Wranglers and Rosaries

My niece in her new cowboy boots for "Wranglers in Training Camp" - June 2015. Photo by Gwen Thomas

My niece in her new cowboy boots for “Wranglers in Training Camp” – June 2015. Photo by Gwen Thomas

It is summer time!! Time to send our teenagers to camp!! Why would we want to do that? To get rid of them, of course. Preferably a camp without any electronic devices permitted to limit all possible contact. If any of my blog readers are thinking I am a “mamma snaturata” – a bad mom—you may be right, but I am guessing you don’t have teenagers. Sometimes we parents need a break.

(I always seem to have a hard time with these teenagers in summer – I was just re-reading my summer teens post from last year, and things have not changed much. See Blog Post: Mozz Mamma Meets Italian Teenage Summer)

So, my sister, who lives in Texas, sent her teenage daughter to “Wrangler in Training Camp”. Yep, that’s right, wrangling camp where kids learn how to wrangle. Wait. I just looked up “wrangle” in the dictionary and it means, “to quarrel noisily or angrily.” Stop! All teenagers know how to do that already. That is NOT what “Wrangler in Training Camp” is for. “Wrangler in Training Camp” is for learning how to wrangle animals like cowboys do, but in this case it is horses and not cows.

Apparently my niece spent five hours a day with the horses riding, brushing, saddling and rubbing them down. She got to teach a class to other camp units on feeding horses and one day had to take responsibility for taking three miniature ponies to a camp party and supervise them while younger campers patted them.

My sister said when she picked her daughter up her new boots were filthy dirty as were her arms and legs and she was has high as a kite.

I left my daughter Chiara yesterday at her Church to depart for her weeklong church Youth-Group camp. They had a meeting for the parents last week and I arrived 45 minutes late (I had a good excuse, I was picking up my son at the airport, he was returning from University). I went flying into the little room at the back of the church where the meeting was, hoping to quickly pick up the list of the “things to pack” and get the details on departure times, payment etc. I found a nice group of parents sitting around in a circle with a priest, a nun and a couple of assistants.

I slid up against the wall and tried to be as inconspicuous as possible, but the priest urged me to take my place in the circle. They were taking turns going around the circle introducing themselves. As I waited my turn, I whispered to the mother next to me, “sorry, I am so late, had to pick up my son, what have they said up to now?” She whispered back, “we’ve just been praying.” Yikes, 45 minutes of prayers!!?!!

We got around the circle, I introduced myself in turn and eventually I got the little piece of paper I needed of the “things to pack”. Top of the list: Bible. By then it was 8:15 and I needed to get home to get dinner going. But the priest was going on and on in a calm, gentle voice. Finally I decided to make my usual “brutta figura” so I stood up and said I was really sorry but I had to slip out. The priest said, “I am sorry but the gate to the parking lot is now locked and I have the only key, so I will have to come with you, so the meeting will have to end here.” Ah, the GUILT. I had come 45 minutes late and was breaking up the meeting. Whatever. So all the parents stood up in the circle and I started towards the door.

But wait!! The priest, and all the parents crossed themselves and started reciting a prayer. Now, I cover the Vatican, I have been to God knows how many Masses and liturgical events. I have pretty much got the Lord’s Prayer and the Hail Mary down in Italian, but those were not the prayers they were reciting and all of them seemed to know this one by heart. Oh PANIC. I didn’t want to seem like the heretic in the midst, so I started the fake mouthing of words tossing in some “Dios” and “benedettos” and “Marias” and “Pane quotidiano” and “cielos” and a loud “Amen” when we finally reached the end.

My daughter's Bible ready to go to Youth Group Camp. June, 2015

My daughter’s Bible ready to go to Youth Group Camp. June, 2015

This morning, when I dropped off my daughter, I discovered what I believe may be one of the reasons for her enthusiastic participation in this Youth Group. There were 12 kids leaving for the camp – ten very handsome young boys, and two girls, my daughter one of them. Chiara mingled with the other kids for about five minutes before wandering over to me and saying “Ok, you can go Mom, Ciaoooo,” and gave me a quick kiss on the cheek. “But the other parents are not leaving,” I pointed out. “Yeah, but you can go,” she smiled, “it’s ok.”

I tend to be friendly and my teenage kids live in fear that I am going to do something “awkward”.   The kids began busily carrying supplies of food out to the bus and I saw bottles of tomato sauce and the biggest bag of pasta I have ever seen. They don’t have Costco in Italy, so I wondered where they got that.

