June 26, 2013
Tonight we had our last dance – the Pajama Dance. Once again, much silliness, conga lines, groups of 20 girls dancing in a circle, Robbie Sir leading his odd version of dancing and young boys running around.
The costumes were great and the energy palpable. I remain so happy that we manage to make dances widely enjoyable. When I was a camper at an all-boys camp, we would have an annual dance with one of the girls camps. I remember dreading them until I was old enough to have the confidence to ask a girl to dance (13?). So, for 5 years I just kinda walked around. Here, I see campers of all ages having fun (particularly because their counselors are having fun with them).
After the dance, we will have our only all-camp counselor meeting. The counselor will put the campers down and the Senior Campers and members of the Leadership Team watch the cabins as everyone else gathers in an open area outside the counselor lounge. There we celebrate our community.
Counselors give “shout outs” to fellow counselors for acts of selflessness, patience and creativity. We honor the 3 most outstanding counselors of the week (the Tiger, Tigress and outstanding Activity Instructor). We then add thoughts from the directors.
I once read a book about training killer whales. When you train an orca, you do not punish bad behavior (can you imagine hitting one with a rolled up magazine?), but instead you encourage behaviors that you want.
Our meeting is designed to praise extraordinary effort and effective techniques so that we encourage effort and teach the techniques. The counselors leave in a positive, excitatory state. They see us as validating and mission oriented.
Sure, we have some moments when we need to correct some actions, but we correct in private while praising in public.
Before I go, I want to share an essay that I got late last night. It is from a college application for a long time camper (who will remain unnamed to avoid embarrassment). I hope you enjoy is as much as I did!
It is a symphony, a perfect orchestra playing music so beautiful and magical, I know I will never fall asleep. There are violins, playing the sound of wind through the window screens. From a dozen unseen clarinets, the rich musical tones of water from the lake rise above the noise created by the boats striking rhythmically against the dock. Finally, more soothing than the rest, are the flutes blowing the night songs of owls. It is nighttime at camp, and I am home.
It sounds too common, an “I-Heart-Camp” bumper-sticker instead of the songs I would like to write about what these past eight years have meant to me. It is home in a sense that goes beyond streets and walls. As a little girl, I remember arriving for my first three weeks away from my family, a city girl terrified of this strange, green place. It took only one night, lying in my bunk beneath pink sheets with a scratchy, iron-on name label, listening to that beautiful music, for me to fall in love. Over the next seven years, I formed friendships, met challenges, conquered fears, mastered skills, and learned more about myself than I could ever have imagined possible. Beyond swimming, rock climbing, dances, and skits, what camp truly teaches me is how to live a full life, how to be the best possible version of myself.
Last summer was the year that impacted me the most. As a senior camper, I needed to arrive early on the first day. Waiting for the gates to open, I sat with my parents in our car. Suddenly, a flash of color zoomed past my window, then another. In an instant, car doors were open, as campers jumped out to greet old friends. Looking at the long line of cars, it struck me that we were all like beads on a necklace, held together by the unifying thread of our love for this place.
Second-year senior campers are responsible for taking care of young campers. As I sat in a circle on the concrete floor for introductions, I was suddenly overcome with memories of myself as a first-year camper, sitting and looking with expectant attention at the senior camper, just as these girls were now looking at me. Could it really be that eight years had gone by, that I had become the role model that I had so adored when I was a little girl? We learn at my camp that there is a balance to life; we see it in the natural world around us, and we see it as we evolve from emulating our older role models to becoming role models ourselves.
Another task I was given as a senior was washing dishes. I will admit, as much as I love my camp, I did not love the thought of hundreds of sticky plates. As the days passed, my group perfected an efficient system that made the work fly. Once our system was in place, we added music, and would dance while washing dishes. On the final day, just as it was time to start washing, it began to rain. Three weeks of collaborative dish-washing must have united our minds, because everyone instantly grabbed handfuls of dishes and started dancing in the rain. Camp had not only taught us to be hardworking and efficient, it had taught us that, when the rain falls, grab your burdens and dance with them.
Camp is a place where you can do more than simply listen to the symphony; you can join in - making your own music, dancing with your friends, with the memories of those who have gone before you, with the hopes of ones to come. Camp is where I met my true self, my best self, the one that now goes out into the world, far beyond the gates of that well-loved place.