Why be Silly?

It’s a phrase I’ve used for quite some time now. Instead of “see ya later,” say after a brief conversation, I’ll say, “Be kind. Be silly. Be brave.” It’s a bit of unsolicited advice I think can serve someone well as they go on to face their day. I’ll say it dropping off my daughter at school, and around here at camp, I’ll say it to a group of girls as they head off down the hill to free swim, or after lunch heading toward their cabin for rest hour. It’s an encouragement to be “great,” but with three different, more specific, ways to do that.

I like this phrase, in other words, because it pinpoints different ways that kids can lean into things, to be positive and open to the people and world around them. This is important, I believe, because each of these traits has real benefits when applied. Especially for kids, young people who are developing socially and emotionally, being more kind, silly and brave can help them be happier, more true to themselves, and more effective in the world. Over a lifetime, I’d even go so far as to say that these traits are instrumental in having healthy relationships of all kinds and ultimately more lasting satisfaction in life.

These are points of encouragement, needed reminders, because they take effort. It’s just easier to be the opposite. So without trying, people can too easily veer off toward being self-absorbed, too serious and perfectionistic, and afraid of everything that’s unfamiliar or challenging. You can see how that would be an unpleasant way to live, and would be an unpleasant person to be around. Likewise, wanting the best for our kids, we’d like them to be more kind, silly and brave.

A few years back, I wrote a post about how Rockbrook encourages girls to be kind, silly and brave. I tried to show how camp life provides regular opportunities for us to develop these aspects of our personality.  Rockbrook’s philosophy, its culture and emphasis on community and friendship are what powers this development. Acting on these values colors what we do here. It makes the fun of camp more formative and beneficial.

The importance of kindness and its link to happiness is clear, and the value of bravery is generally understood, but what about silliness? Is there something inherently good or a clear benefit to being silly? I think there is. Of course, there are times when being serious is important too, when a particular outcome is needed for example (“a job to do!”), but there are many situations when a cultivated sense of silliness will add to the experience.

We know that’s true at camp! We know that everything’s better when wearing a costume, or when singing— the more off key the better —at the top of our lungs. Skipping down the hill is better than walking. Dancing while doing chores makes the work more fun. Being playful, quick to smile and laugh, like Buddy in the movie Elf, injects a special exuberance into anything, even the most mundane routine. Being silly means giving yourself permission to let loose a little bit, to be joyfully creative, whimsical, lighthearted and open to the humor in things. This is the color of most things at camp, and the way we like to be!

Besides making things more fun and funny, there’s another important benefit to being silly. It helps you feel more comfortable with who you are. Silliness helps reduce the pressure kids often feel when they see things as serious, formal, or measured. Turning down the heat of expectations and opening up some space for silliness, allows the real you to participate. There’s a real freedom in laughter and being goofy. And when there’s no judgment of being silly, no worry about what someone might say, it’s a real boost to a young person’s self-confidence and creativity. It’s liberating and fun.

For adults, we might feel a little embarrassed to bust out a twitchy dance move on the subway, for example, but if you do, it’ll be the real you. And I bet it’ll feel good. It’s the same for these camp girls— it feels really good to be silly and at the same time feel supported as their true selves.

So, reminding someone to be silly, is like giving them a license to be their true self. It’s saying, “You be you; you’ll enjoy it.” Yes, that’s a lot easier at camp where people will cheer for your wacky costume, but it’s still true out in the “real world” for adults and kids alike. Maybe we should all be a little more silly more often.

camp teens hiking

It’s the People

Seeing all the action at camp, all the happy busy kids here, it’s easy to forget that there are almost 100 people on the Rockbrook staff at any one time. There are many people working to make camp possible. There are the cabin counselors, the young women who live in the cabins with the campers, eat their meals with the campers, spend most of their day relating to them. These are the folks who most directly help set the tone at camp. They’re kind, silly, and enthusiastic. Most have been campers themselves when they were younger, and now have returned to Rockbrook to get their “camp fix” and benefit from the experience. Some have come from abroad to spend their summer at camp. And others are friends of people somehow related to Rockbrook and its history.

camp counselor helping
girl kayak instruction

Cabin counselors are also activity instructors during the day. They are assigned to one or more activities where they guide, lead and instruct the campers as they do something. You can imagine this means the cabin counselors have a wide range of skills and talents. One might be certified to teach archery, and another to be a lifeguard. Some know their sports— tennis, volleyball, soccer, and gymnastics for example. Others have real talent painting and drawing, directing musical theater, or tying complex friendship bracelet patterns. Someone teaches the yoga classes while another belays girls as they climb Castle Rock. Every activity at camp has counselors directly involved at every turn.

Another area of staffing is our “activity specialists.” These are folks who do not live in a cabin with campers, but have special knowledge or skills pertaining to an activity, and therefore can be in charge. This summer we have specialists for ceramics, weaving, gymnastics, and candle/soap making. This also includes our adventure staff. These are certified instructors in whitewater kayaking and rafting, canoeing, rock climbing, backpacking, and ziplining. The best example of this is our riding staff. All 10 of these folks work to care for and train our 32 horses and also teach the mounted riding lessons all week.

