Around the Campfire that Wasn’t

On Wednesday, Collier and I went to our January session of “Homeschool Appreciation Day” – his Collierism for Class Day at Valley Creek Academy, the school we use for our homeschool cover. Even though I am always the only dad there, and really the only adult male there, save for the retired fella that teaches science and one lonely grandpa – I still enjoy going each month. It’s a school day off, and a day to be around other homeschool parents and students. It’s where Collier learned that he may like martial arts. Who knew? It can be busy and noisy and sometimes unpredictable, but Collier loves it just the same.  

This month’s Class Day included much of the same as last semester – science and then art, karate, cooking, 4-H, and whatnot. But tucked in the middle of the day was a new session. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that session would break my heart. 

It was the Campfire session. There was a lady from Camp Fletcher there to teach the students some facet of camping. Today’s lesson was on building your own compass. I’m not sure how other Class Days work, but at VCA, sometimes there are two classes offered concurrently for each age group, and the students can choose which session they want to attend. Collier and I decided the Campfire session sounded better than cooking. (We’ve never been to cooking – afraid they would cook something not gluten free, we’ve always chosen karate instead). This semester, though, Campfire and Cooking were the two competing sessions.  

We got there and Camp Fletcher Lady and her assistant were super nice to Collier, even hanging out with him while I ran to put his artwork in the car so I wouldn’t have to keep up with it. He was the only student there when I left, and he was still the only one when I got back. After about six or seven minutes, it was apparent he was going to be the only one there. All the other kids chose cooking.  

Not to be discouraged, she told us what today’s lesson was going to be. We chatted about their facility (why not? That’s how we got into karate lessons, after all), and then she told Collier he could stay and make the compass, or we could go to cooking. He chose cooking, though we did take a lesson plan for the compass. I think it will be a neat project.  

Cooking was fine. We watched other kids help the teacher make a homemade bubbly pizza bake, as well as some homemade Caesar dressing, which really was fantastic. We then had lunch, and afterwards I handed Collier off to his Nana and Pop. They stay with him for 4-H when it’s time for me to head to work. 

After Collier’s karate lesson tonight, and after we got home from celebrating my dad’s birthday, and AFTER Collier had been in bed a while, when he SHOULD have been asleep, he came stumbling down the hall:  

“Dad?” 

“Yeah buddy?” 

“Remember that Campfire lady, and how we were the only ones there, and we left her for Cooking?” 

“Yes, I remember. Why?” 

“Do you think she felt bad?” 

I’m not sure she did, but I sure did. At least after Collier not-so-smoothly pointed out that we should have stayed. I was broken. 

“Dad, we should have stayed.”  

“I know buddy. I know. Next time, if she’s there, we’ll do Campfire instead  of Cooking. I promise.” 

If any of you are wondering if kids on the autism spectrum can’t feel love, or can’t have emotions or feelings, you’re wrong. They have the truest kinds of love and emotions, and the truest kind of empathy. They may not recognize it or be able to express it. They may not know how. They may just say that you should have stayed when you actually left. 

I never really thought twice that day about leaving. I did feel a little bad, as she had prepared a lesson that no one got to enjoy, but I didn’t worry over it. I didn’t let it keep me from sleeping… until now.  

We’ve prayed a lot over Collier. We’ve prayed that he would “lose” his diagnosis countless times. We’ve prayed that his IQ scores would come up. We’ve  prayed that his reading would improve. We’ve prayed that he would make friends. We’ve prayed that this time, the therapy would work, or this time,  we might actually be able to get in to therapy. We’ve prayed and prayed. Man, have we prayed.  

Amidst all those prayers though, sometimes I tend to overlook my blessings. Because one of the prayers that I’ve had for years and years – since Collier was itty bitty – was for him to grow up to be a better man than I. If anything, that night showed that answered prayer to me. We followed the crowd when we shouldn’t have, and he knew it. 

Next month, we won’t worry about being the only people in the session. We won’t feel weird, and we won’t follow the crowd. We’ll go to the Campfire session, and we’ll have a good time doing it.   

Next month, Collier will sleep soundly after “Homeschool Appreciation Day.” And so will I.  

~ Brian 

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