Thursday, June 30, 2011

Lazy Day

Tomorrow is Lazy Day at camp - a time honored tradition that everyone looks forward to. One of the great things about it is that it is always a surprise when it happens, as it is announced 1-2 days ahead of time. The main difference between Lazy Day and any other camp day is that there is no morning bell to wake people up, and you could technically sleep until lunch time. The regular program kicks back in at 2:00.

My kids both looked at me earlier this week and said, "Mom, I need Lazy Day... I'm exhausted!" A number of the staff have commented how much they need it, too. It's been interesting to watch the raw nerves that are present.

When Lazy Day was announced this morning, cheers erupted throughout the camp. I couldn't help but laugh out loud. The noise could probably be heard for miles around - I know it is a memory I'll cherish for a long time to come. Tonight, the 8th and 9th graders get a special cookout at the pool, then there is a band party on the tennis courts for the whole camp. That is followed by the midnight movie for 9th graders on the Volleyball courts, where you'll find me serving popcorn... how cool that this is happening.. Tomorrow morning the 9th graders also get extra ski time on the lake while the rest of the camp just does whatever they feel like - with staff members on duty, of course.

Anyway... I think there are some important things to learn from this idea:
  1. We all need to schedule a Lazy Day here and there - it's good for the soul.
  2. Lazy Days should be a reason to celebrate. We work hard, and it's such a simple reward.
I'm looking forward to it. I'll be up early on duty, but the chance to just kick back and relax for a morning "Among the Pines?" Priceless.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Putting on my Parent Hat

One of the things I've enjoyed most about this summer is re-learning the organization behind how camp runs. As an alum and former staff member, I've had great confidence in the staff members and what the camp program offers my children, but experiencing it as a staff member with my parent lens has caused me to appreciate it even more. It may be as simple as what is in various storage sheds around camp, but the thought behind what happen when, how it happens, and where things are placed has tickled me to no end. Frankly, I can't help but marvel at the logic behind the controlled chaos all day long.

Many of my friends don't get why camp is so important to me. I've long said that this particular camp is one of my favorite places on earth, and the memories I have attached to this place are pretty powerful. I only spent two summers here as a child, and one summer as a staff member when I was in college, but those summers were amazing.

Allen, my friend who is one of the directors and teaches horseback and rappelling (just as he did 28 years ago), and I "talked" a bit via facebook last fall. I told him one of those memories then. On one particular day my last year at camp as a camper, I was riding a horse that was not "mine" for some reason, and that horse ran me into a tree, which both knocked me off and caused my neck to get rather scraped up. It was all I could do to get back on a horse - I don't remember if it was the one that threw me off, but I had to get back on in order to finish up the trail and get back to camp.

Later that day, we went to the rappelling tower, and I, despite being very sore and scared to death, managed to walk down the wall. It was my first and last time doing so - I wasn't willing to do it again.

As I walked away, Allen called after me and said something like, "Lee, you've had a great day!" I don't remember what I said, or what my facial expression was, but I do remember feeling incredulous. He went on to say that getting back on a horse and facing my fear had made the day a great one.

I've never forgotten that.

As a parent, I often think about what I want my children to experience in life, and what I need to do to ensure that they get what they need during their formative years. It amazes me how much of what I want my children to experience can be found at camp. They need a place to try things that scare them in a safe environment. They need the chance to build their confidence and learn some independence. They need a place off the grid where it's ok to be who you are. And as a parent, I think of all the things they have the opportunity to do at camp that I could not begin to offer for them at home. From water skiing, horseback riding, archery, tennis, swimming, a water playground, learning wilderness skills... there's so much here for them to do. Further, these things are taught by college age students and adults who help make the activities fun and who they often look up to.

So, finding myself as a parent working at camp, I often think about what I want my children to get out of camp, and I look for ways to make it happen for other children. It may be a smile, a compliment, or a specific example - helping a child hammer "just enough" so the product is theirs, and showing them how to correct mistakes. In many ways, it's inserting myself "just enough" to help foster those positive memories for others much like was done for me.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


I've had a blast working with these kids in Arts & Crafts the past six days. Today, in many ways, I felt I hit my stride.

The girls came today, and outside we had the station where they worked on painting their major project. Inside, though, I had stations for pom pom creatures, legos, beads, draw your favorite counselor, and face paint, which my junior counselor and I did.

What was neat about this is that a lot of my education training came into play. For starters, the room was set up in stations, but more than that - there was a lot of choice involved in what campers could do. There was no defined product at any station - they weren't copying things so that each product looked the same - they could go with it any way they wanted to. Counselor help was where it needed to be - with the stations that required assistance. I set boundaries - no more than four at face painting at a time, and also a clear awareness from the beginning that there was no way we could paint all faces, that they would have to prioritize what was most important to them; and finally, I positioned myself so I could keep an eye on everything at once.

From a teaching perspective - I had:
Self Direction
Engaged workers

From a camper perspective, they had fun. The sound of arts and crafts was happy, with quiet talking between campers, and at no time was the chaos anything other than controlled. It was awesome.

A friend/former student of mine commented that she just couldn't see me doing face painting, plus all the crafty things I've got going on. I told her to reframe it - to think of how I often structured classes for them, and encouraged them in their teaching. If she could do that, then she could picture it.

