One of my favorite memories as a staff member at Rockbrook occurred one day early in Third Session a few years ago. A rainstorm had just cleared out, and I was walking to the Dining Hall, enjoying the reemerging sunshine. I walked past a shady spot by the stream, where a patch of earth had been transformed into a patch of mud. Two Juniors were jumping around in the mud, getting splatters all over their legs and clothes, and laughing uproariously when their feet would slide out from beneath them.
The noise attracted one of their counselors, who had been standing nearby. As she approached, the girls got very still, adjusted their giddy smiles into expressions of contrition, and waited to be reprimanded for making such a mess. The counselor stood quietly for a moment, looking them over, before kneeling, taking a handful of mud and spreading a wide streak of mud on each cheek, like war paint. “Can I play?” she asked.
I continued past the little group to the Dining Hall, leaving behind two awed and delighted campers, and one very, very cool counselor. I saw all three that evening at dinner, scrubbed clean. They were relating their adventures to the rest of their cabin—telling them all about the moment they realized that they were actually allowed to be dirty.
Now, there’s no need to worry, we do encourage frequent showers, parcel out daily chores to keep the cabins tidy, and have all campers and counselors help to clean up the tables after meals in the dining hall. That being said, we also do all that we can to discourage that aversion to getting dirty that seems only to get stronger in girls as they get older. It’s no secret that girls tend to become more focused on their appearance as they get older, and Senior campers have expressed to me their reluctance even to do something as simple as getting their faces painted at home, for fear of looking dumb.
That fear of looking dumb, or silly, or improper, or anything other than perfectly presentable at all times, is a fear that camp manages to quash remarkably quickly considering how powerful it can be out in the “real world.” Within a few days at camp, makeup bags have been zipped up and put away, hair has been thrown up into messy buns, and hands have been stained by tie-dye and red clay.
Last night, we put that change on full display, by putting on a “girls’ dance,” a giant dance party—complete with a DJ, glow sticks, and strobe lights—down at the gym. After dinner, each age group went back to its lodge, where the girls decked themselves out in glow-in-the-dark facepaint, glow stick jewelry, and white clothes.
To get down to the gym, the girls had two options. They could either walk down the lower line of cabins to the gym, and start dancing a little early, OR they could take the messier route. Lining the lakeside road (which also leads to the gym), were counselors, CITs, and Hi Ups, toting water guns and bags of powder paint. Campers of all ages ran down this path, allowing themselves to be soaked first, then covered from head to toe in multicolored paint. Emerging from the other end of this “color run” was an army of human tie-dyes, racing to get to the gym and an evening of music and dancing.
With no slow dances with boys, streaky makeup, or pretty clothes to worry about, the girls danced harder and seemed to have more fun than I’d ever seen at a camp dance before. They streamed out of the gym again at bedtime, taking their milk and cookies with them as they went, giving no thought to their sweaty clothes, streaky painted faces, or tangled hair. The campers that I talked to could only express the fun they’d had, and maybe a bit of pride in the audacity it took for them to get a little messy.