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Sara Whitman Headshot

There is a Summer Camp for Everyone

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Remember going to summer camp? Buddy boards lined with swim tags, mess halls and bug juice served by the pitcher? The one obligatory long hike to a predetermined spot to have your overnight under the stars?

Camps of all boys or all girls, the YMCA and YWCA have the formula down pat and it hasn't changed since I was a kid. My son Zachary is at such a camp right now. Dropping him off brings me back to such great memories I want to throw my stuff on a bunk, too. It's a perfect camp for him, matches his personality and helps him grow in leadership and independence. The whole month away is his idea of heaven.

My son Ben has no desire to go to a place like that. No girls, no fashion and a month away from home? I don't think so, he said to me. No amount of promised bungee jumping would change his mind. When Zachary explained to him when he was old enough he could even shoot rifles? Ben just rolled his eyes.

Whatever.

Ben is the kind of kid who loves the mall, shopping and a great ice cream. He loves to swim but doesn't want to race anyone or jump off the next higher rock. He wants to talk about Paris Hilton and her latest achievements. His idea of a great book was the People Magazine special edition of the American Idol contestants- where are they now? He can tell you the top ten hits on the pop charts for the last four weeks.

He also plays soccer, video games and watches baseball. He knows all the Red Sox players, and never turns down a chance to go to a game at Fenway- although I think it's more about the spectacle than the game itself. He participates in 'traditional' boy activities but the idea of a day- let alone a month- without his acne proactive solution? Forget it.

I believe there is a summer camp for everyone and a few years ago, I found one for Ben. Another lesbian mom told me, you have to send Ben here. It'll be perfect for him.

I was a little hesitant- a camp on a farm? Ben ran shrieking from his baby brother's full diaper at the age of three... I was not sure a week in the country with animals and chores was a good fit.

It wasn't a good fit. It was a perfect fit.

In Athol, Massachusetts, he goes for a week of mucking stalls, gathering fresh eggs from the chicken coop and weeding the garden. There are no malls, no shopping and plenty of flies.

He loves it.

The camp he goes to is called Camp OUT. It's a camp for kids of gay and lesbian parents. For five days, he gets to be Ben. It is a safe place. All the kids have two moms, or two dads, or some configuration that is not traditional. For the week? They are all just campers.

They don't have to watch their words- talking about their moms or their dads is fine. No one asks for an explanation. They already know and I'm guessing? They don't really care. Camp is about them, not their parents.

Kids of gay and lesbian parents are the same as any kids- and they live very different lives. They deal with friends asking them, but where's your dad? What do you mean you don't have a mom? Not out of malice but out of true lack of understanding. Over and over, their family is questioned. Even at the grocery store, when some cashier unknowingly asks, are you having fun with your dad?

And it's me, the mom.

They get targeted by overly enthusiastic school administrators who want to be sure everyone knows they embrace diversity. They know when the permission slip goes home to everyone when they are talking about 'families' in the classroom it is because their family isn't considered "normal." In kindergarten, they learn it's a politically divisive issue. They know there is only one state in this country where their parents can get married.

When Ben was in second grade, a new friend came over to play. Someone who didn't know he had two moms. When they walked in the door, Ben burst out and said, in a single breath, "I have two moms, and in a few weeks a judge has ruled that they can get married legally, it wasn't before but they are still married even without the judge and that's the way it is so what do you want to go play?"

It's a lot to hold. Camp OUT gives them a safe place to put it down and walk away from it for a while.

Of course they're just kids, too. I have already hear from another parent that her daughter attempted to convince the counselors she was suffering from the rickets and could not possibly help with morning chores. A quick call to one of her mothers and they were assured that the girl did not have a vitamin deficiency, rather had done a report for school that year about the rickets.

Nice try.

For Ben, it is a week he looks forward to all year. Even as he packed several outfits for each day, along with the appropriate footwear and scented toiletries, he bubbled with nervous excitement about who would be there, where his bunk would be, what they would make for breakfast.

Clearly, cleaning the chicken coop isn't high on his list.

I know there is a great summer camp for each of my kids. They all have different needs. They all are affected in different ways by the reality of having two moms, two dads, and no divorce- at least not yet. For Ben? It's huge to be able to have these five days where he is the norm. When he gets home? I'm sure he'll gasp for a trip to a store, beg to go out to dinner somewhere civilized and immediately check out the latest top ten hits on iTunes.

And begin the eager wait, again, for next year.

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