Many people dread the idea of having a 24/7 job where you live with kids for 2 months of your precious summer vacation. And it isn’t all fun and games. Believe me.
I spent this summer at Timber Lake West Camp in an itty bitty town in New York called Roscoe. You might think this town sounds like it’s in the sticks. Well, while you’re driving up Old Route 17 to get there you hit the sticks, and then you keep on going up the mountain until you hit a big red sign. Talk about isolation!
You’re packed and ready to go for 2 whole months surrounded by a lake and beautiful mountains. You learn the land, the rules and the people packed into one week of orientation. You think you’re prepared for any situation the kids are going to throw at you. Until the buses roll in and you see the amount these kids pack for 4 weeks of summer camp. 6 buses, hundreds of kids and more bags than there are people.
Now, everyone thinks I’m joking when I talk about the size of the duffle bags these kids bring to camp. These bags are over 6 feet long—that’s long enough to fit LeBron James lying down. And of course, each kid brings 2 of these bags. What on Earth could possibly be in these bags you ask? Well, they have clothes to wear for a month without doing laundry (even though they have laundry done for them once a week), rugs, lock boxes, plastic drawers, lamps, iPod speakers, hundreds of Justin Bieber posters, portable fans, fold up chairs, piles of towels (about 15 each) and of course not to mention brand new bedding sets with throw galore. Talk about feeling homey!
The first day of camp is the most hectic. Unpacking 8 kids on your side of the bunk, with two bags each is not an easy job. Most of these kids can’t unpack themselves and don’t even know what their parents threw in those giant bags for them. And forget getting to relax after the mandatory bunk lice check. Ick! If one of your campers has lice, you then have to pack everything they just took out of their bags and send it to the laundry room to be washed and dried. Besides this heavy labor, you also have to keep it a secret from the entire rest of the bunk to avoid mass chaos. Try explaining to 8 other girls why someone’s stuff all of the sudden disappeared and they had to stay in the health center to get their heads washed (without mentioning the word LICE). It’s like carrying out a covert CIA operation.
But other than he initial procedures, it all starts on that first day. Activities, line-ups before meals, rainy day schedules, and COLOR WARS!
This summer I got pretty used to our special rainy day schedule,since 20 out of the 28 days it rained! A rainy day schedule consists of indoor activities such as flashlight singing competitions, baking, cake boss, Indiana Jones dodge ball and everyone’s favorite game, Coke and Pepsi! But even with all of these fun activities planned, when you live with 25 12-year-old girls, all they want to do is hang out with the boys. But let’s face it, do we really change all that much?
By the time Visiting Day comes, the kids are craving all of the favorite foods they have been without for 10 whole days! Not to mention their phones with their precious texting and Internet access, neither of which they have seen for 10 whole days. Before I get into the rules of visiting day, let me paint a picture for you. Hundreds of parents and grandparents running down a big steep hill down toward the bunks, carrying huge bags with clothes, unimaginable amounts of food, cookie cakes, stacks of bakery boxes, all of this while crying because they haven’t seen their kids in 10 whole days! Are you seeing a trend here, 10 WHOLE DAYS! These parents bring enough food to feed an army. 10 days worth of cheese doodles, potato chips, cheese balls, cookies, gum, candy, silly string, brand new clothes, crackers, apple pies, cinnamon rolls and cake. Let me just say, it takes an entire bunk of 25 campers and 10 counselors to finish half (yes, only half) of all this food in 3 days.
One of the best days at camp is definitely Color War. Now, it’s a camp tradition, so don’t hate on it. Chanting, singing and competing against each other is what these kids look forward to for the first 3 weeks of camp. Breakout is what the camp directors use to start color war. You don’t know when it’s happening, you don’t know how it’s happening, and you don’t know the teams. The waiting is agony. All you want is for color war to start. Long nights in the art barn making scenery and costumes, early mornings preparing for the days events, learning songs, marches and cheers. It’s the ultimate camp experience. Anyway, breakout first session for us was a helicopter flying over dinner line-up on the upper basketball court. And out of the helicopter came those sacred flyers, naming the judges, officer positions and what team everyone was put on. For second session it was a dance company that came in as a surprise and did a cool dance routine.
The entire camp is split into red team and white team for the whole last week of camp, including meals, morning meetings, and competitions. It’s the longest, most grueling week, but it’s all in preparation for Sing Night. Sing Night is the final night of color war when everyone sings their team’s alma maters, marches and the raz (a song making jokes about the other team and opposing officers about things that have happened during camp). It’s also the night where each team shows off their scenery and does their huge opening skit. And most importantly, it is the night when we find out which team wins! After the winner is announced, the kids start bawling! And when I say bawling, I mean hysterically crying and screaming because they’ve won color war and this means that they are only 4 days away from leaving their second home for the next 11 months.
The day after Sing Night is the best! It’s called Super Lazy Day. Breakfast is served until 10 a.m. in the dining hall (which means the counselors don’t have to wake up until then) and the whole day is filled with lazy activities like summer reading in the commons, UNO tournaments and spa time in the bunk. It’s also the day before prom!
Camp prom is the most adorable night ever, especially if your campers are younger. They have a DJ and dancers come in and the kids just have fun and dance for the night. The little campers even have prom dates—it’s the cutest! The day after prom is packing day. It’s coincidentally also the hottest day of the session. You know, the day when we have to go up into the hot attic, pull down bags and then pack. I thought unpacking was bad but packing is worse because after packing, you have to clean.
We clean everything from under the beds to in the bathrooms. It’s the last night with their summer friends, the last night at their second home and the last night with their counselors (which means there is lots and lots of crying). These kids attach to you like glue. They look up to you, they want to be you when they grow up and you are their substitute parents and older siblings when they’re at camp. When we put them on the buses home as they’re hysterically crying, we are also crying because these girls have become “our girls”.
Four weeks of disciplining them, dealing with their drama and complaining, answering their millions of questions, encouraging them, inspiring them, bonding with them, joking with them, cleaning with them, running with them, swimming with them, eating with them and laughing with them all come down to one day of crying with them. I got the chance to meet some of the most amazing people and got to make some of the best friends I have ever had. It was an experience of a lifetime that I would not trade for anything.