June 18, 2016
A week ago, I posted an article about “disruptive moments” and how they we can use them to help campers grow and improve their personal stories (I called them “personal narratives” in the article).
Please allow me to share a wonderful example.
Every cabin will have one “overnight”, during which the campers will cook their own meal on a campfire, sleep in the woods and hang out under the stars.
Last night, it was time for the Midis (mostly girls who just finished 5th and 6th grade) to go on their overnight. Each division has its own traditions for overnight and the midis are no exception. In fact, they have one of my favorite traditions: the solo walk.
Allow me to set the scene. The girls first arrive and pick a spot to sleep, setting their pillows and sleeping bags in place. They then eat their dinner, which consists of “hobo packs”. [Note: A hobo pack is a tortilla with veggies, cheese and beef wrapped in aluminum foil and tossed onto the grill. It is a camp favorite. Please know that no actual hobos were harmed in the making of the hobo packs.]
After eating and cleaning, the Division Leader (AC Ma’am this summer) will lead them on a path for about 150 yards through the woods on a path that is roughly one foot wide. The campers then individual follow the remaining 100 yards back to the campsite entirely on their own and without any flashlight, hence a “solo walk”.
A 100 yards does not seem long when walking on a football field in daylight, but a winding path in the dark seems like quite the adventure. Last night, we were 2 days away from a full moon, so the path was well-lit, but the moonlight made the path seem ethereal.
After they complete their journey, we ask them to sit in silence until every girl has completed her walk. When everyone done, AC Ma’am asks them several questions, asking the girls to raise their hands if they agree:
She then talks about being WEIRD: Wacky, Enthusiastic, Independent, Reliable and Driven. Since every girl has just had a “disruptive moment”, this lesson (which has been a theme this summer) is stickier and more impactful.
That is true for every camper, but last night we had one camper who had a profoundly disruptive moment capped with wonderful growth.
This particular camper experiences a very high level of anxiety. In fact, her anxiety is as high as Susie Ma’am and I have seen at camp. For example, misplacing a water bottle can create distress, as can staining a t-shirt (“I hope I did not ruin it”). She is also a lovely camper that all her cabinmates appreciate and cherish. Her parents have been very upfront with us and we have been able to help her by modifying or avoiding activities that we think could be anxiety-inducing. [Note: we talked with the camper and the parents and they know I am sharing this story. Of course, I will not use the camper’s name.]
The solo walk seemed like an obvious activity for her to avoid. With this in mind, AC Ma’am told her that she did not have to do the walk and she would instead help the counselors at the campsite. She made it clear that she did think any less of her and that her help would be much appreciated.
“I think I want to try it, AC Ma’am.”
“Wow, are you sure.”
“I think so. No, I know so. Can I go last?”
“Sure, but I think that waiting for everyone else to go might make you nervous as you wait and think about it.”
“You’re right. But I do not want to go first.”
“I want to go seventh.”
“Seventh it is! I will have you walk up there next to me so you will know I am here for you and then you will go #7.”
“Do you think anyone will notice that I am walking with you?”
“No ma’am. I need to walk next to someone, right? No one else will have a hint.”
This sweet camper screwed up her courage and completed her walk successfully. While she sat in silence (with the other 6 girls), AC Ma’am broke her own rule of silence and whispered in her ear “I am so proud of you. That was so brave.”
The camper’s hand went up to admit that she was nervous, scared AND proud.
I know that every girl there last night returned to camp a little more confident, proud and WEIRD, but none so more than that camper. Both she and AC Ma’am were a-glow this morning. Her anxiety is not gone, but I hope (and even believe) that she left some of it on that 100 yard path.
Sometimes we ask if the overnight is worth it. It tends to be warmer since it is in the woods and not next to the lake. Campers will get a few bug bites. Some do not sleep quite as well. But we believe that the trade-off is worth it when it helps the campers grow this way.