Oh my goodness, what a week. I am not sorry for waiting until today to post because I was too tired to write coherently, extensively, yesterday. This past week had a school from Tuesday to Friday and a respite weekend from Friday to Sunday. It was quite tiring.
On Monday and Tuesday, we had eight students from a school’s sixth and seventh grade student councils for teambuilding and leadership training. That was easy. We didn’t even have to watch them in their cabins overnight! Just do a bunch of initiatives, take them on a hike, take them on the ropes course, give them a campfire, and talk to them about leadership. Super chill. The only real challenge was the campfire, because eight kids at a fire is VERY different from a hundred, and I’d rather have a hundred because there is way more energy for songs. We just had to re-tool our standard fire plan a little bit for them, but it worked out fine. I worked with Snake and the kids to go on the ropes course, have dinner, do some team builders, and then the campfire on Monday afternoon/evening, but not the rest of their time here.
On Tuesday, the school we had for the week showed up surprisingly early (0900h, whereas most schools show up at 1030h). This meant we had to come up with some programming for the morning, because we couldn’t just play games until lunch. After taking the hundred or so kids to their cabins, splitting them into their tribes, and talking about camp expectations, we decided we were going to do initiatives for an hour and a half until lunch. In their tribes, the kids went through our initiatives, and I ran jump rope. The point of these activities is to get kids to communicate well and learn how to work in a group to accomplish a task. In jump rope, they have to go through a turning rope as group/one at a time/however they see fit in X number of swings without stopping the rope from turning by getting hit by it. Then, the number of turns they get diminish, requiring more and more team work. The best part of these rounds of jump rope, for me, was that the groups communicated so much more effectively when I did not allow them to talk, than when they could! The reason is simple, people stop just yelling over each other and actually pay attention what their tribe mates are trying to suggest. Oh the lessons they could learn if they could really pay attention. After several rotations, we had lunch and then it was off to our classes! My first class with a tribe was canoeing, and boy, was it eventful. It even started out poorly. As the kids were arriving at the table, one fell and got a nice scratch on his knee, so I had to patch that up before we headed down to the beach. Down by the boats late, we had a brief chat about parts of a paddle, parts of a boat, how to paddle, wearing PFDs, and then split them into boats by their claimed experience. We dragged the boats out into the water, and then realized just how inexperienced these kids are. Of course they have no control over the boats and where they head, plus it was getting windy. So, we started paddling along the shore going west, and we tried swapping seats, which went surprisingly well, and eventually started paddling back, now, unfortunately, against the slowly increasing wind. Now, of course, the kids weren’t really strong enough to paddle against the wind and wouldn’t listen to me repeatedly telling them to get closer to shore, where the wind was less substantial. One boat in particular kept getting blown farther and farther away from our beach, because they kept paddling away from shore. But then a different boat capsized. I rescued the capsized boat by pulling a little bit of it up onto the kayak I was in (which I was paddling with a canoe paddle) and having them flip it, thankfully it was rather shallow. With them in the boat, I had four of my five boats paddling towards the beach (way later than I wanted) and the fifth disappeared behind a point because they couldn’t paddle against the wind. I chased that boat down and found them landed on the shore because they had given up. Without other options, I left them on land with the instructions to take the boat out of the water and portage it back in the direction we came from with the promise that I would come find them as soon as I had the other boats landed on our beach. So, I then paddled hard to catch back up with the boats that were still on the water and encouraged them to paddle harder to actually get to our beach, which they did. We pulled the boats up on shore, put our paddles and PFDs away, and I called Kestrel (boss) to explain the situation and what I was going to do about it. With all but that last boat safely stored away, I told them to stay there, stay calm, and I ran through the woods to find the last boat. Thankfully, there is a horse trail being built through these woods and while it hasn’t really been worked on yet, it was flagged and trod upon gently. Finally, I found them, not exactly following my directions, but I found them. We pulled the canoe out of the water, walked it out of the woods, and then carried it across and open field to the road so we could get it picked up. One of the kids in boat was considered to have “behavior problems”, which certainly came up when I worked with him, but he was pretty chilled out here. Turtle was sent down to beach and picked up the rest of my tribe in one of our vans, and then came and found us down the road. Thinking back now, I’m not entirely sure why I didn’t hop in the boat with them and paddle back to the beach, but hey, whatever. Great