Friday, August 21, 2015

final summer 2015 thoughts

Last morning of camp. Streams full of new water, running down the mountain from yesterday's rain. They're loud, those streams.

I'm packed already (got up at 5:45 AM). Yes, we had a rainy final night, which is a shame since if the weather is good that is usually a night in which each village staff gathers around the CQ fire to talk as a team one final time. I don't imagine that happened much last night in villages without a common indoor space. The closing campfires were pushed indoors too, which meant dealing with the various acoustical and other drags of the spaces. But nonetheless these two campfires - one for Wawayanda and one for Hird (there were others: Tokyo's, Adventure Village's, CITs'...) - were full of tremendous good feeling, loads of end-of-summer sentiment.

I saw a memo circulating yesterday among the leadership team, titled "The Last 24 Hours." It was full of instructions and details. But its title gave a sense of the general feeling.

This was a very good summer for Frost Valley. It ranks up there (per your faithful long-lasting reporter) with just a few others in sitting on the spectrum toward the SPECTACULAR. Very nearly flawless.

Annie B., a camper in Adventure Village, was talking with me about her experience here this summer. She's an Advill lifer. I asked her if she's coming back next summer, and she said, "Yes." I asked her if she was coming back to be in Adventure Village next summer, and she lit up and said, "Absolutely."  In an era of teen responses akin to "Whatever," I like the sound of absolutely. Annie B. is sure of something in her life. (See Annie, center bottom, in the photo above.)

I met Annie B.'s parents last night. We invited a few campers' parents to dinner at the Castle. Totally informal gathering. Mostly for parents who have been sending their children to camp here for many years. Two parents of CITs among them. I talked with Mike, one of two dads who have three children - the eldest of whom, Sally, is in Susky here for the first time at camp. She's a somewhat shy girl but full of inner pizzazz, and really articulate and fun to talk to. By the end of the session she was wearing a bandana, was cracking wise, was palling around with the ecstatic screamers and the hoopla agitators. Mike and I, over dinner, talked about parenting, and about children of same-sex marriages, and how the child of two dads or two moms learns how to talk with other children about all that. About the difference that really isn't ultimately different. Mike has already discovered that Frost Valley is implicitly a progressive place, a little utopia where these kinds of conversations are simply not fraught. I'm 100% sure that Sally found it possible to talk about her life and her family, for example at devotions, with an ease and sense of acceptance that will make her well prepared to deal with snarky versions of questions about her origins, about the complex and expensive arrangements her dads had to make to bring her into the world a decade ago.

Toward the end of an all-directors meeting in the office yesterday, I stopped in to say that it was "an honor and a privilege" to work with them. Their responses were gratifying but that's not the point of telling this. The point is that it is simply and plainly an honor. I'm honored. Never thought I'd still have something to contribute after more than half a century.

The rainy night dawned as a bright blue-sky and much cooler morning. I'll take it. The weather might hold and we'll have those memorable tearful huggy-kissy reunions of children and their adult protectors who didn't have to do much protecting for the last two or four or six or eight weeks. We were their kids' protectors - and then some. What else did we provide? An utterly safe place, yet a safe place in which children can take risks. A place where the stars can be counted into the thousands. A place where you could learn to walk a dark winding path through the woods at night without a flashlight. Where it was the very job of an adult to sit right down and listen to a child if she had something urgent or feelingful to say, or needed help.

There's a boy (we know him from two previous summers) who is what we used to call a "space cadet." He's very bright and really loves camp, but he likes to be or seem confused about what's going on - e.g. where are we going next period? where did I leave my water bottle? When we play Geronimo he likes to end up in the middle, unable to find a seat. Recently he broke his eyeglasses; the side piece broke off. I am ready to wager that either he permitted the glasses to fall or be sat upon, or that he didn't mind when it happened. And he hasn't particularly sought a remedy, more or less avoiding follow-up each time many of us guided him toward a way of having them repaired. And it occurred to me yesterday that maybe he's a child who needs others to know that he needs something, that he's always feeling a little dis-repaired. We used to call this attention-getting behavior, but I think that's too easy and reductive. I think I'd call his behavior a way of getting discussions started. He likes to stop and have a conversation, especially with an adult. I make no assumptions about his family life or his specific needs. I just observe that this is what this child wants to do and be at camp, and - to say the obvious - it's simply okay. It's okay not to play dodge ball but to be standing on the side having a wide-ranging not-quite-coherent conversation, the excuse for such having been that something needs a little or a lot of fixing or clarifying.

There are as many kinds of children here as there are children. We have learned to adapt and to be generous in specific rather than abstract ways. The only abstraction is the meta-abstraction: that such an approach is tolerance.

I used to like to work with Forest village because I could program them as a unified mass of rambunctious ready-to-play boys. Now I like to work with Forest because they are a little too young to be very self-conscious about their individual quirks but the quirks are very very apparent nonetheless. Each child in Forest has a different need. That's obvious, yes? But maybe not.

We've gotten very very good about this kind of tolerance. Very very very good. I can't think of another organization that does tolerance and accepting - as means of achieving diversity and inclusiveness in all their senses - more successfully. I'm honored to be associated with such a place. Honored is the word.

I leave this afternoon and will go back to work at my university, where I will once again commit to try to implement some things I learned at camp. Damn. You'd think I was some 13 year old boy, learning a skill of friend-making or lanyard-making or table-setting or rowboat-paddling at summer camp, ready to try out my new honed skills back home. I want to listen to my students and advisees better. I want to encourage my instructional and administrative staff to do what they do best, and not necessarily what I do best. I want to be fair-minded. I want to tolerate every single different and distinct learning style. It doesn't matter what or how much a student learns. What matters is how they learn and whether their experience of learning leads them, on their own, to the next such experience.

This goal of tolerant, fair teaching and leadership is always on my mind for a month, then it's occasionally on my mind for several months more, and by January or February I've lost sight of it. And then I realize that I might need another Frost Valley summer. Why? To remind me of my humanity. If that next summer comes, 2016, and I hope it does, I'll have another good shot at seeing and feeling a cool post-rainy 50-degree final camp morning like this one. I'll take it.