cbs sunday morning does it to me almost every week: makes me homesick or nostalgic for something i love. today, it was a longtime, long-lost love: camp.
i went to girl scout camp for three summers, then returned to work at that camp for eight years in my teens and 20s. i loved that job so much. if i'd been able to eke out a living doing it, i'd have stayed forever, i think. i was director of the camp for the last two years i was there, and it was so gratifying. i can't imagine who i'd be without having had those experiences. a very difficult and challenging job with a lot of responsibility for a 24- or 25-year-old, but WOW was it rewarding.
today, sunday morning ran a segment on letters home from camp, a segment inspired by a new book. the segment addressed (quite well, i thought) the phenomenon that campers often feel terrible and sad on that first night away from home (and, often, the first day after that). they think that this is the worst place possible ever in the history of places and that they have to get out of there right now.
i realized after a couple of years of working there that lots of kids experience this feeling but that they also change their minds after a couple of days. and i made good use of that knowledge. i became a go-to person for The Homesick Talk.
if a kid were homesick, i'd sit with them for a little bit off away from everyone else. we'd find a fallen tree in the woods or a little shade at the pool, and i'd listen to her tell me all the things that were making her upset, and i'd lend a sympathetic ear and let her crycrycry. for a few minutes. when i thought that i'd heard all the reasons she could give, i'd start talking.
i'd explain that she was in this place that *exists* for the sole purpose of making her (and other kids just like her) happy, staffed with dozens of people whose sole job it was to provide ways for her to be happy and have fun, and surrounded by other kids whose sole intent was to be happy and have fun.
i'd then explain that, if she were unhappy in a place like that and surrounded by people like that, maybe she needed to think about things a little differently. she needed to realize that she had power in this situation and had some choices to make.
given that she was in this place and surrounded by these people, she could certainly choose to be miserable, and nothing anyone could say or do would be able to make her happy if she did that.
but she could also choose, i'd point out, to be happy. or at least to let herself be happy and see what happens.
i'd make her a deal—a promise, i'd say, and i never make promises that i can't keep: if you promise to do your best to choose to be happy, then, on wednesday morning at breakfast, if you still want to go home, you come and find me and we'll call your parents. (i didn't promise that the girl could go *home*, just that we'd call her parents, and that seemed sufficient.) i'd tell her that, every time she felt sad or homesick, she should go hug x, where x was a counselor or counselor-in-training or some other staff member whom i knew would be readily available to this child at any time (always with a backup name because every staff member gets time off every day).
and do you know that i never ever had to call a parent on wednesday morning? every single child, armed with that power, that knowledge, and that understanding, not only made it to wednesday morning but *thrived* by wednesday morning. we had huge retention rates—high percentages of children (and staff) returned year after year.
i loved sharing those things with those girls. and the staff members were even more rewarding than the girls sometimes. it was an incredible, life-changing, wonderful time in my life that i often wish i could recapture. i love my job now, and i feel rewarded in other ways, but that is one of those experiences that i'll treasure forever.
if you haven't ever worked at camp (or even attended camp), i hope you'll find one and volunteer or work there next year. i have a special respect and affection for american camping association–accredited camps, so i recommend searching the association's list for your next camp opportunity. it'll be one of the best times of your life. even if you hate it when you first get there. (p.s. i did.)