Someday I will write a book about camp. I always say someday because I don't know how to begin but I know I would want to include stories like this.
After the Blazer night swim at the pool our tribe of towel wrapped girls ran back to the cabin. They kicked off their flip-flops on the porch before heading inside to check that night's shower order. With only two showers for ten campers it takes awhile for everyone to cycle through. Shannon, my co-counselor, and I sat on our beds writing letters and talking to the girls waiting for their turn.
Oksana was one of the first ones finished that night. She walked over to my bed, now in pajamas instead of her chlorine soaked swimsuit, holding a hairbrush that was tangled in her dripping hair. At 10-years-old she could handle putting on suntan lotion, remember to brush her teeth and keep her bunk area clean but brushing her hair was a struggle. "Can you help me?" she asked.
I had her sit in front of me on the bunk and I gently pulled out her brush. Oksana's thick red hair reaches half way down her back and it was in a giant knot. "Did you brush your hair last night?" I asked her.
She turned to look at me, "Kind of, I tried."
I told her we'd get it out and handed Shannon a comb so she could help. We used half a bottle of spray-in detangler as we worked through her hair section by tiny section. Never have I seen a whole head of hug so tangled. All of our tugging and pulling made Oksana start to cry because it hurt her little head even though we tried to be gentle.
The rest of the girls finished their showers and still we worked pulling out those knots. Olivia led her cabin-mates in a game of jellyfish yo-yo baseball and we stayed on the bunk for 45 minutes working through that red hair. Finally we finished the last chunk and wiped a few more tears from Oksana's cheeks. I told her I would french braid her hair to avoid knots the next day but she wanted to wait till after devotions because her head hurt so badly.
Behind schedule, we sat down in a circle on the carpeted floor. Shannon lit the candles and Olivia turned off the overhead light. I took a deep breath. "Ok, highs and lows girls. Who wants to go first?"
We went around the circle and each girl told us a story of the high and low part of their day recalling cheers at lunch and blobbing in the lake. When we got to Oksana she was sitting criss-cross applesauce and biting her fingernail. "Um..." she started quietly, "My high was when Sarah and Shannon brushed my hair."
"What!" I reacted. "Oksana, you just cried because it hurt so badly. That was the best part of your entire day?"
She sat up straighter, "Yeah, because I get to sit and talk to both of you for so long."
That night Oksana reminded me that as a counselor my job is not to provide these girls with days full of crazy activities, epic cheers, and funny adventures. Sure, all of those things are important to camp but what these campers want and need from their counselors is our time and our attention. I thought I was just helping a little girl get the knots out of her hair. More importantly I was given the opportunity to spend time talking about her day and making her feel special. The rest of the week I looked forward to brushing Oksana's hair, especially when it was full of knots.