3 grandkids. 5 days. 1 adult (me). Countless hours of fun. We call it Camp Grandma. Many of my friends hold their own versions of this camp with their own grandchildren. Designed to give parents a break and grandparents the opportunity to spoil the kids, Camp (Insert Name Here) is always full of new experiences and established traditions as the kids come back year after year.
The way we each do Camp is as unique as we all are individually. For example, I feel like I run a pretty tight ship considering that I’m the grandmother. This is due to the fact that my oldest grandchild has ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) and seriously needs to have structure in order to have a wonderful camp experience. We sit around the table each morning and create the day’s agenda in 15-minute increments. My first year as a rookie camp organizer, we planned activities in 30-minute increments and we were done with the whole day’s schedule by noon.
Now, as a veteran (14 years!), I feel like I know what I’m doing. I’ve even turned going out to lunch into a multi-sensory experience by going through the automatic car wash on the way. This adds 10 minutes of oohs and aaahs to the day, which brings me to the title of today’s blog: Camp Great Grandma. It occurred to me earlier today, while taking my car through the automatic car wash that I am currently living in perpetual camp mode. My mother-in-law, who is Great Grandma to my grandchildren is living with us full-time and she has Alzheimer’s. Finding meaningful things for her to do is like planning a camp day each and every day. So today I said to her, “Let’s take the car through the car wash and get some lunch afterwards.” She giggled like a little girl all the way through the wash and got ice cream for dessert after lunch.
Typically, she follows me around the house asking what she can do and time slows to a crawl when there is nothing to do or I have my own work to attend to. God has blessed me with a decent measure of patience and grace, but sometimes there is just nothing I can offer her. I can set aside my own work and take her to the pool for a dip or on our little golf cart around the neighborhood. These are the highlights of her day. With a child, you can expect them to grow out of certain likes and dislikes and move onto the next stage. Not so with dementia. They grow less interested in outside activities and repeat all day long (words and behaviors). The only way this completely ends is when Jesus calls them Home.
One year, after a long and full week of Camp Grandma, I loaded up the kids to drive them to their home an hour away. Everyone was strapped into their seats and beloved stuffed animals were safely packed in their bags as I turned the key in the ignition. And nothing happened. Nothing at all. My car was d.e.a.d. I called AAA and they were 45 minutes away. I called the kids’ parents and they were two hours away (we were going to meet at their house as they returned from a trip). It took everything in me to not cry. I had poured all my energy and enthusiasm into 5 great days of camp and my good attitude had an expiration time that had just dinged. I unloaded the car of children and bags and watched the tow truck take my last link to freedom away. I couldn’t face taking the kids back inside with nothing fun planned, so I took them around back and turned on the hose and stood under it. They didn’t even blink. They thought it was such a good idea that they joined me! I’m keeping this one in my back pocket for the next time I need something outrageously fun to do with Great Grandma. I’m sure she would join me and laugh just like the kiddos did! And that will be just one more fun moment in my new life of Camp Great Grandma!