August 2, 2010

Summer camp

It almost wouldn't feel like summer if I didn't make the trek three hours south to work at the same summer camp I attended as a middle schooler.  For the seventh year, I packed too many things and moved into a dorm room for two and a half weeks.  Note that four of those years, I was there to participate, not supervise.  There is something in the air around camp that makes it feel like home to me: walking up the sidewalk toward the late-sixties yellow brick dorm, with its capital-I shape and three stories, I feel the way I did when I walked up the very first time.  I'm nervous, excited, with mice in my stomach; but it also feels the way it did the second time, and the third, and the fourth: tingly, warm, nostalgia mixed with anticipation so strong it could be as thick as the humidity in the southern Missouri air.

As a counselor, camp is maybe even more fun.  It sounds strange, contradictory even, but some of the best parts of camp are the planning times while the kids are at their classes during the day.  We get to decide what the events will be like: what the Messy Olympics tasks will be, what the trivia questions are, what the theme for camp is and how it will all play out in the ultimate team challenge we plan for later in the week (appropriately, Midnight Madness is sheer Madness to plan; inappropriately, it starts after dinner, like all the other activities).  Probably the best part is coming up with a back story for the Madness event: always, the camp is to be rallied toward a common goal--saving the camp from intruders or dictatorial interests, uniting to train their latent super powers, fighting another camp faction for gold and glory--all with a final challenge for the winning group.  The back story is a creative work that I definitely relish.  It's a bit like the exquisite corpse prompts we used in fiction class: use one each of all these different elements, tie them together, and make them convincing and enthralling (and filmable).  Then, too--being a counselor is also about getting to play dress-up almost every day, for no reason at all except to amuse the campers, and getting paid for it!

Despite all the crazy things that happened this year, I think it was my favorite year so far with my actual campers.  The air conditioning didn't work, we had a flood (literally a flood, Noah would've been inside his ark at the sight of it) in one of the suites, and we had impromptu location changes to avoid the sweltering heat inside the dorm.  But in spite of that, my house group was wonderful--fourteen girls going into eighth or ninth grade, all of them sweet and sassy in their particular way, all of them fabulous to talk to at the end of the day when I'd ask how their days turned out.  Among the other campers, it seemed like there were more gems than usual.  One boy wore an explorer's safari hat everywhere.  When we asked if he was in the geocaching class, he startled us when he replied, "Nope!  I'm in both of the movie classes!"  Another was so absolutely soft-spoken, it was astonishing to see him come out of his shell and play a pivotal role in his group's skit--a creature half pterodactyl, half robot.

I think a lot of it has to do with how much difference previous experience can make.  Having two years under my belt already meant that most challenges we had seen before (or a variation on that theme); it had become second nature to give positive directions ("Walk!") instead of negative ones ("Don't run!"); and instead of worrying about whether I was doing my job, I could just sit back and enjoy the quirkiness of all the campers all around me.

Ah, camp--heaven!

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