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“Come on, place your bet. There is already 20 bucks on MESME.”
No, this is not about the conquering of a gambling addiction but rather my story of a life-changing summer at a girl’s overnight camp and the bitter-sweet taste of responsibility. I spent many summers there as a camper, swimming, crafting, and horseback riding. My best childhood memories have Camp Wabasso as their stage. I have stargazed in the middle of the night, had late-night bonding sessions with girls that became as close to me as sisters, survived nightmare trail-rides, and experienced the worst storms I have ever seen. Coming back year after year for nine summers, there are quite a few of us returning girls. We have made ourselves a summer family, a summer home, and we have our own little niche in the world. Some people dance their whole lives, and call themselves dancers. Others make music and call themselves musicians. I have always been to camp, so I’m proud to call myself a camper.
The joys cannot last forever, however. It ended at 15 years old when the counselor-in-training program began and was followed by the internship program. Essentially, a CIT is defined as simply as a camper that does not need have a bathroom buddy at night and can bring a cell phone to camp. These sought for freedoms warp the expectations of future staff members, and allow the feeling of safety and comfort to dwell in their summer experience.
Getting asked back to join the staff team is an honor for every intern. Only four of the ten interns took up the offer in 2009. Intuition played a part in my decision to come back. After spending two summers learning CPR and child development in order to become a counselor, I refused to back out. Every summer I spent at Wabasso had been amazing, even if during the school year I doubted that spending a whole summer away from my friends at home constituted my idea of a fun summer. Often I had felt uncertain, but that had not stopped me before. Spending your first time at camp as a counselor is a completely different experience. I wanted to give other girls the chance to have great summer memories, like my counselors had given me. On the other hand, I wanted to end all my own camp experiences on a good note, and I feared that becoming a counselor would destroy all the enchanting memories I treasured. My supposition proved correct.
For returning campers, becoming a counselor is comparable to a really fantastic amusement park ride breaking down and the lights coming up. All the mechanics to the magic can be seen, everything behind the scenes is revealed. Of course certain moments made it all worth it, like Spice Girls karaoke being sung by tone-deaf British counselors that make everyone laugh. Even the MESME clique, the five girls who were the trouble-makers of our unit, sung along. We made fairy houses in a clearing in the woods, and surprised the girls next morning by pointing out the glittery pixie dust that the fairies had left overnight. I am most proud of giving my ten-year old campers a chance to watch their first meteor shower, and having to drag them inside for bed.
But you do feel that the absence of comfort and protection your first night as volunteer staff, when you are facing the counselor side of the tack-shed-made-staff-cabin door, wondering which of your kids will get sent home (I put another 5 on MESME), and already starting the anxious countdown to next Friday when the session would end.
In the end, none of MESME went home before Friday, so the bet became null-and-void. The director gave me the opportunity to monitor a bus, so I left before the post-camp staff weekend. I’m happy that I left early, because I left camp on a relatively good note. I felt exhausted and ready to go home, and even though it meant that I would miss that last weekend, my leaving would avoid fighting between me and other equally worn-out counselors. I had all those good memories I collected over the years strained farther than I thought possible, but I made new, fresh, and stronger ones as a counselor. It’s always harder to become staff once you have experienced the magic of summer camp firsthand from the point of view of a camper. Leading these girls is like giving away parts of your own camp history in order to build one for your campers. Despite everything, my passion lies in working as a camp counselor. Next July, I’ll pack my bags and head back to Camp Wabasso, my summer home.
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