These past two weeks have been amazing. Two weeks ago, I started my co-op job at Hidden Acres Mennonite Camp just outside of New Hamburg (which is just outside of Waterloo). I have a position as an inclusion counselor there, which means I primarily am dealing with the kids with special needs. At least, that’s what I thought it was. As it turns out, I do a whole lot more than that – I get to interact with all the kids, but I just primarily am assigned to look after the kids with special needs. Anyways, I realized that I haven’t updated this blog in a while, and so I decided to talk a little bit about the whole camp experience.
Honestly, I love it there. It’s horribly tiring, we’ve had to wake up at about 7:45 AM every morning, the kids basically run you into the ground with their boundless energy, and to top it all off, my allergies are pretty bad up there, since I’m outside most of the day. Those are the bad things I’ve found. But the good stuff completely outweighs the bad. The first week was orientation, and I made about 30 new friends that I’m going to get to know better over this summer. I’ve gotten involved with the music stuff there, and so I get to play acoustic guitar about twice a day. Then, of course, I get to deal with kids, and basically I just have to play with them and have fun. How cool is that? I get paid to have fun, feel like a kid again, and play guitar too! I mean, I know it’s not all fun and games, since I’m also supposed to make sure that kids don’t get hurt and play safe, but still – this job is great. Sure, I’m not getting paid a whole lot, but much of the payment is not monetary but in the amazing experiences I will have this summer.
So let me go into a bit of the details of the past two weeks. As I mentioned, the first week was Orientation. All of the counselors and support staff that will be working there during the summer (although most aren’t working every week) were there, and we went through a whole lot of sessions about child abuse and personality types and all sorts of stuff that we need to know for the upcoming summer. On top of that, we also had a campout. Each cabin full of people hiked out to a different campsite and set up a tent. Our cabin had a great time – we basically set up our tent and then laid down for a good two-hour nap. And this was only on the second day. Yes, we were already that tired. After that, we got up, cooked some hot dogs for supper – I can’t say that I’ve ever had fried hot dogs before, but now I can. Basically, we had what they called a “buddy burner,” which is basically a tin can with holes poked in the sides, over top of a tuna can full of rolled-up cardboard and wax. You light the cardboard, put the tin can over top, and then cook your food on the can. The only thing is that you have to use excessive amounts of butter in order to cook stuff properly. So, we had hot dogs soaking in butter on this buddy burner. If you think about it, it’s pretty gross. So I tried not to. The hot dogs tasted pretty good though…
The next day was brutal. We woke up at 4:30 AM. Yes, that’s right. We woke up before the sun did. Why, you ask? Well, before the campout, each cabin had to fill out a sheet with details such as how much food we would eat, what campsite we wanted, and what time we wanted our showers. Each cabin, then, had a specified timeslot for showering. And since there is only one water heater and we wanted hot showers, we signed up for the first timeslot. In order to have time to make breakfast and pack up our tent, etc., we had to wake up at about 4:30 AM. It was pretty ridiculous. But, we had eggs and toast, got everything packed up, and headed back. The shower afterward was glorious. I’m sure you can understand why. Anyways, most of the rest of the days were filled with various sessions, music times (where we learned some of the more common camp songs we’ll be singing for the summer), and learning how to lead various skills groups – like wall climbing, canoeing, etc. We had an Amazing Race thing as well, where we had to run to different places and solve riddles, do various stuff, and then race off to the next place. Our team came in dead last, but it was still fun.
The highlight of the week, however, was the naming ceremony. You see, at Hidden Acres, every staff member has a camp name that is used for the entire summer – and every summer afterward if the person comes back for more than one year. All through the week, we were learning people’s real names, and then we had to start learning people’s camp names as well. The new staff members didn’t have camp names, however. So, all throughout the week, there was a box where people could put in suggestions. Most names have some sort of story behind them – for example, Bullzeye got his name because he got a bulls-eye on his first time trying archery. Shortcake got her name because she has all sorts of Strawberry Shortcake stuff (the little doll thing, not the actual dessert). So, all throughout the week, people were looking for things to name people. If a person did something stupid or strange, chances are that a suggestion for a name came out of it. Then, on the final night, we had a big elaborate set of tasks to do. Tina (or Apolo as she’s known at camp) – the Program Director who plans everything – basically told us to put on running shoes and bug spray and then meet at the volleyball nets. Everyone went there, and all that was there was a sign saying, “Using all the members of the staff, spell out the alphabet using your bodies. When finished, yell, ‘Take us to the Mountain of Wisdom!'” So, we did so. As we yelled out the phrase, Devon (or Ember) ran out of the trees dressed in green and with green face paint. He creepily said, “Follow me!” and proceeded to run off, making us chase after him.
