Nerd Camp

By Irene Zion

Humor

As a kid, Victor had glorious times at summer camp. He claims his best childhood memories to this very day are from summer camp. He still talks about it. Marilyn Monroe came up to his camp with her husband Arthur Miller to visit his kids one year on parents’ weekend.  Since Victor and his friends were just dense little kids, they treated her just like any old mother.

He claims his very best year was the year that polio was rampant in the United States and there wasn’t a parents’ weekend for fear of spreading the poliovirus. This was before the Salk vaccine. All you could do was try to avoid getting infected. It was really serious; kids were getting really sick and ending up in iron lung machines. Kids were being crippled and dying. Even today, I don’t think anyone knows why it hit kids so much harder than it did adults. The campers were mercifully oblivious and loved being free of their parents for the whole summer long.

Victor began going to camp when he was five years old and continued for nine years. He keeps in touch with campmates he met when he was five years old. That’s sixty years! He wanted our kids to have the same wonderful experience that he had.

Benjamin at first went to a regular sports-type camp. He went for three summers until he, himself, researched other alternatives. He hated sports camp. He said it was dirty there. Of course, camp was outside in the woods and there is undoubtedly dirt there. He was in a bunk, not a tent, but he found that to be too dirty also. He told us he would rather be doing math and science. So, the next year he went to science camp.

He preferred science camp, but it turned out that science camp was also outdoors in the woods. He wasn’t happy there, either. “It isn’t rigorous enough for me. It’s too easy and it’s too dirty,” he said. So he only went to science camp for one summer.

Then I did some research. He needed a camp sort of environment that was indoors, clean and let him do science or math all day. I found out that Northwestern University had a summer program for kids who could pass the required tests. Benjamin always passed any tests he ever took. So the summer of his 8th grade year he started taking college-level math at Northwestern every summer. He was besotted. He proudly called it “Nerd Camp.” He was in his element. He went to “Nerd Camp” again after his 9th grade year. Loved every minute. Made life-long friends there. Ben wanted to go again after his 10th grade year also. We gave him the application to fill out.

Understand, the only reason that I read through the application was to fix spelling errors. Ben can’t spell. Seriously, he can’t spell at all. He’s entirely missing the spelling section of his brain. Mind you, he always aced his spelling tests in elementary school, but the moment the test was over, the correct spelling was lost in the ether. He could only learn short-term spelling.

So. (Pay attention, here.) I’m proofreading his application. I get to the part where he had to fill in whom to call in an emergency. Ben wrote in his roommate, “Will.” I read on. Then the application asked the relation of the emergency contact to the applicant. Ben wrote: “Lover.”

Huh.

I explained to Ben that the emergency contact had to be the people who were responsible for his medical care, which would be his parents. He acquiesced without a word and erased “Will” and “Lover” and replaced it with Victor and me and “Parents.”

But then we were in a pickle. We agonized over how to best explain to him that his gayness did not matter to us. We loved him just exactly as he was. We told him as much. But we hadn’t encountered anything like this before, so I read up on being a good parent to a gay son. I read everything available at the time.

We questioned all his siblings. They all knew that Ben was unusual, but they were all surprised to hear that Ben was Gay. We instructed them on the importance of validating him, reassuring him and encouraging him. We spoke about how best to comfort him when he came across teasing or worse. We spent weeks preparing the family to make Ben feel good about himself, no matter what might come his way.

Each of his siblings came to us at different times and expressed doubt. No one was sure, but they just didn’t see Ben as being Gay. Finally, after tiptoeing around Ben for all this time, the kids just asked him outright if he were Gay. He laughed. He said he only wrote that as an experiment. He wanted to see how we would react and was very pleased with how effective his ploy was. He was delighted with the outcome.

So. If anyone needs to know what to do when they first discover that their son is Gay, ask us. We already did all the research. It turns out that we just don’t personally need it after all.