My youngest son spent this past week at a regional “Operation Purple” (link1, link2, link3) camp. My wife is deploying to the “desert” in the fall for 6 months – so we thought it would go for him to spend some time with kids in similar situations. Being that she is in the Air National Guard he doesn’t get the same exposure to military life as my oldest son did. In general I think Operation Purple is a much needed service, and is good way for kids to, sans parents, open up.
When dropping him off you wouldn’t have noticed that it was a “special” camp – I thought this a bit strange. Almost all of the camp counselors were from Europe. Realizing budgets are what they are, and that fact the camp ultimately is run by the YMCA…totally acceptable, but still a bit weird.
During the week it began to dawn on me a bit…who’s going to be doing the actual “military kid, your mom or dad is going to the middle east to fight a debatable war, risking their life for your – not my – country” counseling. Turns out that there was A representative from the National Military Family Association to coordinate the real objective behind the camp. There are also were representatives from the nearby Air Force base arriving in helos and F-16 cockpit trainers – the typical “recruiting” tools.
So, it gets more weird. The kids were directed to discuss, in groups, their feelings about being in a military family AND the differences for them as compared to civilian families. Keep in mind that there are kids at this camp staring in the 7-8 range – and going to mid-teens. These kids are vulnerable…not only in the sense of dealing with a family situation, but in their social, and cultural learning. As part of the discussion/therapy session there were tasked to capture the ideas in brainstorming style on a stand-up marker board. The results of this session was available for parents to see. I’m not sure if I was more concerned about the content in general, or the parents that belly-laughed (from most likely dependent wives) at an “idea” that said “military families make more money”. I quickly noticed a few common themes amongst the older groups: cheaper gas, less racism, on-base shopping is cheaper, school friends think we’re strange, move alot, deployments cause divorces, and base housing is safer. The younger kids definitely see things differently. Here’s some of their thoughts: mom relies on me more, i have to do more chores, we travel (probably can read this as move too) more, and my friends parents are divorced.
During the closing ceremonies there was a brief presentation with pictures and a discussion about the program. The NMHA representative reiterated the lesson that was given to the kids. It goes like this: “say what I see, say what I think, and say what I feel”. Based on what was being said by the kids…what is really needed is more honest military parents that give the kids opportunity to “say” what they see, think and feel. Kids are smart…and they learn from what parents say, everything parents say. But, I think it is clear that kids learn just as much from what parents don’t say, that only gets reinforced by their opinions (they do have them) and their friend environment.
I’m definitely not the lead candidate for the best parent ever…but, their are some things that just strike me as awkward or weird in other kids, which I know is a result of parenting (or lack thereof). To my point now. Yes, I know I’ve rambled quite a long time already. Our country is fragile, and getting more so with ridiculously bad politics at all levels, questionable education systems, mismanaged resources, blah, blah, blah. Our future is in our youths’ hands. If we, parents, can’t remove the fog of ignorance which is being poured on to our kids we’re doomed. Do we really think camps run by slightly-older kids with funny accents are going to help reduce some of burden we’re forced to put on our kids, let alone the unnecessary burden of ignorance, uncertainty, and lies? I just can’t help but think it is weird that military families are just as at risk as civilian families, to succumbing to the weirdness of our State. Even when my wife was Active Duty some 7 years ago and we were stationed overseas it was not like this.
I only hope that the impending changes offer an opportunity for us to get back on track.
[Please don’t take away from this that I don’t appreciate the effort of NMFA. I do, and I appreciate all of the exchange counselors. If this camp were not Operation Purple, I’d have nothing to write about. So, in hindsight I’m glad he went, and we’ll give him the opportunity to go again if he chooses to.]
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