July 27, 2020
“One of my favorite gifts of camp is the ability to reinvent yourself.”
My mother shared this thought out of the blue one day after I had told her that Susie Ma’am and I wanted to be full-time camp people. Susie Ma’am would be eschewing a career in hospital administration after she got her masters. I would be leaving finance and consulting after getting mine.
Running a camp was not the logical result of this combination.
My mother saw the excitement on my face when I told her about this. I had loved camp and attended my camp for 11 summers as a camper and counselor. I shared the myriad reasons we were excited. She listened, responded, and encouraged.
But she waited a few hours to share the statement about reinventing yourself. Also a great fan of camp, our announcement had prompted her to think about why she appreciated it so much. This comment was part of the answer.
I asked her what she meant.
“Just think about you, Steve. You went to camp thinking you were stuck in the shadow of older siblings – one of which was a local football star. But at camp, you had no siblings. You were Steve and that was enough. There, you learned you were a good friend and an excellent marksman. [Note: I am more proud of the former now, but at age 8, the latter loomed large.] Going to camp helped you find YOU.”
Over the years, I must say that I now share her enthusiasm for the transformative power of camp.
I have watched athletes find their inner artist and sedentary kiddos learn a sport.
Only children suddenly discover the joys – and challenges – of having siblings.
Perhaps my favorite type of transformation happens with teens. Once a group of teens decides a pecking order, they are loath to adjust it. If a 14 year-old is near the middle of the social hierarchy in middle school (a tough place to be anyway), they can feel stuck there. They can begin to believe that they are not worth listening to.
But a great counselor can correct that. When a super-cool 19 year-old listens to you – truly listens to you - that can undo many months of social marginalization. [Note: As a general rule, 19 year-olds are inherently cool in the eyes of 8-14 year-olds. We parents cannot compete. Heck, I am not sure that Tom Brady or Beyonce really compete to the 19 year-old that is there in person.]
If you watch carefully, you can see the camper grow in confidence and carriage. They seem a tad taller and more substantive.
I do not want to over-state this benefit. While it was truly transformational for me, it might just tweak another camper in the right direction. But I truly believe that even these tweaks make a difference!
PS The photo has nothing to do with anything. I do not actually think that Susie Ma’am has reinvented herself as a chicken! But the photo (from a previous summer) amuses me.