When kids come to camp for a week they experience life away from their parents.
For some campers this idea is terrifying. My friend Sara had a ten-year-old camper that literally could not stop crying her first two days away from home. The girls face was red, her eyes puffy, and she couldn't control her crying long enough to speak or eat. We tried everything to distract her, get her involved, and convince her it was going to be a great week but she kept insisting she needed her mom and would walk home if necessary.
For some campers being away from home is exhilarating. There is a tiny eight-year-old girl named Abby that was in Catawba with my friend Rachel. At opening campfire Abby's week I walked around with a giant poster board that read, "I LOVE Camp T because..." and everyone signed their answer. People wrote, "my best friends are here...Southern Accent week... corndogs... I feel closer to God... I can be myself... I'm so happy here." Little Abby's answer? I handed her a red marker and she carefully wrote, "I get away from my parents." She put the cap back on the marker and looked at me with wide eyes and a giant smile to see how I would react. I knew Abby before this week and she has awesome parents. They take care of her, love her well, and the whole family gets along well. But even though home is great there is something liberating about being away from home for Abby.
Some campers never articulate how they feel about being away from their parents but we get a glimpse of how camp is different than home while they're at Tecumseh. Riley was in my cabin her very first year at camp. She drove down from Chicago with her three best friends and all their mothers. When they got to Choctaw the moms got busy making their daughter's beds, adjusting clip-on fans by their pillows, and organizing the girls' clean towels, snack boxes and drawers of clothes. They hugged their daughters good-bye before climbing back into their black SUVs and heading home.
Riley and her friends were too busy coloring bunk signs to even notice their mothers driving away. They were now on their own, independent ten-year-olds ready for their camp adventure. This group of girls was one of my favorite cabins ever- they loved camp, included everyone, rarely complained, and were always up for anything. We went on an adventure hike into the wild, jump-roped to Taylor Swift, played tennis baseball in jerseys. I remember sitting in a circle in the grass with all of them during pop stop one day and thinking, "This is exactly what summer should always be like." For a week kids get to live inside this Camp Tecumseh bubble of trying new things, making friends, growing in faith and confidence, and having fun. As counselors we do everything we can to make every week the best week ever for our campers.
I got up from the circle to go check our mail crate in the trading post. It was filled with the normal things- a care package covered in sticks, a pile of e-mails, a postcard from the Tecumseh Trippers, and a handful of letters. The e-mail on the top of the pile caught my eye because it was so short.
A Message From Home
I've been looking at the pictures of your cabin online. Take your hair out of that ponytail. It's gross.
Riley had short blonde hair and arrived at camp with her bangs pulled back in a little half-ponytail. She was swimming and showering everyday so she was clean, but had left her hair up in the clear rubberband so it would stay out of her face.
I showed the e-mail to Mindy. There's no "I miss you" or "I hope you're having so much fun!" or "I'll see you Saturday" or "I saw a picture of you dressed at campfire and you looked great" like most parent e-mails. There was no "Love, Mom" or "We can't wait to see you, Mom." This e-mail was not going to make Riley's week at camp any better but only make her worry about something that doesn't really matter all that much.
We looked out at Riley sitting with the rest of the cabin. The red Gatorade was turning her mouth red. She was a ten-year-old girl and her biggest worry in life right now was whether to get in line for the blog or rope swing first at lake time, not what her hair looked like or if her lip was stained red.
I left the e-mail from Riley's mom in the bottom of the trading post crate and went to pass out the rest of the mail. For one week these kids get to live in a place where there are no teachers telling them to be quiet, coaches telling them they need to practice harder, friends leaving them out, or moms telling them to fix their hair. As a counselor I can't make this place perfect but I'll do my part to make it pretty close.
"Choctaw- let's go to the lake," I called. The girls hopped up and wrapped their beach towels around their shoulders. We started the trip to swim time with the other Blazer girls. We all sang Taylor Swift's "Love Story" together as we hiked up the giant hill to the Lake.