In January, Trevor, Camp Stevens’s Associate Director, and I become first-time parents to a [perfect, adorable] baby boy. It’s been just over a year since we knew parenthood was coming – and not one day has passedsince that I’ve wondered what on earth I’m doing. Throughout my pregnancy, Vicki Bergstrom told me how motherhood would be so good for me, because it would show me how not being fully prepared/in control all the time can work and be wonderful. Like she is about most things, Vicki was right.
I have no idea from one day to the next if Jude will nurse every three hours or every 45 minutes, if he’ll be happy being held by a stranger, or if Itsy Bitsy Spider will amuse or terrify him – so, of course I don’t know what kind of person he’ll become, or what kind of parents Trevor and I will ultimately be. But I do know that he’ll go to summer camp. And not just because I work at one.
I was 11 when my parents sent me to summer camp at Camp Stevens for the first time. I wasn’t particularly outdoorsy: The soccer field was where I spent most of my outside time, and I could count on one finger the number of times I’d been camping. But, to summer camp I went, and I never looked back.
From that time on, courtesy of just one or two weeks each year in Julian, bit by bit and completely subconsciously, my summer self became my true self. I became someone who knew how to make eye contact with adults; who could say and hear “I’m sorry,” and move onto become friends with the apologizee/-er; I became assertive (Truth be told, I probably became a bit of a bossy-pants, until I learned how to balance making my voice heard with telling everyone what to do.); I learned how to own my feelings, and how to try new things, and how to take care of myself, at least a little bit (I think I remembered to brush my teeth most days.).
There’s no magic KoolAid that you drink when you check in at summer camp that makes the experience work. Sometimes I went with friends, sometimes, I was on my own. I had great weeks and okay weeks. I had counselors whose faces, laughs and wisdom are etched into my memory, and a couple I can’t name for the life of me. When I was 15, I took the summer off from camp, because I felt too old for it (I returned the next year to go through Counselor Training, which is when I met Trevor, but that’s a story for another time.). It wasn’t until I was a new college graduate that I was able to articulate how much summer camp had truly formed me.
That’s when I spent about 6 months teaching a weekly leadership training course at a home for at-risk teenage girls. I’d sit in a room with a dozen girls who had been dreadfully hurt by the world, their parents, their peers and themselves, and the more that I could bring a summer camp experience into the room, the more growth I saw. By the end of the course, we were starting each class with a camp game, and ending it in the backyard.
Where else but summer camp can a single experience be simultaneously challenging, amusing, empowering and educational? Where else but summer camp can getting so dirty feel so cleansing?
Like the above-linked blog says, summer camp taught me, and I was able to begin teaching that group of teenage girls, key skills to functioning healthily and happily in the world: How to work with others, how to be resilient, how to try new things, how to make decisions, and how to grow up. I would add one more: How to enjoy the outdoors.
It’s now my awesome pleasure to watch my niece Nolia and nephew Michael experience the magic of summer camp on their own, along with the hundreds of campers who will start pouring into Camp Stevens each Sunday in about three weeks. And I can’t wait until it’s Jude’s turn.