So, my five-year-old is not perfect.  Shocker, right?!  To be more specific, she’s a very passionate child.  You know, now that I stop to think about that… maybe she IS perfect, because maybe the world needs more passionate people.  Who knows.  The point is, she can be trying and definitely can test the patience of the most angelic-spirited of them all (she may even make that tv lady who has 18 kids yell… I’ve never seen her yell, and I doubt she ever has… but my five-year-old could probably bring about that milestone).

ANXIETIES AND SHAME

On top of that, she has all sorts of anxieties.  There are specific ones, like worrying about tornadoes and whether people’s houses are in a flood zone, and once when I was driving, she asked me, “Momma?  Do you ever worry about us crashing into other cars and being all smashed up?” – this was my hint that she definitely worries about that.

And there are more general anxieties that are hard to put a finger on.  Usually, when she’s acted out, I realize in hindsight that it was because she was full of anxieties at that moment – about a new place, a first experience, different people.  Sometimes, these anxieties show themselves during the situation, but typically they are acted upon when she’s in the safety of her home.  For instance, when she started two-year-old preschool, bedtimes became awful and horrendous in every way you can imagine and some that you can’t… and now, with the benefit of time passing and a better understanding of her, I’ve come to realize that she was acting out from anxiety about preschool and separation anxieties at night.  (Don’t worry, we got through that phase… only to enter the totally creepy phase of Night Terrors.  Hold me.)

She also has a massive sense of shame.  That child will shame herself more than I’d ever dream of shaming her.  At the tender age of three, she’d put HERSELF in timeouts.  Really.  If she did something wrong, she’d say, “I’m gonna go to timeout” and walk up the stairs and hang out in her room.  If she gets in even the slightest trouble for something, she’ll declare that she’s a “horrible girl” and is “just bad” and really beat herself up about it.  Sometimes I just wouldn’t even point out the error of her ways, because she’d beat me to the punch and already be so upset with herself that I’d find myself immediately in build-up mode.

BUT WE GOT THROUGH IT

Needless to say, we’ve worked so hard through these things.  We first discovered music to be a huge outlet for her (it’d calm her down and became a crutch for her… I’d find myself listening to the same songs on repeat whenever she was going through something in her life), and then we realized that art did amazing things for her soul – it’s to the point now where, when she’s upset or nervous, she just HAS to color and draw to soothe herself.  And, beginning at age three, she entered a preschool where they really understood her and fostered her self-esteem and confidence.  And we’re ever grateful to her ballet teacher, who “got” her and helped her believe in herself.

So, by the time she reached five years old, we had a pretty good handle on things, she’d improved SO much and, while she could still be challenging at times, we knew how to deal with it all – she was no more challenging than your average five-year-old.  Importantly, she’d come to have her own techniques for getting through things and had such improved self-esteem, that she was ready for little activity camps that summer.  Of course, she couldn’t wait for summer dance classes (dancing helps her relieve so much of her stress and anxiety), but she definitely was pumped for a theater camp that she’d been waiting two years to be old enough for.  She’d seen her sister do it, and she couldn’t WAIT.

A PRAYER, SONG, AND DANCE

That summer, I took my very happy and excited five-year-old and my older daughter to this theater camp.  My older daughter had a good experience with it two years prior.  It’s a “Christ-based” theater camp that runs weekly camps out of local churches.  I dropped off two very excited children and couldn’t wait to hear how the first day went!

And, just as I’d expected, both daughters emerged with huge smiles at the end of the day.  I was especially proud of my five-year-old… this camp was in a “strange” church to her and she didn’t know a soul except for her sister (who was in a different age group).  She’d never done anything like this before, so I knew her anxiety must be ramped very high, but the novelty of it all got her through that first day like a champ.

THEN CAME DAY TWO

I dropped off two still-very-excited girls and went off to do my errands.  And, shortly after, found myself crying in the middle of Target.

