And just like that, all our campers got just a little bit smaller.
It’s always an interesting adjustment the first day or so of Older Boys and Girls Camp. Instead of relatively independent teenage campers we’re suddenly surrounded by fourth and fifth graders. The level of enthusiasm kicks way up, the singing at meals begins, and the counselors are always followed around by a swarm of jumping, laughing children. There’s something refreshing about this week because it’s really just good solid summer camp. The kids go to arts and crafts, activities, chapel, and waterfront. They raise and lower the flag, they sing songs, they dress up the counselor. They make gimp bracelets and they run around and do cartwheels. There’s nothing bad about it: Older Boys and Girls Camp (especially Olympics style) is just good clean fun.
And yet for some reason, I have never really liked this camp. Even when I was a camper – I just didn’t like it. Maybe it’s because I’ve never been much of a fan of swimming in the lake. Or running in the field. Or maybe I never got anything out of dressing up my counselor. There was just something about this camp – as a camper, counselor, and young adult staff person, that always just left me feeling a little unenthusiastic… despite all the enthusiasm.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. So far I’m doing a terrible job of talking up this camp, and this particular blog post is lacking inspiration. I agree! And if I’m being honest, I kind of panicked for most of the week just thinking about what I would tell you all. Especially after the last two weeks when I’ve been on the verge of tears just opening the computer to tell you about the magic that’s happening at ECC. And now – what? I tell you that kids camp was pretty good but it didn’t do much for me? Terrible! I could tell you about the fact that my camp directors and visiting staff were so awesome this week that I had time to clean out the altar guild closet (and really, I considered doing just that) but that’s not exactly promotion material, nor is it the stuff Chicken Soup for the Soul is made of. I mean, the closet looks amazing. AMAZING. But that’s not really why you send your kids to camp.
So I had to do a little bit of soul searching on this one. Because truly – this was an incredible week at camp. Incredible. And the fact that I couldn’t feel the magic of it coursing through my veins – well, that’s my problem. So what is exactly is my problem?? And why am I such a downer on kids camps?
So I searched my should, and I actually think I figured it out. This requires a little personal disclosure on my part, so be patient with me, because it’s important to me that I tell you about this. Here’s what I figured out:
I was never very good at being a kid.
Now I know you don’t really get marks for that sort of thing. There is certainly no Olympic medal for being a kid. You can’t put it on your resume (“I was really good at playing in the dirt”). You can’t brag about it to all your friends or anything. But I think there’s something to be said for being good at being a kid, and I wasn’t very good at it.
Now in my defense, a couple of things happened when I was younger that didn’t help my cause. My parents split up when I was 6, and I was the oldest of three children. Practically speaking I think I took on some responsibility as the oldest child in single parent households. I started to worry about things a little early, and I went from a standard bossy big sister to an obnoxiously bossy big sister. And as I got older, I was in charge a lot. I’m not blaming my parents or anything – they were great. It just was what it was.
That was one factor. The other factor is who I am. Have you ever read “The Secret Life of Bees”? Maybe you saw the movie. There’s a character in the book/movie – her name is May – and she has to be shielded from even the smallest bit of bad news by her sisters, because she’s incapable of hearing about other people’s pain without being in pain herself. She has a wailing wall out in the back of her house and each time she hears about something sad she has to run to the wall and write down her sadness on a piece of paper and shove it into the wall. She simply cannot hold the pain she learns about in the world.
I’m a little bit like May. I’ve always had a really hard time knowing that other people are in pain. And who doesn’t? But my pain sensitivity started when I was really young. The result of that is that I missed the “carefree” part of childhood. I was never really carefree. I was always a little worried, a little concerned, and a little sad about the state of the world. I like to think that part of me is what helps me to be a good priest, but it sure made it a little hard to be a kid.
That’s what I found when I searched my soul on this one. I found just a little bit of my own brokenness, and a couple of memories that helped me see what was happening around me in a different way. Because when I realized that it was hard for me to be a kid, I realized that it was probably hard for some of our campers to be kids too. I mean, my hope is that most if not all of our campers come from homes that are carefree and loving and joyful. But I also know that the world doesn’t always work that way, and some of them likely come from homes where there is stress and tension and anger. Or maybe, like me, their parents are doing the best they can but circumstances being what they are it’s just a little harder to provide that environment for their kids.
So suddenly, if I’m looking at Older Children’s Camp through that lens, it starts to look a whole lot more beautiful to me. Because children playing and laughing on our front lawn is one thing, but realizing that for some of these children, those moments of joy and laughter might be a blissful respite from lives that force them to be older than they have to be – that’s something special. Don’t get me wrong – the joy of children is special whenever it takes place. But perhaps the word I’m looking for is transformative. For the kids like me out there – the ones who don’t come by “carefree” naturally – their time at ECC this summer allows them to transform into the people that God intended them to be. And for this particular group, that is joyful, happy, laughing children.
At the end of the week we had the children write their hopes, prayers, and dreams on pieces of paper to attach to balloons, and we offered those up to God. It was really beautiful. And I realized that I do hope these children’s dreams come true. I hope that can continue to come to this place and discover the person God intended them to be. I hope they can feel joy and love and happiness with reckless abandon. I hope they can dance and sing and play and know that they are fully loved and that our world is full of goodness. I hope that ECC can be a safe haven for every child, but particularly for those chidden that need respite from a difficult world. I hope, I hope, I hope.
Thanks to everyone that helped make Older Children’s Camp possible – it really was a magical week!