The things that will never make it in the baby books and other musings from a stay at home mom

Saturday, July 02, 2005

The magic bracelet

Last summer, Julia had a tough adjustment to camp. In hindsight, she was probably too young for the program. But at the time, Evan was getting too big for me to simply tote him in a bucket while I accompanied Julia to classes and playdates. His morning nap fell right in the middle of prime playground and storyhour times. Even grocery shopping and other mundane errands were challenging with 2 young kids. I was staying home a lot more than we ever had before. And Julia, accustomed as she was to being out of the house every day, was bored. A 2 1/2 hour summer program offered twice a week at the same location where she'd taken classes before and would start preschool in the fall seemed the perfect solution. Julia could play with her peers. Evan could nap in peace. And I could maybe get an hour or two to myself. Nirvana.

The first week went great and I congratulated myself on a brilliant plan. And then Julia lost it, big time. Suddenly, and for no apparent reason, she didn't want to go to camp any more. She started crying the second she woke up on a camp day, and the tears continued through much of the morning. As bad as that day was, the next was even worse. Pretty soon, Julia would start crying if we so much as drove by the building where she attended camp. It was heartbreaking to see her so unhappy, particularly because the thing that was making her so miserable was something that was supposed to be fun, and I didn't know what to do.

I polled everyone I knew -- her teacher, the school director, friends, family, even strangers on the Internet -- should I pull her from the program or would she adjust? The school encouraged me to let her teacher help her work through it and I agreed to give it a week or two, primarily because I was afraid she'd be petrified to walk into preschool in the fall if she left the building on a low note that summer. I followed her teacher's directions dutifully; be enthusiastic, but firm, get her into the classroom as cheerfully as possible and then simply leave. It wasn't easy, but I tried to have faith. I drove home from dropping her off, put Evan down for a nap and spent the next hour and a half surfing the Internet, searching for ideas to help make this adjustment go smoother. And the Internet, as always, did not fail me.

That weekend, I followed the advice I'd found online. I took Julia to a kids' accessories store and encouraged her to pick out any bracelet she wanted. "Pick carefully," I told her, "Because this is going to be a special bracelet. When you put it on, you're going to be able to find the strength inside of yourself not to cry. This is going to be your No Cry Bracelet. And you're going to wear it to camp."

Julia's hand hovered about an inch away from the bracelet she'd been reaching for as she considered this. "That sounds hard. Maybe I don't want a bracelet after all," she told me. "It's up to you," I replied. "But I think the idea of a magic bracelet is pretty cool. I'd give it a try if I were you." She wavered a bit, but eventually, the lure of bright rainbow colored beads won out over her fear of the challenge. "This is it," she told me. I bought 2, just in case.

When we arrived at camp the following Tuesday, Julia was in tears. She didn't want to put her bracelet on because she didn't think she could stop crying. So I handed the bracelet to her teacher and explained its purpose. Her teacher slipped it onto her own wrist. "When you're ready, I'll give it to you," she promised Julia. And I kissed my crying child goodbye and left the room, wondering for the thousandth time whether I was making the right decision.

Julia stopped crying that day and was proudly wearing her bracelet when I picked her up. She wore it to camp every day all summer and I never saw her cry about camp again. I'd love to say that she went on to have a terrific camp experience, that she loved every second of the program, but that didn't happen. She got through the summer stoically, sometimes content, but often just going through the motions. She didn't smile much at camp and she often sat on the sidelines watching the rest of the class without participating. But she made some beautiful art projects that she was extremely proud of and she had a terrific time teaching her dolls all about camp when she got home each day. She talked happily about the camp experience, even if she didn't seem all that happy when she was there. She went to camp willingly every day. Evan got a nap. I got a few peaceful showers. It was enough. And when fall came, she happily walked into her new classroom without her bracelet on her wrist. Some of the other kids were crying, but she knew the routine by then, and she no longer needed a bracelet to remind her not to cry. She had a great year in school.

I thought of the No Cry Bracelet this week after Julia expressed a desire to talk more in camp. It seemed like a long shot, but the idea had given her confidence once before and I wondered if it could work again. I casually suggested a talking bracelet and Julia jumped on it, running to pick a bracelet out of her jewelry box. On Friday morning, I fastened it around her wrist and drove her to camp. "Remember, wearing the bracelet doesn't mean you will -- or should -- talk all the time," I cautioned her as we pulled into the parking lot. "But if there's something you really WANT to say, the bracelet will give you the strength to speak up."

When I picked Julia up that day, her teacher met me at the door with a huge grin on her face. "Julia told me all about her bracelet during our conversation this morning," she told me. "What a great idea." I was please to hear that Julia had spoken up and I said as much. "But that's not the best part," her teacher replied. "Julia came to me about an hour later to tell me all about a fun game that she had been playing with Gabrielle -- something about a fire breathing dragon. In the year I've been Julia's teacher, that's the first time she's ever initiated a conversation with me about anything." It was possible that Julia's teacher was even more excited than I was about this new development.

"Don't you dare lose that bracelet," she cautioned as we said goodbye. I smiled and agreed, but in truth, I'm not too worried about it. I know that the magic is not in the bracelet, but in Julia herself. And from the way she smiled when she told her father the story that night, I suspect that my daughter knows it too.


At 6:52 PM, Anonymous heather said...

What a great idea!! Lindsey will be embarking on the same type summer camp this next Tuesday in preparation for preschool in the fall and I just might have to borrow this idea as well!! Glad it helps her to find her inner strength and person!


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