Many know that I help to run Royal Family Kids Camp #271, a summer camp for local children in the foster care system. This week long, faith based camp gives the kids a chance to swim, fish, craft, play games, participate in drama and art and campfires--more important, we provide a safe place where the campers, many of whom have endured soul crushing heartbreak and abuse, are cherished and treasured.
Camp staff are encouraged to write a “Story of the One,” the tale of the one special child who wormed his or her way into their hearts. Though I have several stories from my days at camp, my “story of the one” child started in my heart. From the moment I knew I carried my son, Anthony, I loved him entirely, and that sweet and infinite feeling has never wavered. What I did not know then, however, was the extent of challenge he would face due to his ADHD. I know that ADHD is not life threatening, and in many ways, the creativity that often occurs with ADHD provides not only an advantage to the child, but also enriches everyone around him. Still, my bright, vivacious, funny, (oh yes, and very cute) young man struggled so much academically, facing the abyss of hopeless disorganization, the practical inability to manage time, and the challenge of passing classes because his mind was a maelstrom from which he was incapable of extracting the pertinent information. It hurt to watch a talented and promising young person’s self confidence erode until he lost all hope of success and resigned himself to failure.
This summer, Anthony, age 16, volunteered as a youth counselor at camp, spending the week sleeping in the cabins with the campers and taking special care of two young boys. The weather proved unbelievably horrid, with a constant downpour, rivers of mud coursing down the dirt pathways, tornado warnings. You’d think that the kids would stay indoors, but no, I would look across the spongy sports field to see my son playing basketball in a downpour with his campers. They played for hours, stopping only to fish, swim (yes, we swam in the rain--we were already wet) and eat. They worked together to make wooden cable cars which they painted and decorated. Then it was back to the soggy, splashy court. During our muddy, steamy campfires, Anthony would go to the front of the group and dance and sing, jumping about like a monkey, clapping his hands in the air over his head, any of the motions the songs called for. He drew his boys forward to join him, and together they jumped and laughed and clapped and sang out loud.
The week ended all too quickly, and Anthony had to leave camp a few hours early as he was leaving for a mission trip to build homes in South Carolina. (Did I mention that I love my son?) As the time approached for the kids to board the bus for home, one of Anthony’s campers approached me. He was wearing Anthony’s very favorite ball cap, the one he had bought for himself when buying yourself things was still a big deal. The little boy was holding out the cable car he and Anthony had made together. In thick block letters, he had written, “To: Anthony, LOVE Ricky.” Tears streaming down his face, he shyly placed the wooden car in my hands and dashed for the bus. I could see through the window that he buried his head in his arms, the bill of the cap resting like a smile on his wrists. I continued to wish the children farewell, and tried as hard as I could to swallow the painful lump in my throat. As the bus engine powered up, I heard rattling by Ricky’s window. He was frantically trying to lower the sliding pane. As the bus began to roll away, he managed to open the window and stick out his head, the giant cap pulled down tight over his little head.
“Miss Kim,” he yelled. “Miss Kim.”
“Yes, Ricky?” I jogged to keep pace with the bus.
“Tell Anthony I love him.”
The bus gained speed and turned the corner out of sight.
My boy, my beautiful, wonderful son, has such a heart. His mind refracts. His thoughts spin. So what? He forgets to turn in homework, essays, important forms. So what? He may never know if it is Wednesday or Sunday. So what? My son, through noticing Ricky, through giving him attention, love, and a thousand, soggy games of HORSE, showed this young child that he was treasured.
It’s raining now, a cleansing rain like the rain at camp which washed away the bitterness I felt because of Anthony’s struggles. I believe that somewhere, Ricky is shooting baskets in the rain, wearing an oversized baseball cap and remembering that he is precious.