We are back from choir camp and managed to get through without a single trip to the hospital! We did, however, dispense hundreds of doses of acetaminophen, ibuprofen and throat lozenges. There is a huge amount of drama among adolescents. Every bump is a sprain, every scratch requires a bandaid RIGHT NOW. We had more kids crying and complaining of homesickness, “headache” and “stomach ache” than the choir director had ever seen. Interestingly, all enjoyed miraculous cures right about the time that the singing finished and the fun activities began. I very quickly lost sympathy for any of them.
They did work very, very hard and they already sound like an award-winning choir as a result. In 48 hours of camp, they sang for more than 15 hours. They were exhausted by the end. The expectations of this group are extremely high, and the director maximizes every speck of talent these kids have, which is considerable. Even their warm-ups give me the shivers. It’s spectacular to hear them sing.
But the sense of entitlement that many of these kids had absolutely blew me away. They had no compunction about getting up in the middle of a song – 15 minutes after a break – to go to the bathroom, or complain to the nurses about some ailment. So many have very little willpower and no concept of when it is appropriate to let someone know about their troubles. I almost wished a little of that suck-it-up-and-play sports mentality would rub off. It didn’t take long for us to just stop allowing bathroom breaks during rehearsals. Since none actually threw up or wet their pants, I’m pretty sure that there were no true medical or bathroom emergencies. We didn’t lose a single kid by setting the expectation that they show respect to their teachers and colleagues by not disrupting the rehearsal without good reason.
Part of the problem, besides the personalities of kids attracted to the arts, is the parents. I would estimate that one out of every four of these kids was on some kind of medication, and I seriously doubt that many were medically necessary. Objective evidence like nosebleeds, audible wheezing, migraines (the ones that make you throw up, not the vast majority of headaches, which people call migraines because it’s so much more dramatic and impressive) and anaphylaxis get my attention. Everything else is pretty much parent-supported hypochondria. Yup, I said it, and I challenge my dissenters to make a case for their kid’s medicine cabinet without sounding like they are one symptom away from a diagnosis of Munchausen-by-proxy. If your kid hasn’t wheezed in a couple of years, it’s probably time to get a reputable doctor to reassess the need for the puffer. I’d bet that upping the fresh air, exercise and vegetable quotient would work wonders for the “migraines” and “asthma”.
I know that parents just want the best for their kids, but really. We had a homesick 11 year old tell us she just needed a “calm-down pill”. I almost choked. She did not come up with that on her own. Kids this age are so incredibly sensitive to suggestion that any offhand comment can become embedded forever. Make a comment about a kid’s big appetite, and she talks herself into morbid obesity or an eating disorder. Remind a kid that he once got itchy from something, and he suddenly has a long list of allergies. Every time we open our mouths as parents, we walk a very fine line. We can provide constructive praise and appropriate expectations that build self-esteem and encourage kids to seek and practice their passions, and just as easily, we can set ideas in their malleable little heads that direct them to seek attention in destructive ways, turn them into self-absorbed divas, and demanding (if talented) hypochondriacs.
It’s possible to navigate that line successfully; I saw lots of evidence of that this week. We had dozens of kids that were respectful, pleasant company and a treat to spend time with; kids who got up and kept playing when they turned an ankle, kids who quietly took a throat lozenge and kept on singing. It is possible. I despair for the others.
I can’t wait until the first concert (let me know if you would like the where-and-when details). It will be stunning. As long as no one pukes on stage.