So I'm a 40-year old woman with a five-year-old son. And yes, I hover and helicopter just a tad much. That’s apparently what happens when you save your eggs up for nearly four decades.
This past summer, after succumbing to pressures of creating a “memorable” childhood for my son (in hopes that my name won’t routinely come up at therapy sessions 30 years from now), I decided to send him to summer camp. And let me tell you, it took everything I had in me to allow him to be pried away from my hands, even though it was only for 6 hours during the day.
My unending menu of irrational fears included: Do camp counselors have criminal background checks from every state? And, what if they mistakenly send kids home with the wrong parents? Perfectly absurd and paranoid, right? Think again.
Here’s how that fateful day in the summer of 2013 played out. At the end of the very first day of Lego camp, some perky, cute-as-a-button camp counselor tried to send my kid home with another Asian woman. Oh yes, she really, really did.
OK, so there are a few disclaimers worth mentioning. The “other” Asian woman was a dear friend, who like me, has a Thai mother. Unlike me, she has a White father, so her adorable 5-year old daughter came into the world with gorgeous blond hair. We decided to enroll our kids together in a Science Lego camp where they would be building an entire Lego city all week. All fun and games until they try to switch mommies on you, kiddo.
So I guess it could have been a little confusing. Two somewhat Asian-looking kids (one with blond hair nevertheless) in the same class, and two very Asian-looking moms picking them up at precisely the same moment in time. To make matters worse, we happened to all know each other. A bunch of loving, happy, friendly Asian folks lovin’ it up at camp. Perfect storm.
As my friend approached the registration counter with her secure ID number to report that she had arrived to pick up her daughter, the camp counselor enthusiastically called out for my son and yelled, “Jack, your mom is here!"
Surely, one could see how a naive college gal might have mistaken another woman with long, black hair to be my son's mom -- especially given the familiarity we had between all of us. But seriously, people? What’s the point of secure matching ID numbers if you’re just going to arbitrarily hand over kids to someone who might kinda sorta look like them?
There were plenty of other parents who appeared to know each other, and I didn’t see any counselors getting all confused over the friendly white moms at pick-up time. Perhaps, someone tried to also send blond kids home with the next blond woman who walked up to the pick-up desk? I don't think so.
At the surface, a simple-enough, innocent mistake was made. But at the core, someone I trusted enough to hand my kid over to, for 6 hours every day, was incapable of discerning physical differences between two people simply because our hair was black and our skin was a few shades darker than hers. Here’s a thought: if you’re not particularly blessed with such discernment, as the professional responsible for the safety of minors, maybe you should have just followed protocol and confirmed the matching ID numbers?
What if I pull my hair back?
So, at the end of the day, my worst fears about camp (and life in general) came true. Did I send my kid back the next day? Yes, the boy had a zoo to build for his city. Did I have a talk with the camp director about the importance of safety protocol, and maybe some sensitivity training for staff? Why, of course. Did I show up early at pick-up every remaining day thereafter, in order to make sure they didn’t send my kid home with that Indian mom I saw at orientation? Absolutely.