The head of the camp (I’ll call her “Head Lady,” because I don’t know what her title is) had called me on my cell.  “We have a problem with [my five-year-old].”  Immediately, I thought she’s hurt and my mind started racing as I asked, “Is she okay?!”  I didn’t get an answer… Head Lady was more focused on her delivery of what she had to tell me than letting me know whether or not my child had cracked her head open and was conscious or not.

“I just don’t know what to do.  She won’t stop crying.”

Again, I asked, panicked, “Is she okay??”

I get the response of, “You may need to come get her.  We’ll see.”

I’m at my wit’s end now and ask, “WHAT is going on?!”

And then I find out…

[and I paraphrase, because I can’t remember the exact quotes]

“Oh, well!  She kept asking if it was snack time.  And she got upset that it wasn’t art time.  And…” Okay, so I can tell immediately what’s happened.  My very anxious five-year-old needed to know the structure of the day.  She was asking for help in understanding how her day was going to go.  She wanted to know the darn schedule, for goodness’ sake!  And when she didn’t understand the flow of the day, her anxieties skyrocketed and she couldn’t deal.

“Soooo… she wouldn’t stop crying” (oookay… most five-year-olds don’t just “stop crying,” but whatever), “so we had to pull her out into the hallway and make her sit out, and then it got worse.”

Wait.  WHAT?!

Okay, so you removed her from the activity because she was crying – I get that.  I totally get if a kid is being disruptive and the others need to move on.  But, um, you did it as a punishment?!  Obviously, then (a) she was already upset, (b) you did nothing to help her with why she was upset, (c) she became more upset because you punished her, and (d) she’s self-shaming on top of that.

“We couldn’t have her disrupting the class,” (like I said, I get that) “and we don’t stand for this misbehavior.”  Woooooah…. a five-year-old crying on Day Two of a summer camp is…. Misbehavior??

“She stomped her foot and yelled at me.”  Well, now I wanted to talk to my daughter, because THAT I’m not going to stand for.  So I asked to.

And the tears just flowed, right there in Target’s Household Cleaner aisle, as her little voice whispered into the phone (whispered!  Like she didn’t want Head Lady to hear her), “Momma?  I didn’t yell.  And I didn’t stomp my foot.”  And call it mother’s instinct, but I believed her.  Yes, this child most definitely has stomped her foot and WORSE… but she only acts that way with people she feels safe with… namely, our family and mothers in my “village” (sorry, T!  She totally kicked your wall WAY hard!  Aaaaand over and over.  Now we know she feels safe with you!!).  She does not act like THAT in situations where she doesn’t know the people well.

Head Lady got back on the phone.  “If I have to call you again today, she will be removed from the camp for violation of the Behavior Agreement.”  And, the way Head Lady said this, I could tell:  I was going to be called again.  Because Head Lady obviously had painted my child as a trouble maker, so we were going to be playing the ole Self-Fulfilling Prophecy game here.

KICKED OUT

Sure enough… two more errands in, and my phone rang again.  “We need you to come get her.”  I simply said I’d be right there, and I got the heck out of that grocery store and drove across town to my baby girl.

I’d like to take a minute here to review the facts with you, dear reader.  My five-year-old was getting booted from a Christ-based theater camp for having an emotional breakdown, which was spurred by not getting answers to her initial concerns and questions.

Cool.

PICKING UP MY BROKEN CHILD

I walked in, and Head Lady said, “We’re HOPING she’ll walk up the stairs on her own, but I doubt it,” and looked at me and LAUGHED, as if we were in this thing together.  I’ve got news for you, lady, we are so most definitely NOT on the same team here!

I just brushed past her and went down those stairs myself to go get her.  Because, if YOU were a five-year-old child being told you had to leave the summer camp that you’ve waited TWO YEARS to join, would YOU willingly walk up the stairs on your own to leave?!  Right.

I just swooped her up, we went up those stairs, past Head Lady, and out to the car.  And my little one was bawling, asking me, “Why do I have to leave?  Momma?  Is camp over for me?  But the other kids are there.  Why are the other kids there still, Momma?  Why don’t they want me?  Momma?  Momma?”

