Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Camp Counselor

Sitting in the Cool Carter Clubhouse this morning,
I had the sudden realization how much my life these days feels like my summers spent as a camp counselor:

My days are filled to overflowing with children whose energy knows no bounds (except when it's time for dinner prep) and constantly look to me for suggestions, guidance, direction (except when they don't like what I'm suggesting, guiding, and directing them to do.)

It's up to me to make sure these hellions are sufficiently bathed, dressed to their mothers' approval, lathered in sunscreen, covered in bug spray, and otherwise ready to face the day.  I'm also charged with preparing their every meal, making sure that they eat well, and urging them to drink water, drink water, and drink more water.

If I feel annoyed, or grumpy, or fed up, or just plain worn out tired, that's simply too bad.  I'm charged with singing a jolly good tune - even through tightly clenched teeth.  (When in doubt, Christmas tunes have the effect of catching campers off guard, occasionally making them forget just what they're squabbling about, this time.  Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer in July?  Why not?  They know all the words, and it buys you two minutes to unclench your jaw.)

Creepy spiders?  Scary boom-boom thunderstorms?  Bee stings?  Antagonizing cabinmates?  Potty runs in the middle of the night?  It's all on me, baby.

And then I realized some stark differences, too.

I receive no wages, however meager, for the hard work I do.

There is no contract I've signed that GUARANTEES ME TWO CHILD-FREE HOURS EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

I cannot simply usher my children into a cafeteria where hot food awaits us, during those times I'm not actually required to cook for them.  Additionally, they can see the pantry from where they sit, so I can't get away with claiming that there is nothing else they may eat except what is on their plate.

My co-counselor works long hours.  And sleeps while I am awake.  And works while I am asleep.

My co-counselor is equally afraid of creepy spiders as my "campers," doesn't wake during thunderstorms or for children who have to potty, and treats bee stings more like a fascinating science experiment in skin reaction and less like an exercise in distraction and downplay for the hysterical boy.

Occasionally, when I forget that I'm not allowed to be grouchy, annoyed, fed up, pissed off, and JUST SO OVER IT, I have no "respite counselor" who cheerfully swoops in to relieve me, giving me a tight hug and a big grin before sending me on my way to a two hour break.  Instead, all eyes are upon the mom with the screeching, thrashing, flailing, screaming, red-faced two year old who was told, gently and with much advance warning, that it was time to leave the pool.

Those summers I spent as a counselor, when my exhausted campers drifted off to sleep listening to the symphony of crickets surrounding our hogan, I lay in bed, spent and weary, yet fighting sleep.  I'd count the cricket chirps and wait for my mind to ease, knowing that in the morning, I'd have to rise and do it all over again. 

In the calm of evening, of course, the other stark differences come through. 

The differences come in creating a sanctuary in our very own backyard, which invites a calm and a peace not known before, where we simply sit, together.  Where we simply hang out, (how often do you see three boys, ages 2, 5 and 8, simply hang out?) talk about ferns and spiderwebs and big clouds and blues skies, where we begin the day.

Where we pore over a new camping book, reminding each other to dig out the ropes to try new kind of knots, trying out new camp songs, then singing old favorites - "Little Cabin in the Woods"  and "John Jacob Jingelheimer Schmidt."

Where we light a single tea light, drop it into a mason jar, and pretend it is a bonfire.

Where we talk about Life Issues like navigating through changing friendship, and kids who are very sick, and why the cat keeps attacking the butterflies.  And why she then pukes it up on the porch.

Where we leave the tranquility of our clubhouse for the adventure of exploring our neighborhood, on bikes.  How I revel in the freedom this affords to each of us, the pleasure we share in this conquest of wheels and pavement and exploration.  Where my sweet companion, riding behind me in his little seat, points and grunts in happy excitement when he spots a squirrel, a yapping dog, a peliated woodpecker perched on a tree branch.  Where I watch, in admiration, as my two older boys push themselves with small legs up big hills, determined to be Big Enough.

Where I discover anew all the things I loved best about being a camp counselor with the children I love best in the whole world. 

Where they drop into bed, weary and spent.  Where I lie on my own pillow, knowing I'll get up in the morning and do it all over again.

And feeling the excitement, the anticipation, for morning to arrive.

1 comment:

Susan said...

you have never had a cuter group of campers! Thanks for continuing to write.....I love reading your reflections and seeing your pics