As an adult, I’ve attended far more camps and overnight trips as a chaperone than I ever attended as a youth. My personal camp experiences were limited to falling off the top bunk and immensely missing my bottle calves and barn cats at 4-H camp, to nearly drowning in Flathead Lake when my pool noodle drifted away before I could reach it at church camp. Growing up on the Kevin flats did not adequately prepare me for summer camp experiences. Since then though, I’ve been honing my ability to sleep on a cot, keep kids from getting too close to the campfire, and flip hundreds of pancakes. Mostly though, I’m left in a continual state of admiration for those individuals whose lives are fully devoted to keeping children alive on a daily basis.
The idea of summer camp is to send kids off for a few days to develop some independence away from home, make friends, and develop a few skills as well. The key, of course, is to keep them busy enough that they fall into their cot exhausted and sleep peacefully until morning. Reality, however, is instead excessive chatter. In the girls’ cabins, this chatter typically relates to boys, the dance, the name of the boy they met but can’t remember, what’s for breakfast, what was for dinner, boys, what time they plan to shower in the morning, and boys.
Once the chatter finally ends, I still typically find myself unable to sleep. Maybe it’s the fear of the parent who on my first trip to camp looked at me and asked if I was the adult in charge, or maybe it’s a byproduct of not being a parent myself. Regardless, I still lay on my cot with thoughts of, “Are they all still breathing? Was that sniff a homesick cry under the covers, or is it allergies? Or is that normal breathing? Why do these cots creak so much? Why can’t the kids lay still?” No Animal Science course prepared me for these questions.
This year, my instruction to rest during afternoon quiet time was met with a dozen nine-year-old girls staring me down from their sleeping bags with beady eyes like racoons in the night. Except its broad daylight and these kids talk more. I didn’t crack and the hour of quiet gave me some extra time to identify which cot was repeatedly rocking on the cement floor. By night two, I had shimmed said cot with some dirty socks. I would have never made a real engineer, but desperate times at camp call for desperate measures.
As previously stated, the notion of trying to wear out the kids is key. Thus, an outdoor Bingo seemed like the perfect plan this year. We’d send the kids off to find various trees, grasses, plants, and wildlife scat in their quest for a Blackout Bingo. Great idea, until we considered who would verify their Bingos and how would we would ensure these kids were still on the premises without attaching tracking collars. So, with each group, Kim, Emma, and I escorted them through the meadows, around the trees and down to the creek while verifying their cards. By our twelfth Bingo tour we decided our idea of wearing out the kids had backfired and if the 20,000 steps our FitBits had logged was any indication, we were the ones wore out!
The bright side of chaperoning though, is a yearly affirmation that we do have some useful skills in life as an adult. Skills like knowing how to successfully use a mop, navigate the showers, or roll up a sleeping bag are not taken for granted at camp. Life skills affirmation is great but putting the cot away for the year is even better!