The other night I had a conversation with our current CITs, the “counselors in training” who help at camp each session. There are 7 of them this session and they are all 17 years old. These are folks who have been at camp for many years, growing up at Rockbrook, and now are ready to take their first step toward being a counselor, working directly with children. It’s fun to hear how they are liking the experience. I often just ask, “how are you finding it?” or “what’s been surprising about life as a CIT?”
One CIT answered, “I love how my campers are so real. They are so open and genuinely themselves.” Such a great description of what happens at camp! I think she meant, “compared to others I know,” these young kids are living a more authentic life. Compared to older people, these camp girls are more free to simply be kids, to not worry about things generally, and to romp through their day enthusiastically ready for anything.
I think this CIT was surprised by this because it was a new experience for her to spend this much time getting to know a group of younger children. Instead of kids, her world of high school students and adults seems less authentic, less open, less comfortable being OK with just being. It was interesting that this CIT admired her girls for this. She thought they were awesome! And I think, wished she could be that way too.
So how do these young campers do it? How do they live at this level? Do they have some kind of hidden strength? Some degree of moxie? Or, do they lack a certain maturity, seasoned insight into life, or assumptions about what is “correct” that most others possess? Or, can we attribute it to the environment of camp, the social landscape and culture they enjoy here?
We can probably assume all of these play a role for these kids.
They certainly do have inner strengths— a sense of curiosity toward the natural world, a playful energetic attitude that seems easy to apply, an inherent trust shown to everyone around them. Kids have a special power to laugh at almost anything. They can be entertained by almost anything, and be fascinated by the most “ordinary” things. Young children in particular are generally accepting and can make friends quickly and easily, happily able to join any group of other kids doing something together. Such wonderful neotenous traits!
As we get older though, other tendencies take over. We begin to understand that praise and reward come from meeting certain standards and thus we feel some pressure to do that. We become aware of social expectations. We compare ourselves to others, making judgments about our self-worth. We learn what’s proper in various circumstances. We develop habits where convenience and comfort are the highest ideals. Each of these aspects of being an adult, it seems, work against the authenticity that CIT found remarkable about her campers. Kids have the joy of being themselves and ignoring most of this… while they’re kids.
I think the camp environment plays a role too, and helps even the older campers here tap back into their childhood spirit. Our camp culture provides a real sense of freedom to be your true self without too much social pressure, attention to “perfection,” or worry about being accepted. So much of the day at camp is self directed, girls have more opportunities to follow their own interests and explore everything camp has to offer. We encourage silliness, joyful experimentation, and giving things a try just for the fun of it. The girls can sense that Rockbrook is a place that applauds creativity, self-expression, and positive relationships. We’re not competing with each other or making comparisons to assign value. Instead, it’s a place that celebrates no matter what the outcome… no matter the winner or the weather.
When the power went out yesterday during a truly giant thunderstorm, first there were screams of surprise but then plenty of delightful laughter. We hunkered down in the dining hall, sang songs, and made a dash back to the cabins for an extended rest hour waiting for the storm to pass. Some of the adults were scrambling to make sure the generator was working properly (thankfully it was), but the kids were in the moment and having fun.
Rockbrook is a place to put aside some of the assumptions, concerns and habits of being a “grownup,” and to experience the freedom to unearth more essential ways of being your true self… your sense of wonder and joy, your compassion, and your optimism. It’s place for kids to be kids.
Of course, the older we get, the more difficult that can be, and we might not be capable of fully embracing the openness of childhood. Worry has a way of wiggling in. But camp has a special ability to move us closer to that childhood truth. It can provide an enticing glimpse into living life more authentically.
Perhaps, that’s another reason why we all love being at camp. I think it is.