I got in my old Fiat Punto and turned around in the tight church parking lot. I nearly backed over the huge bag of pasta, which would have been seriously awkward and a real “brutta figura” but I hit the brake just in time. I could just imagine poor Chiara cringing.

I spoke to Chiara today and she said they get up, they pray, they eat breakfast, they have Bible study. In the evening they have a Mass and more prayers before bed. Fortunately they do some long hikes in between, but it is not exactly wrangling.

I was a bit worried that Chiara was going to come back clutching a rosary and declaring her future as a nun, but she came backed tanned and happy.

Then there is my brother’s daughter, who plays the cello and has been shipped off to music camp for a month. There, they allow no electronic devices whatsoever, and my mother sent around an email urging all of us to pick up an “old-fashioned piece of paper and pen” and write her letters. I think my teenagers have no idea how to write a letter. And once it is written they don’t have much familiarity with stamps or mailboxes. I think if they don’t see a “send” button somewhere they will be lost.

Of course this all brings back memories of some of my teenage camp summers. Groan. I was once sent to Camp Wabasso Girl Scout Camp in New Hampshire with my older sister. I think I am still trying to overcome the trauma of it all. We slept in tents and had to use latrines. My sister Gwen was the star of the camp. She became famous for her “one-match fires”. She could build up a little pile of wood doing what they called an A-frame fire with the right amount of tinder and kindling and poof with one match it lit right up. If I wanted to light a one-match fire, I would need to dump a can of gas on it first.  She was also a pro at making S’mores (those delicious treats with graham crackers, Hershey’s chocolate, and a marshmallow toasted on the open fire at the end of a stick).  I was always impatient with my marshmallows and ended up sticking them in the flames and burning them to a crispy black.

On top of that Gwen was the best hiker and was put in the “fast” hiking group while I was left with the slowpokes. She also had all those good Girl Scout qualities—loyalty, integrity, and determination (she still does)– which I seemed to be lacking in. My favorite time was quiet time after lunch when we sat on our cots and wrote letters home. I did my best to write colorful accounts of our scouting exploits or perhaps they were tall tales of the terrible treatment by cruel counselors and little ol’ me struggling under the shadow of my super sister. I think back then I already had a future as a blogger.

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Trisha Thomas
Trisha is a TV journalist working for AP TV News in Rome. She is married to an Italian and is a Mamma of three.

21 Comments

  1. Dana
    2015/07/05

    Ciao,
    We passed on the “campo scuola” and decided to send our 11 year old to the States for four weeks ahead of us. She’s in the great care of family in Louisiana, where she will also participate in a couple of day camps and have the opportunity to mingle with the natives…of Louisiana. Her life in Italy is in quite contrast to my youth and I’m hoping her time in rural Louisiana with her cousins, without me, will give her a taste of it. She also spent a week at the beach in Florida. I vote you get Chiara some boots and get that girl in Wrangler Camp, think of the benefits of that Texas cultural experience for your little Roman. ;)
    Stay cool!
    Dana
    PS. Yes. My sister is amazing for taking my kiddo for a month.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2015/07/06

      Hey Dana — thanks goodness for Sisters, gotta love them. I am sure your daughter is having a fantastic time in Louisiana. I would happily send Chiara to Wrangler camp but she is allergic to horses and after reading Carina’s comment above, there is no way I am going to risk that. Still, you are right, my little Roman could use some other sort of Texas experiences. Will have to work on that one for next year.

      Reply
  2. Adri
    2015/07/05

    Ha! I can just see you at the meeting – arriving late and then breaking it up early. I bet the other parents were silently grateful that you had to leave early. It sounds like Chiara had a great time at summer camp. I think getting away is good for the kids AND the parents. I hope you and yours have a wonderful summer. And I am glad that you and your Fiat spared that huge bag of pasta. That would have been a brutta move for sure.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2015/07/06

      Well, it is a good thing that I spared the pasta, but actually I think it might have been symbolic if I had done it in. As a foodie, I don’t know if you will think I am saying something really sacreligious, but I am sick and tired of pasta and sick and tired of Italians who think there is nothing else you can eat. The last night I was in Rome we went out to dinner at a sort of standard Italian restaurant/pizzeria. The menus all read the same — there is the Carbonara, the Amatriciana, Pasta all’Pesto, a Risotto, the Secondo are all the same too. Boring!! I arrived in Boston last night and my mother and niece had whipped up a Thai dinner with a chicken and vegetable curry in coconut milk and cilantro. It was fantastic and so refreshing after all that pasta. As much as I agree with everyone that Italian food is awesome, I think the Italians have a real problem with opening up to other culinary tastes. You mention curry to my husband and he instinctivly starts holding his stomach. When I was covering Vladimir Putin at EXPO 2015 a few weeks ago, we finished around 5pm and had to catch a train back to Rome around 7pm. The Milan EXPO 2015 is dedicated to food and has Pavilions from all over the world each serving their own national food. Where did the Italian men I was working with want to go?? To the EATALY stand to get a pizza margherita. Sigh.

