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I’m a happy camper.

When our kids were younger, their summer activities were pieced together for the 10 weeks between school years – swim lessons, a week of baseball camp, a few weeks of gymnastics camp – whatever they were interested in that year. My husband and I had both gone to more traditional camps; some of my favorite childhood memories are from day camp, while my husband spent summers starting at age seven at sleepaway camp.

I thought our boys might be missing out, so we looked into a few day camps for them. At the time, a friend was working at the camp where his kids went. It wasn’t something that I’d considered doing before, but since I was teaching just one college class during the summers, and wondered how I’d fill nine hours a day while my kids were at camp, I decided to look into it. I thought that being an arts & crafts counselor would be something I could handle and might enjoy.

On a chilly April Saturday, we went and toured LakeView Day Camp. It had everything we were looking for, and by later that week, we’d enrolled the boys.

Unfortunately, this camp wasn’t looking for anyone on their arts & crafts staff. The camp director thought I might be a good fit for an open position for the camp office. I liked the idea of access to air conditioning all summer, and the director was right – even though I have some formidable glue gun skills, I was definitely more suited for an office job. We talked it over, I thought about it, and ultimately I decided that I’d give it a try. I’d just be along for the ride with my kids, and I figured I could do any job for just eight weeks.

camp

As I expected, the boys thrived at camp. They made new friends. They learned to swim better than they ever had. They learned that they loved activities they’d never tried — archery, zip lining, performing, lacrosse. It was even more than we hoped it would be.

But here’s what I never expected to happen -in my 40s, one of the oldest staff members at camp – I thrived too.

The job wasn’t always easy. The days were long, wrapped in a 45-minute commute on either end. Managing the needs of parents of the hundreds of campers could be complicated. Searching for the one staff member who left her car lights on in the staff parking lot was daunting. Getting through the piles of paperwork that came through the office each day was exhausting.

But at my age, even tucked away inside, sometimes seemingly far from the hustle and bustle of hundreds of campers and staff, I made new friends – ones I expect to be in my life for a long time.

I got to be myself. I could be silly and start a rubberband fight in the middle of the day. I could cry happy tears because I saw one of my kids having fun in the pool or singing in a show. I could give someone a hug just because it was the first time I’d seen them in a few days. I could dance just because I heard music. I could laugh until my stomach hurt.

I got to try new things; I’ve flipped on a bungee trampoline, driven a go-kart, gone down an inflatable water slide, and taken a ride on a fire truck. I got to wear shorts and a t-shirt to work, and dress up in goofy costumes on theme days.

So, it seems  I was not just along for the ride with my boys, but this was going to be my camp experience too.

Tomorrow starts our seventh summer at this wonderful camp. I’m still one of the oldest working there, but nobody else seems to mind. And because I’m around the energy of the rest of the staff, most days I don’t even notice. For eight weeks, I get to be a part of something magical – where kids (and adults) come to be who they really are, try new things, laugh and cry.

We have a motto at LakeView — “Live Camp, Love Camp.” We all do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Greetings from Parachute Guy.

We brought in the mail yesterday, and there was a mysterious envelope from England, addressed to me, in the mailbox.  The customs declaration read “postcards and plastic toy,” and since I only know a couple of people who would mail me something from England, I was pretty curious to see what was inside.

Parachute guy.

parachute guy

As I’m sure you can imagine, there’s a back story to parachute guy.

Every summer, I work in the office at the day camp where my kids go.  I’m lucky to work with fun, smart people who make my job easier and my summers something to  look forward to.

I’m not really sure where Parachute Guy came from, but two summers ago I saw him on the desk of the office manager (and my good friend). He’s a smiling little red plastic figurine, not even an inch tall, attached by fishing line to a white parachute, If I am correctly remembering how things started, I took him off her desk and hung him by the parachute from the ceiling in her office.  And so it began.

Every few days, my friend and I would trade Parachute Guy.  I’d find him in my purse, in a desk drawer, hanging on my computer, under a pile of papers. And I’d return the favor, stashing him in places in her office.

After two summers, things started to get a little stale with Parachute Guy, so we upped the game a little.  If there was mail coming home to me from camp during the year when I’m not working there, I might find him in the envelope.  Once, my friend’s kids came over to spend time with my kids, and her daughter snuck up to my room and hid Parachute Guy under my pillow.

So, neither of us spent much time wondering where Parachute Guy might be, but for me, finding him always makes me smile.  And this past summer, at the end of camp, my friend sent Parachute Guy off to England with one of the international camp staff, for her to mail to me at a later date.

And here’s where the story is now.  Parachute Guy arrived here safely yesterday, and is spending time in my kitchen.  I’m not at all sure when and how Parachute Guy will be returned to my friend, but now I feel the need to do something pretty creative.

Here’s the moral of the story: life is full of work, laundry, homework, cleaning – the “have-tos.”  And if in the midst of these have-tos, if we can make someone smile by doing something silly like hiding a little toy in a jacket pocket, we’ve done our “real” job.

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This is the world we live in.

Caution Tape

Caution Tape (Photo credit: Picture Perfect Pose)

For the past three summers (this will be the fourth), I have worked at the camp that my kids attend.  It’s a great fit for us – I love the job I have and the people I work with, and my boys have a fabulous eight weeks there every year.

As a camp staff member, I attend required staff training sessions every year.  At the end of today’s training session, we had several camp-wide drills, before which the camp director spoke frankly to the staff about the harsh reality that we all live in.

And it hit me.  Hard.

Not because I didn’t already know this.  I follow the news.  I read the information that comes home from my kids’ schools, and I know that safety is something to be taken seriously.  But there was something about looking around and seeing the faces of the counselors who take this job just because they love kids, thinking about my own kids being there, and then thinking of the terrifying possibility that something unthinkable could happen.

I find it so sad that kids’ (including my own kids) reality these days includes lockdown drills and intruder drills.  I know it’s necessary, and somehow it’s both scary and comforting at the same time to know that places our kids go are preparing for this.

It also makes yearn for the days of previous generations, when parents put their kids on a camp bus every morning, or sent them off to a sleepaway camp for the summer, thinking that the worst that could happen would be an argument with a friend or a bee sting.

I think every generation of kids has had their crises, their issues and things to fear.  All we can do is hug our kids tight, love them with everything we have, and just talk to them when they have questions, because unfortunately, we don’t have the answers either.

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