June 9, 2011
Finding the Inner Batman
We have a camper who is here in for his third summer. Frankly, he was very late to sign up this year (luckily, he is male and so we had a some openings on the boys’ side) and we wondered why he did not sign up earlier with his sibling.
Of course, it is difficult to fathom the mind of elementary school boys. In fact, whatever reason a child gives for why he or she is reluctant to come back to camp is (in my extensive experience) not the real reason. A camper that says that the activities were boring often turns out to be risk averse and shy about attempting new activities dislike a particular cabinmate. Another camper that says he had a mean counselor might have wet his bed the previous summer and attempted to deflect his embarrassment (incredibly common, by the way). We’ve seen that awkward age with our own children. They’ve lost the openness of early childhood and become self-conscious. They’re acutely aware of their own perceived inadequacies and hide this from the people with whom they previously shared everything.
In the case of this camper, I think his reluctance stemmed from a fear of deep water. We had known he had this fear in the previous summers. We would either allow him to stay in the shallow areas or wear a life jacket. I suspect that as he got older, the fear remained, but his desire to wear a life jacket diminished, thus creating a potentially embarrassing situation.
Nevertheless, he did decide to return and that is where our story takes us.
Two days ago, he was at Instructional Swim (as the sign at the swim bay reminds us - “you can’t find a better sport to save your life”) and he swam with a kickboard to the deep end of the pool escorted by two counselors.
At the end of the pool, they talked about him swimming back without the kickboard, but still with the escort.
This was a long discussion. The best estimate is that the three people (the boy, and the counselors) hung on the end of the pool for about 15 minutes. They saw that he wanted to try. They also saw his fear.
Inspiration strikes at the oddest times. It paid a visit to the counselors then.
They asked the boy about his favorite heroes.
“I love Batman.”
“Do you know the story of Batman’s origin?”
“I think so, but please tell me.”
“Before he was Batman, Bruce Wayne had a crippling fear of bats. Once he decided to fight crime, he knew that he had to conquer his fear before he could conquer the bad guys. He chose to become a bat - to face his fears. When he did this, he became strong and brave.”
After a moment of thought, he released himself from the end of the pool and swam back.
He then swam two more full laps.
He might not have been fighting crime, but he is a hero in my book!
Learning More Than Bargained For
This morning, the oldest boys’ cabin was at the Outdoor Cooking Pavilion. In class, they learned how to make macaroni and cheese. They learned how to boil and strain pasta. They tried different types of cheeses. They also experimented with various toppings like potato chips, shallots and croutons.
They are older, more decisive and faster eaters. As a result, they finished 15 minutes early. The instructors (all college-aged woman) asked the 14 year-old boys what they would like to learn about before class ends. She suggested food safety, diet tips, cooking techniques.
They simply said “girls”.
Let me start by saying that this story could go several ways at this point. I am delighted that it took the best possible direction. The women running the class are mature and caring. They are also really patient. The questions and comments came fast and furious:
“How the heck do I break out of the ‘friend zone’?”
“They only like my sweet dance moves. If its not the Wednesday dance, they’re not interested.”
“When do you call? When do you text? When do you do neither?”
“How do I avoid getting stuck in stupid text conversations like ‘what r u up 2?’, ‘nada’, ‘how bout u?’, ‘nada’?”
“How can I tell a girl its OK to hang up if we have nothing to talk about?”
“If I like a girl, why do her friends all suddenly think everything about me is fair game? I’m not dating them!”
“Why are girls so confusing?”
I will not bore you with all the answers, but I will tell you that the advice was solid. Here are the main points that the guys remembered later.
“False compliments do not help. Avoid at all costs.”
“You will not ever understand teenage girls. Teenage girls do not understand teenage girls.”
“Be kind and genuine. Eventually that is what the girls will value when they become women.”
All that and a serving of Mac and Cheese sounds like a great hour to me!