      Reply
  3. Kathryn Abajian
    2015/07/05

    Very entertaining! And of course, it reminds me of my summer camps that went on for years starting when I was nine when I won my way to a fundamentalist Christian camp in So California by memorizing bible verses. And look at me now, not so religious so it doesn’t always take. Thanks for the memories, Trish.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2015/07/06

      Yikes!! Memorizing bible verses, gosh that sounds a bit much, but as you point out you are not so religious any more and maybe in some way it was intellectually useful. My sister says a lot of people in Texas send their kids to fundamentalist Christian camps. My sister — also not so religious– would not do that, but she did point out that they actually learn a lot of good values and some important basics like pitching in with household duties.

      Reply
  4. Joan Schmelzle
    2015/07/05

    I think I am glad I only went to Girl Scout camp once. Don’t remember how long it was, but it was 7th grade I think. In 8th grade most of the 11 girls in my Catholic school class decided we didn’t want to be Girl Scouts. We probably had some really “great teen” reason. Way back then we didn’t have youth groups at church. I expect your daughter’s reason was the one you spotted, but what a strange group for parents.

    I have been to camp with teenagers–cheerleaders to be exact. (I coached them for years, but they and I did weight training and they did a lot of running and being athletes.) They were pretty good at camp mostly because of the cute college age boy cheerleaders. Teens are a pain and a wonder!
    A presto

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2015/07/06

      Teens are indeed a pain and a wonder. I think the key to any camp experiences is that they get plenty of exercise….burns off all the negativeness. Actually not a bad idea for 51-year-old mothers as well.

      Reply
  5. mary jane
    2015/07/05

    Fantastic!

    Reply
  6. Gwen Thomas
    2015/07/05

    And… now that a two week program here has been cancelled “the wrangling teenager” has only moved from device to device watching Anime movies and instagramming her friends. Arg!

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2015/07/06

      Aaaarrgghh. Tell me about it. I took a nine hour flight to from Rome to Boston yesterday with my 15 year-old and at the airport while we were boarding she was face-timing with a friend, during the nine hour flight with her phone in “airplane mode” she continued to take photos to instagram as soon as she arrived, as soon as we landed — when it was 1am in Italy– she asked if she could use my phone (she didn’t have enough money on hers) to Face-time her friend to say we had arrived. Crazy. Then at 4am this morning I heard her sneaking down the stairs so she could go to the living room where the Wifi works and talk to her friends again. Sigh. I can’t fight it.

      Reply
  7. Alan
    2015/07/05

    I was 9 when I was chucked out of Sunday School, 13 when I was chucked out of Scouts – never could handle the god-stuff!

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2015/07/06

      Yeah, I can’t really see you in Sunday school or scouts Alan– but I can certainly see you as a hiker and camper — not many people know how to appreciate nature the way you do.

      Reply
  8. Cyndy
    2015/07/05

    Sounds like the teens are having a fun time! Love those Wrangler boots! Gives them a chance to explore and get out of their school routine and meet other kids. This is a great gift! You found your passion for writing and blogging in camp :-) Helen and Lydia would go to a day camp nearby to ride and take care of horses. That was their “highlight” camp and they really looked forward to it…. even with Helen’s allergies. They also did various sports camps and I even ended up being a tennis instructor for one. They enjoyed them all but at the end informed me that this was not the sport for them. Ironic since Fred and I both loved sports growing up. Helen prefers more singular sports and earned her black belt in mixed martial arts. Lydia loves to draw. Ricky likes technology and putting computers back together so they’ll work – he took a computer camp in programming games and enjoyed that very much. They did fun local history things and made bread in a bee hive oven after grinding up the corn, made paper, and root beer one time.