We chased him all the way to the baseball diamond near the entrance to the camp. There he told us to make three pyramids and a sphinx using all the members of the staff. We had a bit of trouble figuring out how to make the sphinx, but we finally did so. We had to yell out, “Task completed!” and then Laura (I think her camp name is Tmurk) ran out of the nearby forest dressed in a leaf-print dress and with an archery bow in her hand. She told us to follow her, and we chased her all the way to “the cave.” This is basically a bomb shelter dug out of a hill. I mean, I’m sure it’s not a bomb shelter since it’s made out of wood, but it looks like one. Laura told us to fit everyone into it. We had to go through in single file, and the entrance was small enough that we had to crouch down to go through. Once inside, though, it opened up quite a bit, and there was plenty of room to fit everyone inside. Once everyone was in, out of the corner jumped Andrew (or Targiss), who was wearing a green cape and green goggles on his head. He cackled and ran out of the cave. We had to turn around and go back outside, and then chase after him. He led us around and then finally to a big dirt mound. It had a pathway lined with tiki torches, and at the top of the hill were Sarah (or Smucks) and Tina (Apolo) dressed in Hawaiian-type dresses, and Campbell – the director of the camp – sitting on a chair dressed like a hick/construction worker/coal miner. He had a plaid shirt on with suspenders, and a hard hat. Beside him was a wagon filled with all sorts of junk. We were all led up the hill, and then the new staff members had to go to the front and sit down. The naming ceremony finally was about to begin.
One by one, we were called up, where we had to stand in front of everyone while Campbell poked fun at us in various ways. He made jokes about some people’s names, and joked about the Superman shirt that I was wearing. Basically, he just asked questions to us, and we had to answer them as best as we could, even though most of the questions were completely ridiculous. Then, I guess once Campbell had run out of things to say, Tina would read off the suggestions for the person’s name. If there was just one, then that would be their name, but if there was more than one, we would vote on it. After it was decided, we got a little glowstick which we had to break, and then it was declared as official. In other words, we went up the hill with one name, and came down with another. So, my new name is Ice. There isn’t really much of a story behind it. Andrew (Targiss) was trying to figure out a name for me, and he wanted to name me Goose because it was a name from Topgun. I didn’t really like it, so he suggested Ice-man instead – another name from Topgun. That at least sounded cool, and he said that it could be because I was so cool and laidback. So, I waited until it seemed like there were no better suggestions to be made for me, and then I put it into the box. Once up on the hill, someone suggested just Ice, and I shrugged my shoulders since I didn’t really care for one over the other. So, my camp name is officially Ice. Hooray!
During the first part of the week, I had a few reservations about the camp. Since most of the people there hadn’t seen each other since last summer, a lot of the returning staff spent a lot of time with each other rather than getting to know the new people. So, I felt a bit left out. However, throughout the week, I got to know the people in my cabin, and others as well. The naming ceremony was nice because it really brought the new staff into “the group.” By being given a name, I suddenly felt like I was now part of the whole camp thing. It was great. In other words, the week got a lot better as it went on, and by the end of it, I was having a great time. It was a shame that it was so short. However, we only had a few days off, and then we were back for Single Moms’ Camp.
Single Moms’ Camp is an awesome idea. Basically, the moms bring their kids to camp, but they get to stay as well. The age range was huge, with kids from age 4 all the way up to 14, but most of them were really good. The younger kids stayed with their moms, but the older kids were in cabins. There weren’t a whole lot of kids – in our cabin, there were three kids, and three counselors. The other cabins had pretty much the same ratio. It was a nice intro to the whole “camp thing,” which was good for someone like me, not having ever been a counselor before. I’ve been a camper, but never a counselor. Most of the kids were really good, but we had a few problems with a couple of them. Fortunately, though, after Campbell talked to them, they smartened up a bit and we didn’t have much more trouble with them – other than the normal trouble that all kids get into. I got to know most of the kids pretty well, and I was sad to see them go at the end of the week. One of the kids in my cabin which I was primarily responsible for (as an inclusion counselor), who had ADHD, gave me a little plane he had made out of popsicle sticks and paper. This had been one of the “problem kids,” and although I had disciplined him a few times throughout the week, that little airplane told me that despite the fact that I came down on him with the rules, he had “no hard feelings.” He didn’t seem to be having much fun during the first part of the week, but by the end, when I asked him, he said that he had had fun. And that made this week worth it.
