Saturday July 27, 2013

Our house has seen a dramatic change.

We remembered the Brattleboro Park & Rec Department camps ... and we happily enrolled our eight-year-old.

These have long been Brattleboro area parents’ solution to the school-vacation-but-we-must-still-work dilemma. The camps are offered every week. They are reasonably priced, and chuck-full of great opportunities for kids who have completed kindergarten, up through entering sixth grade.

Within a few short days, our daughter is no longer the sullen, grumpy individual we’d come to dread encountering each morning ... and she’s back to the cheerful little being we enjoy. We expected this transformation.

As I dropped her off the first day, I suddenly remembered that the Brattleboro Park & Rec Department will also accept volunteers.

Ah ha! I was convinced that I had found an answer for the oldest son -- and his friends (if their families wanted). They needed community service hours. One week at camp meant 40 hours -- all the community service hours that are technically required for him to graduate at BUHS ... all done in the summer before he even officially starts high school.

Not surprisingly, the friends’ parents were also enthused. I offered to drive; I had to go anyway. The night before, I asked one of the moms if her son was all ready? "He will be," she answered clearly. He’s not enthused, I queried? "He will be," she declared emphatically.


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The first morning didn’t surprise me. My chipper "Good Morning!" was met with the usual, unintelligible grunts I’ve come to expect.

The first camp day’s weather -- like much of this summer’s -- was less than perfect. In fact, the morning’s showers had turned into a full-on down pour by the afternoon. The humidity would melt these Vermonters into puddles.

It was shaping up to be a trying day at the park.

And all of this had been my "bright idea".

I wondered how many daggered looks I would receive at pick up. I didn’t dare ask how the day went. I forged forth into the skating rink, determined to be supportive but unyielding to their sure complaints. As I drove in, I had even planned out an entire dialogue, explaining the importance of community service hours, how happy they would be to get them all done now, etc.

Sure enough, we were not even really out of the parking lot when one of them called my name.

"Jill," he said. "Thank you."

"For what?" I said, cringing. Now the proverbial flood gates would open.

"Well, wasn’t this job all your idea, your doing?" he continued.

No way out now, but I hedged a bit: "Well, I looked for it, yes, but each of your mothers decided that you should do it."

"Oh," he said. "Still, it was your idea to have us come here, so I just wanted to say thank you."

There was no sarcasm in his voice, I realized. This was the teenager whose mother had clearly told me that she was pushing him into it last night, after all.

Now he was appreciative?

Hiding my own relief, I asked him if it went better than he thought it was going to.

"Absolutely. It was great, really! I had so much fun with the kids. And I got to shoot a bow and arrow."

"Really?" another of them chimed in. "Cool! I didn’t get to do that, but the kids in my group were so much fun to work with."

"I know," said yet another-who was volunteering for the entire summer, even though he’s too young for community service hours. "Working with the kids is great."

The entire ride home was filled with their happy chatter of what they had done, what they were going to do tomorrow, what the lunch was like, who was there ....

In short, these older volunteers were as enthused-or dare I say more? -- as our daughter was.

The rest of the week became a huge slumber party at our house. Soon I was taking one camper-and four volunteers -- every morning, off to camp.

The "slugs" of last week still came home to their electronics. They still wanted to go to sleep late, and would have preferred to sleep in more.

But the attitude in our house had shifted.

Thank you, Brattleboro Park & Rec Department. Thank you, BUHS, for the foresight to require these kids to do community service. Thank you, Brattleboro town, for realizing that both the teenagers and the little ones need a focus.

Jill Stahl Tyler is a parent to three children involved in the local schools. She firmly believes in all education, and currently sits on the board for the Brattleboro School Endowment, the Brattleboro Town School Board and the Early Education Services policy council.