I have to admit, I always wonder if it will work. Every summer, at the beginning of each second session, I have a moment of doubt as to whether or not we can successfully mesh a group of 100 boys that have been here already for a month together with a group of 100 kids that have just arrived.
There are certainly plenty of things that would seem to conspire to make this meshing difficult. The boys that have already been here already are completely comfortable in their surroundings, they have already bonded with their counselors, they have already bonded closely with the others that have been here, and they have already developed a healthy disdain for their camp director’s hokey sense of humor. On the other hand, the new boys often know nobody, have never slept in a cabin, are used to having their own bedroom, and think I am HILAROUS (Ok, I admit, the healthy disdain part develops most quickly). It would seem that successfully bringing these two groups together would potentially be a difficult task. But that is only because I sometimes forget where I am. (Don’t be alarmed, I rarely ACTUALLY forget where I am…just a literary device.) I am in a place where the very first sight that a visitor is presented with upon exiting the Big House is a sign that reads This Shall Be a Place of Welcome for All. It is not just a slogan here; it is a way of living. It is something that we talk about often and make an integral part of our lives here. We design camp activities around this philosophy. It is everywhere… (Just ask any kid who is sent to me for being unkind to another boy. I always have him sent up to sit down on the Big House steps and wait for me. As he waits, there is little else for him to do but stare at that sign. I take my time in arriving. And then we have our talk with that sign sitting directly over my shoulder, in plain view of the offender. ..my version of the subliminal advertising that was banned in movie theaters decades ago. Don’t tell the FCC, ok?)
Given how much we take This Shall Be a Place of Welcome for All to heart, I guess I should stop being surprised that the conjoining of these two groups, the eight-week campers with the second four week campers, comes off so quickly and seamlessly. The eight weekers make it their business to make sure the new boys feel welcomed into camp. They show the new ones around camp. They tell the new boys all about the inside jokes. They warn the new boys about my sense of humor. They extend the hand of friendship to all of them. This Shall Be a Place of Welcome for All.
But don’t think for a second that this is a one-sided relationship. Our second four week campers bring with them an incredible energy boost. After spending an entire month thinking about being here, by the time they arrive, these boys are ready for action. They bring with them that frenetic energy that sets any session of camp off on the right foot…a reminder to all of us about how freeing and incredible the prospect of a month at camp can be. We all feed off of their energy.
Within hours, it was clear to me, as I should have expected, that our two groups were nothing of the kind. In just our first day here together, there were not two groups at all, just the camp family doing that “camp” thing that we all love so much.
And so it was that we had a great first full day of camp yesterday. In the middle of a perfect weather run with clear skies and perfect temperatures, camp was alive with kids focused on passing required ranks for upcoming wilderness trips. Camp was alive with campers trying activities that they had never tried before. Camp was alive with boys reacquainting themselves with some of their favorite camp activities that had just been a part of dreams over the course of the past eleven months. The sports fields were full, the swimming area was full, the boats were full, the artshop was full, and the target sports were full. On just the first full day of the session, camp was alive.
Last night was our Big Brother-Little Brother Soiree. For those of you that are brand new to camp, whenever a 3rd-5th grader is brand new to camp, we connect him with a camp Big Brother. The hope is that the Big Brother will connect with the new boy before his arrival to camp and put the new boy at ease, telling him about some of the fun things at camp and assuring him that not only will his counselors be looking out for him at camp, but an older “cool guy” has his back too. Admittedly, some of our Big Brothers are better than others at creating this pre-season bond, but truly, this all changes when they arrive at camp. The Big Brother-Little Brother Soiree is the perfect venue for this. And last night was as good of a Soiree as I can remember. We all enjoyed a night full of fun and silly get to know you games, the hilarious retelling of the generations long struggle between two warring clans that led to the invention of the S’more, and, of course, eating that very first S’more of the summer…..an indication that a summer at camp has officially begun.
On the nuts and bolts front, you should know that we are seeing remarkably few cases of homesickness, and those that we are working with are quite mild. But, let me be clear, homesickness is a wonderful thing. It means that HOME is a pretty special place. It is ENTIRELY natural for any child to miss home and their parents. That is a good thing. To be honest, dealing with a homesick child is one of my very favorite things to do as a camp director (sheesh, what sort of jerk have we sent our son to be with?!?!?). It is not that I enjoy seeing kids be sad……but….I do genuinely enjoy watching a child get over his homesickness. We begin with discussions in which they tell me that they “will do anything” if I just let them go home. Then, as we are moving down the road towards recovery, we will share moments in which he grudgingly admits to having “a little” fun every once in a while. Then, there is a moment in the Rec Hall when our eyes meet after I have caught him laughing with a friend…..he smirks at me…..or sometimes frowns (appearances to keep up you know!). Finally come the days on end when we have little to no contact because he does not need me anymore….he has found a home. Last, and perhaps most rewarding, is that final moment at the airport or the bus, when I get to tell him how proud I am of him. I never get sick of it.
I’ve got to say, so far I am pretty disappointed in this second session group. Not a single negotiator offering me anything in the world to let him go, not one. Oh well, I guess I will just have to satisfy my need to deal with unhappy kids by busting some kids with concealed candy…
All is well in the North Woods…