If someone had asked me a year ago if I was interested in working at a sleep-away camp in Pennsylvania, I would have asked them what a sleep-away camp was. Once they had explained it to me, I probably would have laughed. A lot changes in a year. I went to college, moved out of my parents’ house, made new friends and lost a few old ones. Of course, not just the conditions of my life changed: I did too. Fast-forward a year and I’m writing a reflection blog in the conference room at Bryn Mawr Camp about the last two months of my life. Right now, I’m realizing that I’ve changed a lot more in these last two months than I have in the last two years.
I cry now. I did not used to cry. If I look back from when I was ten to when I turned nineteen, I cried about seven times, but something happens when you start taking care of children. I’m blaming it on hormones. I’m also blaming my campers because they also have changed so much throughout the summer, and watching that change has made me so overwhelmingly happy. They have taught me so much and I only hope that I have instilled something of myself into them. If I have, I doubt I would even know it because I don’t even think they know what they taught me.
One of my campers began the summer constantly repeating the phrase “It’s not fair.” While I knew fairness was not turning out all of the cabin lights during rest hour so that she could sleep, I had a hard time helping her to understand that the rest of the cabin has needs too. They don’t need to play cards in the dark. Somewhere along the line, she had been taught that fairness was her getting what she desired, not everyone getting what they deserved. She deserved to take a nap, but not for everyone to sit in darkness while she did it. Unintentionally, she created an opportunity for the both of us to learn about equality. Somewhere in the last few weeks, she stopped saying “It’s not fair.”
Coming into this summer, I expected to learn a lot of things. One of the things I knew I would learn about was homesickness and all of the reasons a person can feel it. There is not much they could teach us during staff week about homesick campers; only to steer the conversation towards things they enjoy about camp. Every camper is different, and all tears have a different root. I learned to listen, and to hug, and to make them laugh. I had two consistently homesick campers; one just needed be distracted because she loves camp and misses her family (we usually just chatted. Sometimes our conversations ended with planning our weddings), but the other one did not love camp and she missed her parents so much. She cried every night for the first week and several days after visiting day. The best I could do was listening to her and enjoying her stories.
I also learned to play. On visiting day, when the parents had departed, most of my girls were in tears. I remember walking over to another bunk to borrow a screwdriver. The ceramics director was standing in the doorway. I don’t know why, but I decided to scare her. She jumped a mile high and turned around with a super-soaker in her hands. I was chased through the entirety of the lower senior bunks for the next two minutes. After she thoroughly soaked me, my girls came out bearing shaving cream. Soon, our water fight turned into a massive battle between all of the lower seniors and a few upper senior cabins. It was beautiful.
Most of what I learned became instrumental in working at camp and could not have been learned in the pages of the staff handbook. I don’t think I could have understood the role my group leader would play in my summer or how my co-counselors and I would truly function as a team. This team became essential during my everyday life at camp and built a support system that allowed each one of us to grow. The relationship that I built with my co-counselors was one that was fortified with the shared devotion to our campers. We shared laughter, frustration, concern, and an infallible love for our girls. If there is a person that keeps you sane, it’s the other adults living in a bunk with nine pre-teen girls.
Everything at camp created wonderful opportunities to learn and learning often took its shape in leadership. Anyone can tell you desirable qualities of a leader, but you can never understand their value until you put them into practice. Even though I knew before that leadership had a great deal to do with listening, I do not think I could have given you one instance where I had actually done it; and that is not because I was a bad leader, but because I had never been in a role where I had needed the skill. When I was given a group of nine-year-olds and told to help them create their own scene for their play, listening to and incorporating their ideas became essential.
There is so much that I have learned in classrooms. The rise and fall of the Roman Empire, and mitosis are both important parts of our educations, but we need more. Camp gave me more. Camp gave me skills that I will be able to use for my entire life. I hope that wherever I go in the next few years that I will listen, play, cry, lead, and be fair. There is so much that we can learn at a desk, but that is only measured in quantity. To keep learning with quality, we need to be on our feet.
Laura “Bronte” Murrell