A Sock in the Woods: 7 Quick Takes about camp

I got to visit camp this past week.

Hold on. Let me try that again: I GOT TO VISIT CAMP LAST WEEK!! The kids were gone for the summer, but it was so great to see the place.

I was on staff there for three summers, during college. (I didn’t go there as a kid, sadly.) I don’t think I’m exaggerating at all when I say that it was the best summer job ever. I got to play with kids all summer. Kids who looked up to me, and thought that I was cool simply because I was their counselor, and I loved them. And I got paid for it.

I don’t think that I can adequately put into words exactly what being on staff (rather, being a “role model”) at this Catholic camp has meant to me. The things I learned there about people, about myself, about God and the way He sees each of us…well, those things have become part of me. It’s the kind of thing that I’m not conscious of most of the time, but when I went back to visit, memories started coming back, too.

So because I don’t want to bore you by going on and on with excited camp story word vomit, I’ll do this in Seven Quick Takes! Hopefully they’ll be somewhat poignant and funny and touching and ridiculous and whatever else…but if not, thanks for indulging me. I know that most of this probably won’t make much sense to people who’ve never been there, but I hope you get something out of it! (More quick takes by Jennifer and friends at Conversion Diary.)

1) Completely unexpected, yet thoroughly predictable

Sock #4287. And none of them have matches.

One of the first things I saw in the woods on my visit the other day was this sock, hiding in the woods beneath some leaves. I almost couldn’t stop laughing enough to steady my hand to take this pic. (It might just be one of those “have to be there” kind of things…I don’t think me explaining will even be funny.) The camp has a collection of single socks that have been picked up in the woods throughout the summer. How a kid can lose just one sock in the woods—while either wearing two socks under tennis shoes or no socks with flip flops—is beyond me. I guess that’s so like kids, though. People in general, really: completely unexpected at times, and yet, thoroughly predictable. And they just make me smile.

2) Setting boundaries

Like the pirate code…they’re really more like guidelines…

One of the coolest parts about the camp I worked at was the discipline system, or rather, the lack of a discipline system. The way we treated the campers was based on the way St. John Bosco treated the kids he hung out with and worked with. Basically, instead of waiting to punish someone when they do something wrong, love them and give them attention so they will respect you and won’t do anything wrong in the first place. It’s kind of amazing how simple it is, and how well it works. (It helped having a 1 to 4 camper to kid ratio, too.) We didn’t have rules, we set expectations…and held the kids to those standards. I lost my voice often from yelling—not at kids, but with them. (Riiiise and shiiine and give God the glory, glory….silver FOX :)…going on a squeegee hunt…have you ever seen a penguin come to tea? (or was that company? whatever…it was definitely a fox and not a fish though) and the great camp AMEN!)

3) Traditions!

GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOD MORNING EVERYONE!

Singing “Grand Old Flag” every morning normally, then fast, then slow, then really fast… and hearing the same (lame!) jokes every. single. week. Sometimes every day. And usually told badly. (“Cheese that’s not mine? Hm…”) Living for the moment when out of the blue some kid tells a legitimately hilarious joke and we’d actually laugh instead of politely “da do do ch”-ing them. Hearing the weather (will today be one of the three cloudless days of the Indiana summer??) more or less straight from the ambulance-chaser-who-shall-no-longer-be-named, because, well….we just won’t get into that. (If you were there, you know how awesomely ridiculous it got to be. If you weren’t, don’t worry about it.)

And those are just a few of the flagpole traditions. That’s about 15 minutes of the day. This post barely even scratches the surface.

4) Having a blast.

“Ok, fine, I’ll go on the ridiculously fun swing again if I have to…” 🙂

Working at camp wasn’t easy. We were “on” 22 hours a day, five or six days a week for nine weeks straight. But it is seriously SO MUCH FUN. Some weeks were better than others, and there’s this collective exhaustion from the staff that sort of sneaks up on you sometime around week 5 or so. (Maybe that was week 2?) It’s the good kind of exhaustion, though, the kind that realizes (perhaps even more in hindsight) that it’s all way worth it. And did I mention that we had a great time? I’m pretty sure I learned all my best dance moves at camp, but people other places just don’t quite understand why my dancing is so…awesome.

5) Awesome staff

Some of the coolest people in the world.

Sometimes staff time hanging out on the weekends were even more fun than camp weeks…which was hard to do. I don’t think we ever really got out of camp mode all summer. We’d show up to Chili’s on a Friday night in groups of 20 or more, entertaining the waitresses with pirate jokes (I don’t remember if Jesse ended up getting a date out of that one or not…). There were slack-jaw dance-offs while eating ice cream, rolling down hills right before watching amazing sunsets, and the best star-gazing ever on the basketball courts (always with at least one shooting star!). We played way more intense versions of Canada Game in the rain while pelting each other with water balloons. (We never did play staff Gold Rush…huh. Surprise! ;)) And there was the weekend that the road flooded and the camp bus (sweet Caroline) died while valiantly attempting to ford the raging creek to get us all to church. She came back to life again, though, don’t worry!

6) Witnessing growth

Beautiful.

As a camp counselor, I was privileged to witness firsthand (and even have a small part in) kids maturing by leaps and bounds in the course of a week. Often this was because of the camp’s inclusive program—anyone can come to camp and participate, regardless of physical or mental ability. Integrating the kids with extra needs in with the groups was the best thing that could have happened for everyone involved. Take, for example, the girls who didn’t quite know what to do with the girl in their group who had some mobility challenges. By the end of the week they were helping her walk everywhere! There was the guy who at the beginning of the week I would have sworn was one of those “too cool for school” types. He was the only person in the guys’ cabin who could calm a cabin-mate down and get him to go to bed without screaming. It’s amazing how much we can all learn from each other.

7) Seeing God

Staff-decorated altar cloth (please note the lovely serif font. Yes, Kate and I know we are awesome)

We had the opportunity to end each camp week with Mass in the amphitheater. It was always a beautiful way to end the week, praying together one last time before everyone went home. Living in such close quarters with so many people brings out the best and the worst in people, but the best tends to be the part that really shines. And God is able to use the hard stuff to eventually draw us closer to each other and to him. He can teach us about himself by allowing us to learn from others.

I hope that through camp, I was able to reach out to even just one person the way that so many people affected me.

My staff block (along with my sister’s) in the Handicrafts building. The paint fades a lot faster than the memories.

Got any CYO Camp (or just camp in general) stories or memories of your own?? I wanna hear ’em!! (Keep it appropriate, por favor.)

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