This post is continued from yesterday.
I called the camp director, Jenny, from the car, identifying myself as Kai’s mom.
“What can you tell me about today?” I asked.
“Oh, yeah we had an incident where Kai bit someone, an eleven-year-old.” She said it with an air of incredulousness, the emphasis on “eleven-year-old,” as if that somehow made a difference.
So an eleven-year-old threw Kai’s stuff out of a locker.
“And what was the reason?” I asked.
“I wasn’t there,” she said, “but from what I understand there was no reason for it at all.”
Not bloody likely. Not in a million years.
“And then what happened?” I asked.
“We filed an incident report and it went downtown,” she said.
I had no idea what this meant. “What does that mean?”
“It means that we’re covered and we can see what the other family wants to do.”
So glad you’re covered, Jenny. Who can I murder?
I debated how to respond. For one thing, Jenny’s account contradicted Kai’s, and she was clearly in CYA mode. I never want to be that parent, who thinks her little snowflake is always innocent, but Kai had no reason to lie to me at that point.
“Kai says that another kid was preventing him from using a locker, and it got physical.”
Jenny hesitated. “That’s not my understanding,” she said.
I took a bracing breath.
“Jenny,” I said, “I’m going to say something to you that sounds like just the kind of thing a parent says,” I began. “But there is no way on God’s green earth that Kai bit some kid without provocation. Should he have bitten someone? Of course not, but you can’t tell me that he didn’t have a reason.”
She was quiet for a minute, and then asked me to hold on. She began to talk with someone in rapid-fire Spanish, whether about Kai or me or something else entirely, I have no idea.
When she got back on the line, her tone had softened.
“Kai’s been coming here for a lot of years and he’s never been violent,” she said.
“Exactly,” I said.
“I’m getting a lot of stories,” she said.
I’ll bet she was.
“Who picked him up and carried him from the locker room?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” she replied. “Maybe Marcus.”
Marcus is a counselor we’ve known for years. He knows Kai. His former counselors used to make sure Marcus was with Kai in the locker room.
“If it was Marcus, I’m totally okay with that,” I said. This is true, but the fact remains that Jenny didn’t know who had pulled the boys apart, carrying mine kicking and screaming from the room.
I told Jenny of the other hat incident, the one with the scratch.
“No one reported it to me,” she said.
I told her I’d informed Luis and asked him to keep an eye out.
“Has Kai ever had an inclusion aide at camp?” Jenny asked.
“No,” I replied. “We’ve never had a problem.”
She thought about that for a moment. “You’re right,” she said.
I know I’m right.
She told me that she would reach out to Marcus, to see if he could more closely shadow Kai, especially in the locker room and at lunch.
“I found it, by the way. The hat. Took me about 30 seconds. It was in the garbage at the pool.”
Jenny, I'll see you next Tuesday.
I drove to therapy fighting off tears on Kai’s behalf. The powerlessness, the humiliation he must have felt. He would have replayed it all day, over and over in his mind. And then! Having to go the rest of the day without his hat. The cruelty of that alone made me want to murder someone.
I texted Marcus. He hadn’t been in the locker room, but heard the whole story—a story, by the way, that is exactly as Kai told it. He promised me that he would put his stuff right next to Kai’s in the locker room. He’s good protection, well over 6 feet, not to mention cool.
I wanted to find that eleven-year-old and pound him into the ground. I wanted to show up to every single locker he’d ever have for the rest of his life and throw all of his shit out of it and light it on fire.
I told Scott the story when we got home.
You should have seen his face.
The next morning, I asked Kai if he wanted to go to camp.
“No,” he said. “I want a break.”
“You’re not spending the day on your iPad,” I warned.
“I don’t want to go,” he said. “I just want peace.”
“Peace from what?” I asked.
I knew. I mean I knew, but I wanted to hear him say it. I wanted to know if he didn’t want to go because of what happened or because he was being, I don’t know lazy or whatever. I wanted to know if I should push him or not.
“From the bullies,” he said. “They bother me and take my hat.”
“What if I told you that I can keep you safe?” I asked. “Marcus will be with you the whole time.”
“Naw,” he said.
I went upstairs to find Scott. I needed his opinion about camp.
“What do you think?” I asked.
“He used the word, ‘bully?’” Scott asked.