This experience really is good for me - it's a different setting, certainly, but in many ways it's giving me a chance to practice what I preach. I like that.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Little Things

Yesterday, there was a boy in Arts & Crafts who was upset about his horseback helmet. He didn't like that it had Batman on it - not sure if someone made fun of him because of it, but he asked if I had anything that could cover it up. I told him I had duck tape, and then on a whim I asked him if he was a Bama fan. Sure enough, he was, which is good, because that's the only team duck tape I had in the back at Arts & Crafts. It took about 5 minutes, but by the time I was done, he had a personalized Bama decorated horseback helmet.

One of the campers is sick and in the infirmary - I was asked if there was anything she could do on her project while she's up there. While there's not, I put together a care package of beads with the letters of her name, string, pom poms, googly eyes, glue, and a "cracker barrel" solitaire game and took it to her.

Another girl, who has part of my name in hers, has gotten frustrated with me not remembering her name [that's something I'm horrible about, and it frustrates me, too]. I've passed her three times today, and gotten her name right - today she brought me a pipe cleaner bracelet she created during Arts & Crafts time.

One boy made a point of telling me he had a book with plane insignia on it, and he wanted to bring it to Arts & Crafts to get the details right on the plane he was decorating. He opted to decorate with sharpies rather than paint, and then asked how we could do a star on the Air Force symbols. I showed him the technique of how to use the back end of the paint brush and put dots in the corners of the star, and then connect the dots.

Little things.... all part of why I'm loving being at camp.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Camp, week 1

My friend Allen, one of the directors at camp, has encouraged me to write about my experiences this summer - and here is as good a place as any. I'm not really sure how to organize my thoughts, so tonight's will likely be a bit scattered.

A week ago, I put all my belongings except for my piano into storage, signed a contract on a house where I'm moving, and drove to camp - the same camp I attended as a camper and was a counselor at 21 years ago. This journey started back in October, and I wrote about it here, although then it was just a possibility. Now, it's a reality.

How lucky am I to be able to stop the normal flow of life as I've created it [which isn't entirely true - I have work that I'm doing while I'm at camp, too], and step back? How many people can structure their lives in such a way to be able to return to and work at a camp for six weeks? I know of very few others who can do this.

Now that I'm here, though, I find myself in a very surreal place, which I expected and prepared myself for, doing pretty much exactly the same job I did 21 years ago. So much has changed, yet so much is the same, too. The part that has changed is a bit of a learning curve, which I admit has been fun. I find myself challenged - not in a hard or bad way, but in one that is intriguing to me. The teachers in this case are my coworkers... which leads me to an entirely different train of thought:

One of the interesting places I find myself is simply in finding a place. I'm a senior counselor, in charge of arts & crafts, the canteen, and doing whatever other odd job I'm asked to do. My senior counselor coworkers range in age from 19-22, while the directors of the camp programs are all about my age or older that I am. So in some ways, I have no place that is mine. There's not exactly a peer group I can just hang with all the time.

At the same time, that allows me a freedom that is a bit different. I am able to float in and out of groups and belong, yet not belong. In some ways, it's refreshing. While I have my duties here, I'm not totally and completely "in charge" of the program like I am in so many other areas of my life. I'm not the one making the "big" decisions, but certainly small decisions that impact the quality of camp life from my corners of the program. I'm obviously invested in the camp - my children go here, and I want camp to be a special place for so many others.

Which leads me back to that sense of place. The other senior counselors have had a bit of a time figuring out what to do with/around me. How much should they trust me? Should they let me in? What exactly am I doing here? How do you work with someone who is also a parent? I know this only because of how I read people, and glimmers of conversations here and there.

I've tried to put those questions aside, and just be who I am. Not worry about how others look at me - just do my job, talk with people and learn from them, and enjoy being here. And for the most part, I'm succeeding. I did have a night off tonight, went into town and got a pedicure, went to Mellow Mushroom for dinner. I brought the leftovers back to the senior staff lounge where a good number of them were hanging out and they were eaten pretty quickly. Had I been thinking, I would have put in an order to bring back to them - I will next time. Sitting in there with them was the most relaxed I've felt any of them around me, and a willingness to let me into some of the conversations that occur when it's just staff. Having been staff, I know what those are and what they look and feel like. The feeling doesn't change, regardless of the players. I wondered when that beginning to relax would occur, and I have to say the fact that I felt it more tonight than previously causes me to breathe a small sigh of relief. I wanted to feel that prior to my children arriving. I wanted to sense that I was a part of the rhythm of camp.

And that thought leads me to one of the truths about camp:

There is a rhythm here that feels timeless. I experienced it for the first time the summer of 1983. Today, in the canteen, one of the songs on the radio was "Sunglasses at night," which was played a lot at camp during the summer of 1984, and just hearing that song made me think, as it always does, of being out at the lake skiing. So much of what I'm doing and experiencing feels almost innately familiar. The routines, the ringing of the bell to wake us up and at meals, the chimes played at more reflective parts of the day, vespers and talking ceasing at the "line of silence," the break midday at the canteen, the sounds of campers in the cabins and talking at arts and crafts.... Walking through camp, retracing steps I first took nearly 30 years ago, I find myself sinking back into that surprisingly familiar rhythm.

More than that, though. I find that rhythm wrapping its arms around me.

When I first thought of working at camp, I had no idea how much I would need this rhythm at this point in my life.