story for the future. Somehow, this all took less than three hours, so we got them back to camp, clothes changed for those that need it, and off to their next activity, something easy, luckily – Nature Art. I went off to help with the Giant Swing and just tried to convince one of the school’s kids who would absolutely go here for summer camp, to go on the swing, unsuccessfully. After the second class, it was time for dinner, then option time, and a campfire. For option time, I decided to offer yoga because I wanted a chance to relax and stretch out after such an eventful first day. I only got two students, but I also got two of the teachers to join me for yoga, and it was absolutely delightful. Such a great choice. Then, we had our first campfire of the week, full of songs, skits, and only mildly disrespectful students. After snack, it was off to showers and bed. My cabin got to use the shower house, so it went fairly efficiently with six showers at our disposal. However, I did have a few special challenges in my cabin – the boy with “behavior problems” from my canoeing expedition and his friend, the easily a summer camper from the giant swing, and boy who had broken his ankle in a car accident and was obese and thus had to use crutches to move around, very very slowly. The behavior problem and friend took off running right after I told everyone to walk to the showers, so they got to go last and behaved much better afterwards. The summer camper had a very good friend with him the cabin who helped take care of him and took all of that work off of my hands, which was awesome. And the boy on crutches just moved slowly, which was navigable. I told a long story, and everyone was asleep before the end. Ah.
Wednesday. Wednesday… I’m pretty sure I was on ropes. There was a night hike. I don’t remember a whole lot. Same with Thursday, those days are really just a blur now after so much happened around them. I went on a second canoeing class that was much better as the wind was much calmer and we went east first. I taught a survival class that was uneventful. Thursday night had another campfire, but I had that one off. For the option times I did bouldering and another day of yoga. I was in a cabin both nights, telling nice, long stories. Uneventful was nice.
Friday started me off with a session of Nature Art which the now exhausted and anxious-to-get-home kids were not really interested in. We used things found in nature to create art that would disappear over time. Check out Andy Goldsworthy for inspiration. Then, I took the same tribe over to the Panther Pole for their last class. It started out fine, they had done ropes before so they knew how to put on harnesses and were fairly attentive. A teacher came over to help out with the rope crew and harnessing. Wonderful. Then, the second kid, excited as anything to get up to the top, jump off, and kick Wilson (our volleyball) froze. Not only did he freeze, but he froze standing on the very top of the pole. Usually, the kids are nervous to climb the staples, get standing on top, and, yes, jump off of the pole, but they don’t freeze. They are too eager to get down to freeze. He stood on the very top of the pole for thirty minutes. Thirty minutes. Think about that. You go try and stand in one place for thirty minutes. Now put on a harness, have a rope pulling up on the back of that harness, and stand on a 25’ tall pole. I don’t know how he didn’t just fall in the time. Two of the teachers that came over asked if we could just pull him off, which is probably what you’re thinking we should have done relatively early on. But here is thing, no, here are the things: 1) our ropes course is all about Challenge by Choice. If I was to pull this kid off of the pole, I am taking away his choice to challenge himself. 2) If I pull him off and he is not ready, or freezes up more on the descent, he could hit some part of himself on the pole, getting injured. 3) Trying to step down from the pole back down to the staples seems even more dangerous than getting pulled off. Nothing in my training had prepared me for a kid frozen standing on the pole. If they freeze on the staples, we just get them to let go of the pole bit by bit, and that’s normal. Plus, somehow, no one had attracted the attention of any of my bosses or coworkers, so it was just me. When the second teacher came up and asked why he was still up there, frozen, I gave in, asked the kid a couple times if he wanted to be pulled off of the pole (because we only had so much time to get the rest of the tribe through), and counted him down to pull him off. It felt awful to do, but necessary, and then the teacher totally went and complained to my boss about my handling of it. Frustrating. And then, because I was so busy getting everybody else through the pole that I didn’t get a chance to debrief with the kid, which I really really wish I had gotten to do. He seemed OK, but… just but. We then got the rest of the tribe through, unsatisfactorily because I couldn’t take the time I wanted to challenge the climbers, but we had to get them to lunch and out. Kestrel came up to help me close up the pole afterwards and we chatted about the experience, which was very good because she had heard the teacher’s side, listened to mine, and agreed that we needed to figure out what is the safest route to take in the future, through chatting with our ropes supervisor. Totally supportive and wonderful. After lunch, we waved goodbye, cleaned up, and then had to get ready for Respite weekend!
