Friday, July 19, 2013

Home to Camp

Taking S. to camp this year actually turned out to be all about me.

I’m only sort of kidding. We did experience a subtle yet profound shift this year. Camp, while remaining the same glorious place it has always been, changed from my place to share with S. into her place, which I visit. It blew me away.

We heard no fanfare, saw no fireworks , we said and did nothing unusual. We just drove to camp having lots of energetic discussions, including one on how chickens are slaughtered. (If you drive through endless cornfields interrupted by two small towns, a golf course, and a chicken processing plant, these things come up.)

As we waited in line along camp’s driveway, S. calmly continued our discussion of what the bird poop on the window looked like, cracking jokes at her usual pace. As we approached, she recognized her landmarks—her cabin last year, the weird letters on a totem pole that she always wondered about, her favorite swing. She tolerated me taking a picture in the car and she wanted one in pose her friend had done, but not when we got to the Dining Hall door. Then, when I held up my phone, she gave me The Look.

S. wanted the picture; not Little A.!
“I guess we did that picture last year, sweetie,” I said.

“Yeah, we did,” she replied gratefully.

 At her unit’s table, she started the “Who do you know from last year” conversation with a cabin mate before I could say hi to her counselor. Just to give her one lousy goodbye hug, I had to pry her out of the seat she had plopped into immediately on arrival.

My girl was being herself, doing what she does best, and camp was in for an Experience this session--because she is an Experience! The mother in me could rest.

So, as I drove away from camp, my memories surfaced. I relived my many “leaving camp” moods.

I never got to be a camper at Camp Arrowhead and I joined the staff during the worst year of my life. I’m not sure why I did—I loathe being hot and sweaty, being dirty, and dealing with bugs. But I signed up for a summer of all that to the ultimate degree (Unless you’ve been there, you have NO idea!), and I’m so glad I did.

I wasn’t glad at the time. I hadn’t done this kind of outdoor camping. I didn’t know any of the skills or places or traditions that most of the staff did, as they’d all been campers. All the rest of the counseling staff already appeared to know each other, to have relationships, jokes, dumb stuff they did together.

And because of all these things—and the worst year of my life part—I Kept Screwing Up.

I was not used to screwing up. My accomplishments had always given me my sense of self-worth and suddenly I was not accomplishing anything good. I was lonely, hot, sweaty, dirty, buggy, and a screw-up. I barely made it through staff training.

I drove away from camp for a day off in tears, determined to quit.

I didn’t. For whatever reason, I came back. And I did that after every session, all summer. I left in tears, determined to quit. I looked at the signs on the highway, saying, “New York” and “Philadelphia” and thought, All I have to do is take that road and I’ll be gone. But I didn’t.

I’d like to think now that I knew why I went back, but I didn’t.

By my second summer I knew. It wasn’t just the awesome friends, the beautiful moments outdoors, my newfound camping skills, the hysterical kids, Delma’s cooking, the majestic bonfires, or spirit-filled chapel services—I went back for the love.

No one there cared if I screwed up—it didn’t make me A Screw Up. I was me, trying, learning, caring. And that was good enough for them. They loved me.

And that second summer, I drove away looking forward to my time off—playing loud music on my radio and thinking with a laugh, I could drive to New York if I wanted. And I’d drive back to camp just as happily.

On my last summer, my last summer of college, I knew I’d be joining “the real world” soon. Ironically, I wasn’t screwing up as much anymore—I had a counseling style, solid camping skills, a place where I fit—but I knew it would be my last summer. And that last time of that last summer, I drove away in tears again, tears because I was leaving.

But, like every Home, camp still waits with open arms. I brought Big A. to one reunion and S. to another. Now S. goes to camp and Little A. watches, exploring the place on the sly. Bringing my kids Home to camp, to grow and learn in the love there, makes me happier than I could ever have imagined.

Driving away this year, I shed a few tears for the girl I was, the girl who nearly gave all this up over a few mistakes. And I thanked her.

Thank you for sticking it out. It was so worth it.

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