. To me it appeared there was something that was below the verbal level that seemed to distinguish him from the group in a way that children can often zero in on cruelly. Like Jerzy Kozinski’s “The Painted Bird”.
There was a lull where it seemed a logical place for me to leave. As I drove off I could see that he was turned away from the group, eyes fixed on our car.
Again I couldn’t bring myself to go. I told myself I needed to observe some more, but this time be unobserved in my observing. I drove the car around the block and parked where he couldn’t see me and I had another vantage. At this point the kids had turned to baseball activities again and he was playing catch with the same helper he’d had before. He was off in a smaller group with children more his own age.
At least twice I saw him get hit. I could see that the helper was being encouraging and kind, and again I was heartbroken to see how bravely he endured being hit—how dutifully he’d search for the ball where it had fallen after it had hit him. And how patient he was. Furthermore, even though these were all children his age I could see that no one was struggling like him. And there was the oddity that I’ve since noticed and articulated about him in the classroom: these kids were all aligned along a magnetic field called ‘baseball’. They understood the overall bigger picture of what they were participating in. They ‘spoke’ baseball. Scott…did not. He wasn’t only not on the same page, he wasn’t even in the same book, or in any book at all.
And I realized that this was not the time to stress sticking with commitments and goals once they are made. It was a mistake to have signed him up for this class—whether it was a beginning level or not, he wasn’t part of the basic baseball ‘agreement’ and therefore this was too advanced for him. And it would be unconscionably cruel to keep him there for 7 hours each day til the end of the week.
He was very relieved to see me and I barely managed to keep myself from crying as I took him to the coach and explained that this wasn’t the right setting for him and I was going to remove him. The coach was very nice about it; suggested other possibilities, different summer camps.
A few months later I’d followed up on a suggestion by his kindergarten teacher to talk to his pediatrician since he ‘wasn’t settling down to class the way he ought to be at this stage.’ His dr. suggested an OT evaluation. At this appointment the OT saw that he was not tracking objects with his eyes. He could not follow an object if she moved it from one side of his face to the other. Even something desirable, like a gummi worm.
That explained the getting hit in the face. It’s the reason we’re in vision therapy now.
Months and months later he did not speak of his experience there, though he’d notice the ball field whenever our route took us by it. This last time we drove by he remarked again that he’d had baseball camp there, and this time added, “Baseball is stupid.” I said that he’d had a bad start, and no wonder since his eyes hadn’t been able to follow the ball and he’d gotten hit. Then, he revealed a little more. He said that other children had told him that his peanut butter and crackers he had for snack were ‘gross’ and they wouldn’t let him sit by them at lunch.
This has been six months, and only now am I learning this. Information just can’t be extracted from him directly. It’s like peripheral vision, where sometimes an object looked at directly ‘disappears’. It can only be perceived in the periphery.
This is what I had in mind when I was thinking of the ‘space between’ moments, where there is a whole other world of feeling and experience that is very real, but may never be available to share with another person. I’m sure his 7 hours those two days at baseball camp must have seemed eternal.