Respite weekends happen four or five times throughout the year and give the summer campers a chance to come back to camp, see their camp friends, and enjoy the refuge which is Camp for a weekend. To give them a brief respite from life. Generally, the kids are the less extreme individuals from summer camp and only 40 or so come – six tribes, split up by age. I “got” to work with the six to eight year olds, all boys. Fortunately, my co-counselor is very experienced and a behavior specialist for the camp (and the only girl in our tribe, she goes by Princess), plus we had a junior C.I.T. working with us. Thank goodness. We had six kids, and between the three of us, they still managed to disappear occasionally. How does that happen!? Three of them were angels and lovely. One would take any opportunity to jump on and cling to you, was great at playing by himself, but struggled with sharing. Another was a little less rambunctious than him, but still jumpy, punchy, clingy, and not good at sharing, as well as loud. And the sixth was a pathological liar. On Friday night, as the kids arrived, we put their stuff in their rooms and then took them up to a cabin with a climbing wall and mattresses on the floor to play. Once they all arrived, we laid out the expectations for the weekend, decided on punishments for not meeting those expectations, and a group name. Then, we took the kids back down to the dining hall for a meeting as the whole group, snack, and bedtime meds, then it was teething brushing, clothes changing, and bed time. We had not had sufficient time to wear them out, so it was a rather slow bed. To help, I made up a story about Princess, the CIT, and myself finding magical pancakes at a diner a couple towns over. I did such a good job telling the story, I talked myself to sleep.
Saturday was probably the longest day of my life so far. Somehow, time goes infinitely slower when you’re trying to entertain six kids with ADHD (or some derivative). We went on a hike around camp, picked Garlic Mustard, painted flower pots for Mother’s Day, and just played in the field before lunch. After lunch, thank goodness, we get an hour for rest/nap time. During summer camp, we are more efficient at wearing them out, and this actually works, but my room was having virtually none of that when the time came. Best part of the weekend: on the way to lunch, the pathological liar pushed one the angels down the dining hall steps from the very top (about a dozen), for absolutely no reason that he could give. They had been getting along just fine before, and somehow afterwards. At first the liar said his brother dared him to do it, but quickly changed his mind about that. Thankfully, the pushee was fine, just a scratch under the nose and light bruise on his cheek, but wanted an ambulance and to never come back to camp. At this time, I saw Pick, the summer camp director, work his magic, and I learned just why he has his job. He has been here forever, probably went here as a kid, worked as a young adult, moving up the ranks to where he belongs. He really knows how to talk to them. It is a beautiful thing. (In case you were wondering, I was standing at the bottom of the stairs when the kid was pushed from the top, looking right at them. There was absolutely no warning that it was going to happen. Just realized, there are plenty of times that I and my co-workers have had thoughts to do terrible things, mostly involving pushing each other in front of things, but haven’t done it and have just told the person that we had a brief, random desire to do said terrible thing. So, this kid had one of those desires – I wonder what would happen if I pushed him down the steps – but didn’t have that mental filter that we have developed over time to stop ourselves from doing these things. For instance, I pulled a small carpet out from under my sister when we were little because I had seen it on a TV show and wondered how it would work. The more I think about and see these kids with “disorders”, the more I think they’re all just kids.) So, after rest, we made our snacks for the night – marshmallows on a lollipop stick, coated in melted blue candy/chocolate, the bottom dipped in crushed graham cracker crumbs, and a goldfish stuck to the side to look like a little sea scene. The