I dropped both boys off at camp Sunday afternoon and an hour hasn’t gone by without me wondering how they’re doing. The last time my 13-year old went to camp, it was a disaster.
We sent him to Camp Overwhelm two summers ago and he vowed to never go to camp again. We didn’t know it was going to be overwhelming. Everyone raves about this camp that is sponsored by our church. The camp counselors are all “Duuuuude! Welcome to Caaaaamp!” What could go wrong?
What could go wrong is that James doesn’t buy into organized religion and glossing over problems with platitudes.
“Mom, they made us walk a mile uphill to this field filled with mosquitoes. They drove. But we had to walk. I asked the counselor if he thought it was safe here with all these mosquitoes. We were covered in them. He said ‘Duuuuuuuude, of course it’s saaaafe. This is a sacred fieeeeeeld.’ And he pointed to the cross.”
“He didn’t just spray you down with some DEET?”
“No…just because there are two sticks nailed together and planted into the ground does not make it sacred….Anyone can nail two sticks together.”
He is a scientist at heart, whereas his little brother is hook, line and sinker religious. When he was very ill with pneumonia one winter he asked me to read to him from the bible. It frightened me because we almost lost him to a respiratory virus when he was a newborn. His lungs are his weak spot. I thought when he asked for bible stories it was because he thought he was going to die. When Grandpa Jim was dying of cancer, he asked my mother-in-law to read him every page of the bible.
The last day of Camp Overwhelm, I picked up James from the giant crowd of kids crawling off busses and dragging their exhausted bodies over to their stuff that arrived in a moving van, then finding their moms and brothers and sisters waiting with the family dog.
James retrieved his bags from the pile and then found me. The first words out of his mouth were, “Mom. I lost my flashlight.”
I’m thinking, Darn that was expensive. I bought that at Dick’s Sporting Goods. It was a good one! I said, “Don’t worry about it, honey.”
He said, “No, Mom. It’s gone. And so is my watch. I lost that, too.”
I know how important his watch is to him. I can’t imagine how he could have lost it. “Don’t worry about the watch. I got that at Target.” I said. “So?? Did you have a good time?” I’m trying to be optimistic. I sense that he is “camp changed” and I can’t wait to hear all the wonderful stories.
Once we got in the car and off the church premises James tells me the real deal behind the “lost” items. “They were stolen by one of the kids in the cabin. All the kids knew which boy it was and when we approached the counselor he said, ‘Let’s not use the word stole.’”
“That’s how he handled it? Did he talk to the boy?”
“He took my flashlight and watch. He took Jason’s giant flashlight for hunting at night. He took $20 out of Kevin’s bible…”
“That’s like pick pocketing Jesus! I can’t believe he stole money out of a bible!”
“We estimated that he stole $174 worth of stuff. He came in with two bags and left with twelve.”
“Yea. With all the money he stole he bought bags and bags of candy from the trading post. Everyone was out of candy at the end of the week and he had candy coming out of every pocket.”
“I’m calling the church when we get home.”
“Whatever you do, don’t use the word stole.”
“I’ll use the word stole in every sentence. ‘Hello? Camp Director? Can I steal a few minutes of your time?’”
James let out a huge sigh and melted into his seat. Free at last from having to be politically correct. The rest of the drive home he cut loose with his commentary on the situation.
In a broadcast radio voice he says, “A man is unconscious. He has lost large quantities of blood and we can no longer find a pulse. But let’s not use the word dead.”
I like this camp changed kid. He’s funny. He’s sarcastic. And most importantly, he is not going to drink the Kool-Aid.
Vincent wanted to go to Camp Overwhelm in the worst way. But a family across the street moved in and the mom is the director of a back-to-nature camp in Southern Ohio. Her kids go there. Last year I sent Vincent to his first camp experience at Camp Rustic. Not rustic as in tetanus shot. But rustic as in daddy long legs in the showers. He loved it. James came with us when we dropped him off and when he saw the moss covered boulders and the inviting paths winding up into the woods, the canoes in the lake and the giant fire pit, he was regretting his refusal.
He couldn’t wait to go to camp this year. The boys were chatterboxes the whole drive down. After sign-in and head lice check, depositing $10 for each of them in their store accounts, and saying goodbye, I went over to the sign-in table and wrote little notes for the boys. They’ll receive them their first morning during mail call and before the flag raising ceremony.
In James’s note I wrote: “Hey, James, I hope you’re having a great time. Remember, let’s not use the word stole! Ha ha! Love ya, Mom.”
For Vincent, I wrote: “Don’t drink the Kool-Aid!”