We have arrived at another ending. A farewell that for most of us is just until the same time, next year. So, what has changed about us these past three weeks? What have we learned?
I think I have learned that childhood is becoming increasingly complex. Life just isn’t as simple as it was 25 or 30 years ago. So much more is placed on our girls, and so much more is expected. They are so busy and under so much pressure, they easily lose sight of how they fit into the larger community. As parents, we find ourselves taking care of the details of their lives in order to keep them going without adding to their stressors. We want our girls to succeed, but there is a price being paid. Are they learning to persevere in the face of challenges? Are they developing resilience? When are they able to lean on a larger community? When do they have time to find pleasure in the little things? And what are the “little” things? What about enjoying being outside, sleeping under the stars, and learning the value and beauty of the world around us? When is there time for that, and is it even a valuable experience?
Camp life is all about group living, sharing space, navigating differences and commonalities, negotiating group norms, negotiating shower schedules and delegating cabin clean up chores. There can be discomfort in this, and for some, discomfort becomes fear. We use circle time to encourage conversations about the experiences of working through these challenges. We want our girls to be able to own their feelings and share them; not to keep their feelings inside to their own detriment and to that of the group’s ability to function as one.
Camp presents a tremendous opportunity to expand our own capacity to be uncomfortable and to push ourselves through a situation that truly challenges us, and one that we can solve for ourselves with support from our community. When we get to the other side, we have grown and we have learned more about ourselves and others. One of the best examples of this discomfort is camping out in the woods. What I have seen over the years, though, is that this discomfort has become fear. Each cabin is scheduled for a cabin overnight in one of the A-frame shelters we have up in the woods above camp. This program was intentionally designed to provide each camper an opportunity to experience sleeping outside in the woods, close to camp, in a secure space, so that success is easily achieved.
Even before the girls pack to campout, some now become anxious about night sounds and being outside. The counselors work to reassure them, to calm their concerns and fears, and to show them the power of choosing their attitude. Unfortunately, any little glitch often becomes an opportunity to bail. When the rain comes, is it the same to “campout” in the Lodge? Are we learning the same lessons? Is the experience as meaningful? What about wanting to “campout” on the tennis courts? Is that really a campout? Do these experiences contribute to the capacity to face challenges and adversity? Does this contribute to building strength in our girls?
What happens when we venture out of camp? Are we prepared to be uncomfortable? Are we prepared to be challenged? There is nothing like learning you can find your way in the great outdoors. The pride and self-assurance that is gained by figuring out how to go to the bathroom in the woods, how to cook a satisfying meal over an open flame and how to deal with a snake in your path. The leadership of our trip staff provides the girls the opportunity to learn these proficiencies. Being able to handle the challenge of a sudden thunder and lightning storm or a cold supper after a day of hiking allows us to learn we can persevere in the face of challenges and discomforts. I still remember eating cold, canned baked beans on Ritz crackers inside a tent after hiking two miles in the pouring rain when I was a 9 year old camper. It was a great meal that day, and I know that I could do it all over again and be just fine.
Marie Curie said, “Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood.” We want to build the capacity for understanding in our girls. We want them to have resilience to continue once the rain begins, when that first challenge appears and when they feel tempted to surrender. The greatest joys are in accomplishing that which we thought we could not.
We look forward to the same time, next year, and another opportunity to build resilience.