hardest part is making sure they don’t eat the snack as/before they make it so that they can actually eat it at night. Snack made, we went to a playground nearby in hopes that a car ride would calm them down and new place to play would occupy them for a significant period of time, but they were bored in less than an hour. The biggest challenge was the weather! It’s May and we had a sudden cold snap, so we couldn’t just go play in the streams and such, which would have occupied them for days. Literally, children could probably spend days in a stream, splashing around, trying to point out “bass” and “snakes” (aka rocks and sticks), and trying to catch tadpoles, minnows, and crawdads. After forcing them to stay longer than they wanted, and liar throwing mulch and sand repeatedly after being told not to and to be nice to people, we returned to camp to plant flowers in the pots we had painted. Then we went to the bathroom, washed our hands, and went to dinner without anyone falling down a flight of stairs. After dinner, it was time to get everybody cleaned up and showered for bed – chaos in a hallway. Then, movie night with the snacks! Unfortunately, Pick picked Where the Wild Things Are as the movie for the younger group (6-12) which, if you’ve seen it, is probably not the best movie for right before bed for these kids. One of the wild things rips the arm off of another wild thing and they replace it with a stick! I mean, c’mon! Not saying it’s a bad movie, just probably not the proper choice. Where the kids are usually zombie’d out, as I am when watching something, they were distracted, wriggly, and chatty. But, they started falling asleep, so we got them to bed, and my story was able to be much shorter for its continued telling.
Sunday morning and the end is in sight, but still so far away! They’re up at 0700h, and after keeping them in the room, getting them to pack up and play quietly for as long as one can, we go out into the hall and find out that breakfast has been moved back half an hour – who does that? Whining about being hungry and having to be quiet, we finally get to go to breakfast, and then have three hours to fill before lunch and departure. Somehow, we managed to fit eight hours of the day into those three hours, or something, because they definitely were not just three hours. One of the kids who had been fairly well behaved on Friday and Saturday decided that he was done being well behaved and just wanted to be a little douche bag (probably because he had to leave camp and didn’t want to) and went around running away, taking toys, hitting, not listening to anyone, etc. So, he got to talk with the behavior specialists (Princess and Turtle) and Pick. Thankfully, when he came back after a fairly significant period of time, he was a lot better and even managed to cheer up the pathological liar who was crying about wanting to go home. It’s amazing how fast they can turn on those tears. Magically, those hours ended, we got to eat lunch, and their parents began to show up. So satisfying to see them go. I got to explain to the pushee’s mom how he got the scratch and the bruise, best response ever – “It’s camp” with a shrug. The liar/pusher’s parents were the last to show up (apparently it is a recurring theme) by half an hour. And we were done. So done. Just like a turkey, take me out of the oven, done. D. O. N. E. Done. Go to the bathroom, take a shower, just sit, call family, watch TV, done.
Sorry my writing was getting so disjointed there at the end, I was about 3500 words in and just tired of typing. Plus, it is a fairly accurate representation of how well my mind was working. Thankfully I have today and tomorrow off before the next school gets in. I’m making my first loaf of naturally leavened bread! I’m very excited.
To all of the [like a] mother’s out there – thank you for your tireless, thankless work, day in and day out to make sure we survive, thrive, and grow into real, live people. The next time I see one of you in a store with a worn out look in your eyes to apologize for your monkey climbing on the shelves or sitting and screaming, I’ll know, they just do what they want at a certain age. You can train them, but it takes a little bit to kick in. So, to all moms, and especially my mom – Thank you and Happy Mother’s Day.