    I can also understand parents needing a bit of a break – especially the caregivers of children with special challenges like type 1 diabetes. Ricky happily went to diabetes camp for a week each year and liked finding out that he wasn’t the only one with this disease. I had to laugh because in the check in line for camp the tired parents all stood as best they could in line with a haggard look, drooping eyes like they hadn’t slept since last year’s camp… all those late night blood sugar checks and rechecks had taken their toll. At the end of the week when it was time to pick up the cherubs, parents once again had a little skip in their step, nothing drooped and there was even a twinkle in their eyes… with determination to make it another year :-)

    Enjoy your Summer and no more family trips with maps from the 50s LOL

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2015/07/06

      Cyndy, thank you for your comment. It is great when kids go to camps where they learn new and interesting things. Making bread in a bee hive oven sounds pretty neat to me. I didn’t mention it in the post but I remember having to do the canoe tests and having to learn how to tip over in a canoe then upright it and get back in and keep on rowing. That was actually a useful thing for me to learn how to do– and a good metaphor for some life experiences as well.
      On the diabetes camp — how interesting about the parents. Obviously, as a mother of a son with type 1 diabetes I can totally relate. I asked my son if he wanted to go to a diabetes camp as a teenager and he totally rejected that idea, so we sent him to Camp Winona – a wonderful boy’s camp in Maine– instead. I remember the first year (shortly after he had been diagnosed with diabetes) my husband and I were so anxious about leaving him and worried about the swimming and that he might get low on sugar during swim class or run out of insulin while hiking etc etc etc. Everything went perfectly smoothly and it was a great experience for Nico.

      Reply
  9. Nancy Rockwell
    2015/07/05

    Camp has gotten every so much fancier in its focus and gear than I remember, but the experience seems to be still the same, an unrelenting schedule of things, only some of which I liked to do, and a particular time for writing home, and you had to present your letter to someone in charge by the end of that day. Still, it really is good practice for leaving home and living in the rest of the world, which is not run by your mother. The Church camps over here are more lively and less pious, at least the Protestant ones are, but still, I recall they were much the same as non-church camp. I hope Chiara will find some more camps that interest her in the next few years – and give you a break!

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2015/07/06

      Now that you mention it, I think my grand-parents ran a baptist Church camp for a couple of summers and had a fabulous time. (I will have to ask my Dad about that). Yes, I think the church camps in the US are a lot like the YMCA or Scout camps. Then, as far as I can tell, they have a lot of really high-end summer camps and activities for kids in the US so that if you are willing to shell out a lot of money your kids can have exciting, expensive adventures.

      Reply
  10. Carina
    2015/07/06

    Church camp for me in the summers as a kid. My mom would always send a note advising I could not ride horses due to severe allergies. Every year at some point, my desire to ride horses would overcome my senses, I’d sign up, the incompetent staff would not catch that I was not allowed to ride horses, I’d get on a horse, within an hour, I’d barely be breathing, they’d be calling an ambulance and a couple years, a helicopter, and my parents would be driving as fast as possible the five hours to the hospital. Ahh, memories. I think one year the staff didn’t let me ride, and after a total of 3 years with horses and hospitals, my parents just said no more camp for me.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2015/07/06

      Carina — that sounds sooooooo scary. How frightening. A helicopter? My God, you poor thing and your poor parents. And what makes that even scarier to me is that my younger daughter, Chiara, is also allergic to horses. We just discovered this year she is allergic to dog hair, cat hair, horse hair and rabbit hair. Weird allergies. Same thing too, asthma, breathing difficulties. Gosh I would be curious to know how you have lived with it. You sound like a pretty tough cookie, probably gave you parents a heart attach too. As a mother I certainly don’t want to get a call hearing my daughter is being evacuated from camp in a helicopter.

      Reply
  11. Kathy
    2015/07/06

    SO laughing out loud I am choking on my coffee. Trisha this is another of your absolute gems! The priest holding the key and breaking up the meeting…and being a ‘brutta figura’ mum – I just love it.
    I would have been in the ‘slow group’ – I hated summer camp – because the one my sister and I went to was almost like military school. Beds made, breakfast at 0600 followed by a healthy hike 25km to the nearest waterfall in the pouring rain. Food was something resembling the gruel served to Oliver Twist. Our ‘cabin’ (more like an alpine hut for lost hikers complete with gaps in the walls and howling wind penetrating) became infested with biting insects – so we were returned to our parents looking like we all had smallpox.
    And to think I became a teacher…and now go on these same camps! – without the bites and the gruel but the 25km hikes are retained – and I’m still in the ‘slow group’.

    Thanks again for the hilarious start to my day!

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2015/07/06

      I am so glad you liked it. I think we all have our summer camp horror stories. I cut a graph about how after swimming in the lake they used to make us take off our bathing caps, fill them with water then go back to the bench under the pine tree, wash our dirty feet in our bathing caps and put our shoes back on. That was a total waste of time. I always had pieces of pine needles in my dirty socks. Oh, and yes the Oliver Twist Gruel. Yeah, we had some sort of hot oatmeal horrible stuff for breakfast too. Yuck!!

      Reply

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