Friendship Circle (for girls) and Man Cave (for boys) is our effort to spend at least one hour with every cabin at camp. We schedule the cabins to come to our house, sit together and just talk.
We are truly in the home stretch.
Starting several years ago, I started to conduct a survey with my oldest campers. Here are the questions. I ask all of them in a row without getting any responses. I then ask them to answer using their fingers.
- How long does the first week of camp feel like?
- How long does the second week of camp feel like?
- How long does the final week of camp feel like?
I have asked this at least a dozen times and the results are remarkably consistent. The first week feels like 7-10 days, the second 5-7, the final one 1-3 days.
I find this intriguing. This is not the difference between a week when you are 8 and a week when you are 40. We all know that time seems to go faster as we age, but should it change so much over 21 days?
By the way, I am fully aware that time operates differently on the parent side. Every week seems to take the same amount of time. For our first time parents, I suspect that each week felt like a month. [Note: knowing this makes us admire your willingness to give your child a camp experience. It is not easy on parents, but it is wonderful for your children. Ultimately, so much of good parenting is making sacrifices for your child. This disparity of time perception is one such example.]
As long as I am making odd observations, here is another one.
People get louder when it rains. We got another 45 minute cloudburst right before dinner that charged up the campers. I think it starts when they are attempting to talk over the sound of rain on roofs, but it continues outside and even grows. When we told them they would get cake, they erupted again. The “Attitude Checks” were as loud as I have ever heard (a call-and-response competition between the girls and boys to see who is feeling better). When we announced the winner of the Trojan Spartan games (Spartans) in the Fillin Station, it was as loud as a rock concert.
With the rain, we cancelled Torchlight tonight and went straight to the Pajama Dance. Once again, the energy level was tremendous.
You will be arriving in a couple of days [translation – 12 hours camp time, 7 days mom-time] and we are committing to cram as much friendship and togetherness into the remaining time.
But as I sit here looking out at camp at 7:15 - 90 minutes before wake-up call, I realize that I actually do.
During the day, Susie Ma’am and I meet with each of the three Senior Camper groups: those who just finished 9th grade (7-11 and 007), 10th grade (CATS and 008) and 11th grade (SCATS and 009). In these talks, we discuss a wide variety of topics. In some, we talk about ways to improve their leadership and interpersonal skills. Other times the topic is intentionality and living a life of passion and service.
A self-help expert makes an appearance on Tonight Show which tapes in afternoon. After the taping, he goes to the airport and flies on the red-eye (the nighttime flight) back to Florida. The next morning, he wakes up early and takes his morning stroll on the beach. As he walks, a woman comes up to him and recognizes him from the TV. She strikes up a conversation:
"Weren't you on the Tonight Show last night?"
People frequently ask camp professionals, “what do you do the rest of the year?” The question often seems to suggest that we spend our days on tropical beaches sipping lemonade and waiting for the sun to set.
I am guessing that many of you think that the words “wisdom” and “9th grade boy” do not belong in the same sentence. A recent exercise, however, suggests differently.
The counselors of 007 gave their young men an assignment. In case you do not know, “007” is our 9th grade boys cabin. These campers are starting their first year of our three year senior camper program. During their first couple of nights, we take them on a special trip (along with the girls’ 9th grade cabin called “7-11”) and talk with them about our expectations for the senior camper program. One of the exercises we do is ask the guys what it means to be a man and a Champion. They also suggested rules to live by in pursuit of becoming men and Champions.
It took ten years. Some said it would never happen, yet it did.
This occurrence is rarer than a total solar eclipse or a Dallas Cowboy playoff victory or a quality movie from Michael Bay.
Liam Baskin became a torchlighter.
Frankly, I debated whether to write about this. After all, you want to hear about your children, not mine. I do not want to be the myopic parent that assumes that everyone wants to know about me and mine.
I am also reluctant to write about this because I think it can suggest that being torchlighter is more important than it actually is. It was somewhat important to Liam because his twin had received it, but we can easily over-emphasize it.
But Susie Ma’am suggested that there are some useful lessons in this unexpected occurrence that I should share.
And I ALWAYS listen to Susie Ma’am.
First, it is a reminder that being a torchlighter is much less important to campers than parents sometimes assume. Liam loves camp. Sure, there are moments that he wanted to be a torchlighter, but he loved camp independent of that. We have focused a lot of energy on celebrating the torchlighter for 5 minutes and then redirecting the attention to the entire community.
Second, it became a teachable moment. When he would say “I wish I were a torchlighter” (which he would on occasion), we chose to respond “who in your cabin and division did get it? Did they do anything you did not do?” In Liam’s case, the answer was usually staggeringly blunt “well, he was always nice to everyone and I got into a few arguments with some other guys . . . a LOT” or “he was helpful to the counselors, I kinda resisted at times”. Ultimately, his greatest challenge was being a consistently good cabinmate. He would have days where he was much more focused on having fun and hanging out than having responsibilities and helping out.
Third, I love seeing campers get torchlighter after 5, 7 or 10 years. Our children (yours and mine) have been raised in the shadow of the self-esteem movement where every mini-triumph is celebrated and perseverance is less emphasized. Knowing that some things might take many years of effort is a great lesson for children to get. The truly great gifts of life generally require many years of sustained effort: college, marriages, building a career and – most importantly – raising children. The noble endeavors are not like microwave meals; they take time and consistent effort.
Fourth, having campers wait 10 years helps reduce parents’ stress if their child does not get it by year 3, 4 or 5.
Of course, some campers are perfectly happy never worrying about it. Seven years ago, one of the members of our Leadership Team (and one of the best counselors I’ve ever worked with) said that she knew she would not be a torchlighter. “I was pretty hard-headed and I could be bossy. But my cabin loved me and I loved them. I, however, did not always make the cabin easier. It would have taken too much effort to do what I needed to do to be a torchlighter.” Once she was a Senior Camper, the same energy and head-strong tendencies made her a wonderful cabin leader to 8 year-old girls. Her strengths were now truly strengths and she – like Liam – was first recognized as a high schooler after 9 or 10 years. This summer during orientation, a 13 year camper and senior camper was recognized for the first time as a counselor.
I feel I should also share a quick story from a 7 year camper who loves camp (and we adore him). He was asking about SCOPES. SCOPES are the daily report on each cabin and every camper. In them, the counselors report on the behavior and emotional comfort of every camper (along with comments). They also share thoughts on the previous nightly ritual as well as the strengths and challenges of the cabin. Finally, this is where they first nominate torchlighters (starting an elaborate vetting process).
Our 7 year camper then stopped the counselor, “Wait YOU are the one that nominates? But, I have been sucking up to Leadership all these years and misbehaving in the cabin. Wow, looks like the wrong strategy, eh?”
As long as I am talking about SCOPES, I wanted to share one from a Rookie cabin. Here are the entries:
Nightly Rituals: They love the stories we read and the stories we share. Evening bonding is great.
Cabin Successes: They show fantastic teamwork – pulling together as a group consistently.
Cabin Challenges: Unfortunately, they use teamwork to form a mutiny against authority . . .
Yep, sounds like the cabin is bonding well!