As I mentioned earlier, the camp life is exhausting. It’s hard keeping up with kids that like to run everywhere and jump over everything. I must have given at least 30 “underdoggies” throughout the week – you know, the thing where you pull the kid on the swing back, and then push them forward really quickly while running underneath. The kids loved them, and although I tried to avoid doing them as much as possible (since once you give one of the kids one, the kids on the other two swings want one too), it was impossible to avoid it completely. Once it was established that I could give good underdoggies, it was inescapable. As well, it was a little hard to adjust to going to bed at about 10:30 PM. I’m used to staying up until at least midnight, but that’s not smart when you have to get up at 7:45 AM every morning. On top of that, my allergies bothered me during some of the nights, so it made it hard to sleep. The busy days with high activity levels and problems sleeping made for a tiring week, but I managed to survive. I also only had two showers out of the four mornings that I was there – the other two days I went to “Ducky Dip,” where basically campers get up and go to the pond. They have to get into the water and at least dunk their head under – they can go swimming for a bit if they want, I think. I did that twice, which at least washed off some of the dirt I suppose, but didn’t make my hair feel cleaner – it felt pretty greasy, which was gross. But oh well, it’s camp, right?
One of the biggest things that I’ve learned these past two weeks – and especially this past week – is to smile despite being tired. I mean, I’ve done it before. There was a time when I used to have a bit of a problem with insomnia, and so I would go to school tired every morning and put on a fake smile. But I’m not talking about fake smiles. People can see through fake smiles, and when your kids see you just trying to put on your happy face mask when you’re not really happy, it tells them that you don’t really appreciate the time you’re spending with them. So this week, I learned how to be happy despite the tiring week. I learned that spending time with kids can be a joy despite the fact that they can tire you out in five minutes or drive you up the wall with incessant questions. One of my campers learned a game where you ask someone questions and they have to answer, “mushy marshmallows,” without smiling, no matter what the question is. He then proceeded to ask me questions constantly. One night at supper, his mom was at the same table as us, and he kept asking me questions, and I kept answering, “mushy marshmallows.” His mom finally asked, “Isn’t he driving you crazy?” I just put on a grin and said, “Nope! Not at all!” And it was the truth. Despite the fact that he did it incessantly, it honestly made me feel like a kid again. This whole week made me feel like a kid again. I got to play on swings, climb up into treehouses, play soccer, go swimming and pretend to be a sea monster, build sandcastles, and of course, play mushy marshmallows! I get to play with kids and be a kid myself, and get paid for it, too! It’s great.
I just recently finished reading Philippians for my devotions. If you’ve ever read Philippians, you’ll know that it’s a letter from Paul, and its central theme is joyfulness. As well, this is one of Paul’s prison letters – in other words, he wrote this letter about joy while he was in prison. That in itself is pretty amazing, but read what he says at one point in his letter: “But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.” (Phil. 2:17-18) In other words, he’s saying, “Hey, even if I die for Christianity, I am just glad that I had the chance to lead you to Christ, so I will rejoice about it! Rejoice with me!” Later on, he says, “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Phil. 4:11-13) Despite the fact that he was in prison, he was content, because he knew that God was in control of the situation.
I guess in some small way, I have learned a bit of the secret to living this contented life. Now, I’m not saying that I went through anything like what Paul went through. He was imprisoned, and I’m working at a summer camp – there’s no comparison. But at the same time, I’ve learned at least a little bit to be joyful despite being tired. When everything inside me is screaming, “Stop! Please stop! I am so tired…let’s just forget the kids and just go lay down for a bit, okay? Gotta look after your own needs first, after all, right?” I just try my best to ignore it and put on my happy face – not the fake smile, but rather the real one that comes from seeing the delighted look on kids’ faces from the smallest things. Yes, even from an underdoggy. And I will drain my body for every last drop of energy to bring these kids happiness, even if it’s only for a week. That’s what camp is for – it’s the place that we all can go to have fun, be on an equal playing field with everyone else there, and reclaim our joy. It’s a place to learn more about God, about ourselves, and about others, in a safe environment where kids can just be kids and adults can just be kids too.
I guess I said all this to say that I’m looking forward to the rest of this summer. I know I’m going to have a lot of tiring weeks ahead of me, but I know that I’m also going to have a lot of fun ahead of me. Hopefully I’ll learn something as well out of this whole experience. And if all that comes out of it is one little airplane made out of paper and popsicle sticks, it’ll still be worth it.
And of course, I’ll have to remember this for those days when I’m especially tired:
“Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life.” (Phil. 2:14-16a)