And I couldn’t immediately answer, because I was crying.  And not a few delicate tears –  I was the emoji with a flood of tears rolling down my face.

I REPEAT… SHE WAS BROKEN

We got home, and she went on up to her room and said she wanted to be alone.  And I was fine with that at that moment, because I needed to go into my room to get a few more of my own tears out before I could handle this like an emotionally-capable adult.

And you know what I heard coming down the hall??  Oh my word, it’s heartbreaking…. I heard my little girl PRAYING through sobs, saying, “God!!  Please make me happy again!!!  And please make me GOOD, God!  PLEASE!!  PLEASE!!”

I silently lost it again.  This isn’t a child who’s seen dramatic movies.  She’s never seen anyone fall on their knees and pray in desperation to God.  She wasn’t mimicking anything.  This was coming from HER, and it was heart wrenching.

After I got myself to a point where I could breathe steadily again, I went in there and picked her up and hugged her and hugged her some more and carried her to my bed, where we lay together and cried together.  Because, you know what?  Kids need to see their mothers cry sometimes – they need to see that emotions are normal and fine and healthy.  So we had a good cry together, and then we tried to talk about it.

Of course, the first things she wanted to know were, “Why am I so bad?,” “Why did they make me leave?,” “Can I go back tomorrow?,” “Why can’t I go back tomorrow?”  And I just let her know that Head Lady completely and totally didn’t “get” her and it’s a massive shame, because she was missing out on having a truly magical child be a part of the camp program.

COUNT US OUT!

 When we went back at the end of the camp day to pick up my older child, Head Lady backtracked and said, “I guess she could come back tomorrow if she wants.”

Lady, please.

So I turned to speak to her.  I wish I could say tears did NOT stream down my face, but the darn floodgates opened again.  And I said, “And risk having her crushed AGAIN the way she was crushed today??  I don’t think so.”  And I muttered a few other things about what a special child she is, how she was feeling unsure, and an observation of how it’s interesting that they invite five-year-olds into their program and yet, apparently, can’t handle five-year-old behavior.

The next day (after I was cooled down), I wrote an email to the head of the entire theater program, explaining all my concerns.  And I got the coldest response back I’ve ever gotten from anyone.  I mean, the most stressed out airport worker in the world is warmer than the response I got from this theater group.

Thankfully, my older daughter decided not to return to the camp for Day Three.  “Momma, I heard how they were talking to [my youngest] and I did NOT like it.”  This is a child who has an amazing moral compass, so I don’t doubt her one bit.

WE FIXED HER BROKEN SPIRIT

 So, thanks to this theater camp, I spent the rest of the summer implementing Project:  Build Up for my child.  After this, she repeatedly tested her world, acting out more than she ever had… I think to see if the world would catch her.  And I, and the wonderful village we’ve been blessed with, caught her.  Every. Single. Time.

By the end of the summer, she’d settled down to her old self, just in time for starting kindergarten.  And this child who was so “awful” that she had to get kicked out of a “Christ-based” summer theater camp has been thriving in kindergarten.  She’s back to her happy, loving, warm, social self and has, in fact, blossomed even more.  She is rocking kindergarten, she’s a happy soul in her dance classes, she’s wonderful at Sunday School, and she’s just generally an all-around amazing child who adds so much happiness to so many lives daily.  Actually, she seems to have fully exited her exasperating preschool ways and has been such a doll!  And, lo and behold, the night terrors have stopped!!  [cue: angelic chorus]

SOMETIMES, THE WORLD SUCKS

This is the lesson I learned in all of this.  Because one lady and her attitude toward my child almost brought my child down to a point of no return.  And, to top that off, she and the company she works for had zero remorse for or hesitation in this.  And that just sucks.  It sucks that people can nearly “ruin” your child’s soul so swiftly and harshly.

And not every child has parents and a village who will pull them out of that spirit-spoiling quicksand.  Thankfully, my child did.

Oh, and ask me if this camp offered to give any part of my two children’s camp tuition back to us… and I’ll just laugh and laugh.  (No.  The answer is no.)