“Kai doesn’t have to go places where people are mean to him,” Scott said.
“That’s what I needed to hear,” I said, and went back downstairs.
“Why do I have to go to camp and Kai doesn’t?” Ryan protested as we drove to the park.
“Because that’s how it is,” I said.
“It’s no fair,” she said.
No, it’s not.
I walked her in and went to find Jenny. She was gone but her assistant was there.
“I’m Kai’s mom,” I said.
She looked up at me. “Yes,” she said. “Can I help you?”
“Do you know what happened yesterday?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said, guardedly.
I asked to see the incident report, but she said it was “private.”
“A report about my son is private? From me?” I asked.
“Kai doesn’t want to come back here,” I said.
And I watched her demeanor change.
“He doesn’t want to finish?” she asked. She seemed to genuinely care.
“No,” I said. “He says he’s being bullied. By eleven-year-olds.”
Something in her broke then, and suddenly she knew the entire story.
“The kid he bit isn’t the bully. The bully was the kid who threw his stuff out of the locker. The kid he bit was standing up for Kai, trying to keep them separated. Kai was just so upset he lost control.”
I stared at her.
“The kid he bit, it’s his birthday today. He didn’t come to camp.”
“Oh, god. What a bad situation all around,” was what I said. But what I left unsaid was what a massive failure of all the adults in charge. They knew there was a bully! They knew the whole story and tried to tell me that Kai bit some kid with no provocation!
She thanked me for being so understanding, and said she hoped Kai would at least come back for the beach party in a couple of weeks.
I told her we would try, but I didn't really think it would happen.
Marcus was so nice when I told him that Kai didn’t want to come to camp.
“Not feeling it today, huh?” was what he said good-naturedly.
But I knew he felt bad, too. He likes Kai a lot.
I drove to Starbucks, thinking the whole time about what had happened: the obfuscation, the melee in the locker room.
In line for coffee, I thought of the kid who’d stood up against a bully on Kai’s behalf, of what courage that takes, and in the ensuing fight got bitten on the arm for his trouble, and my heart broke for him.
When it was my turn to order, I wiped a tear with the heel of my hand and ordered a decaf Americano.
Kai spent last Wednesday making Minecraft videos with Monica’s college-age son, Jonathan, so that I could go to work, but as Jonathan was spending the following four days at Lollapalooza, this was not a long-term solution.
I started Googling other camps, because if Kai wasn’t going to go back to the park district camp, he was still going somewhere. I had things to do and Kai needed to have some structure.
There is a kids’ science place not too far away from us, and they had a spot in their week long science camp for the following week.
I gave them a call to see what kind of people they were over there.
The director answered the phone, and I told her who I was and that I was considering her camp for my autistic son, and did she think it would be a good fit?
“This is a science camp,” she said. “We get a lot of autistic kids. They all seem to really like science.”
I gave her my money and told her we’d see her on Monday.
But then, the craziest thing happened.
Kai went back to Park District camp on Thursday.
This was his idea.
“Are you sure?” I asked.
He said he was.
I consulted Scott, who said that sending him back was a good idea, as long as Kai was into it.
I think I asked Kai 10 or 12 times that morning if he was sure, and when he said that he was, I slathered him in sunscreen and sent him to camp.
“What do you do if you have a problem with another kid?” I asked him. We’d been practicing.
“Tell a counselor,” he replied.
“And what will that counselor do?” I asked.
We saw Jenny on the way in.
“Hi, Kai!” she said.
Then she covered my hand with hers. “Marcus will be with him today.”
When we walked into the multi-purpose room where the kids sign in and line up, Marcus came up to Kai, offering to have Kai hang out with him and the other counselors over by the stage.
“Naw,” Kai said, and went to sit with his group.
They greeted him with a chorus of “Hey Kais” and he sat down.
I told him to have fun and I left, full of apprehension and pride, too, at Kai’s resilience and his wanting to do normal things like sit with the other 9-year-olds instead of being singled out.
Kai made it through that day and the next, though he did put up a slight protest on Friday.
“Why don’t you want to go to camp today?” I asked.
“Because camp is so boring,” he said.
And because that was the wrong answer and because I had to work, Kai went to camp.
“Just one more day,” I said. “Science camp starts next week.”