The other areas of staffing are equally critical for camp to operate. These are the maintenance staff, bus drivers, photographers and videographers, the kitchen staff, and housekeeping staff. We should also recognize the fantastic team of nurses that staff our Health Hut, and perhaps most importantly, the kitchen crew that keeps us well fed with meals and homemade snacks (muffins!).

Together, along with the directors, all of these people help keep camp going. They help us stay healthy, active, and engaged with everything camp life presents. It’s a great group of dedicated people who love camp, enjoy being with kids and seeing them have fun. We’ve said it before; it’s the people that make Rockbrook.

sliding rock screaming girls

After dinner tonight we loaded all of our buses, gathered 6 lifeguards and their gear, and took a trip to Sliding Rock. We took all of the mini session Middlers and Seniors and a few full session girls to fill the trip— 90 people in all. It’s quite a sight to see our 6 white buses and vans in a convoy driving into the Pisgah National Forest.

Looking at this photo you might think the experience of sliding down 60-feet of sloping rock and splashing into the pool at the bottom is painful. Or perhaps these girls are screaming because they’re terrified. Actually, their reaction is typical at Sliding Rock; it’s an uncontrollable scream of delight that erupts after feeling the cold water, accelerating down the rock, and anticipating the imminent plunge. Even over the roar for the falling water, these screams are plenty loud enough to be heard. Slide after slide the girls screamed and laughed, shivered a little bit from the cold water and evening air, but had a complete blast.

No Sliding Rock trip is complete without a stop at Dolly’s Dairy bar located at the entrance to the Forest. It’s become a camp tradition for everyone to take at least one trip there during their camp session. Tonight was these girls’ night. Everyone chose their favorite flavor and enjoyed a sweet treat as it was growing dark.

Back at camp, it was time for bed after this big fun evening out. So much singing in the bus, screaming and shivering at Sliding Rock, and goofing around at Dolly’s will wear a girl out! But that’s a good thing!

10th grade rockbrook campers

Learning to be Happy

Life at summer camp is marvelous in so many ways. Kids get to be active outdoors. They get a real break from the burdens of their technology. They are given the freedom to explore things on their own without competition or a high-pressure “schedule.” They are surrounded by friendly people who accept them for who they really are. They can let loose and be silly kids, enjoying different things “just for the fun of it.” They eat well, sleep well, and play all day… and all with dozens of enthusiastic friends around to amplify the experience. It’s no wonder kids love camp, and they call camp their “happy place.”

Happiness. Yes, camp is a place of happiness for kids. A recent podcast episode I encountered got me thinking more about this. I already have a theory about kids loving camp; it satisfies critical childhood needs that all too often are left unfulfilled by ordinary life. But I think there’s more to say. A different question might be “why are kids so happy at camp?” Is there something specific about camp that inspires happiness? Is it what we do at camp, or does how we do it matter?

I’m referring to an episode of The Knowledge Project Podcast entitled, “Laurie Santos: The Pursuit of Happiness.” You may recognize Santos as Yale’s “happiness professor.” She is Professor of Psychology and the Head of Silliman College at Yale University where she teaches a very popular course called “The Good Life.” This podcast episode is an extended interview with Professor Santos. Click that link for a list of topics covered.

There’s a lot of great ideas in this episode, practical advice and evidence-based techniques to increase the amount of happiness you experience. I recommend listening to the whole thing! We could discuss many parts, but here is a short quote that jumped out at me.

“I think where we go astray when we’re seeking out happiness is that we have these misconceptions. We think happiness is about achieving accolades. It’s not. We often think happiness is about self-care, treating ourselves, and giving ourselves these luxuries. It’s not. In fact, if anything, it’s about doing nice things for others. That gives you more of a happiness bang for your buck than spending time on yourself.”

In other words, happiness is correlated with generosity, kindness and caring for those around you. If you’re a parent, you probably understand this intuitively, because caring for your kids, “giving of yourself” in this way, makes you happy. It makes you happy to see them happy, especially when you are being generous with your time and energy. That makes great sense. But the real insight here is the advice about how to make yourself happy. It’s the idea that giving works better that getting. Santos is reporting that people are happy when they make efforts to be generous and kind, when they reach out and do things to help others. Ironically, the inward feeling of happiness follows, not from acquiring pleasant things, but from extending yourself outward. It comes from doing things to enhance your relationships with others, from making them feel good.

Thinking back to life at camp, perhaps this is another reason why girls are so happy at Rockbrook. This is a community steeped in a culture that values kindness, caring and generosity. It’s a place that models those values too. Beginning with the directors, through the staff, and including the campers, we all recognize that we’re here to help each other. We’re doing lots of things, but we’re doing them together, cooperatively. That’s why we recognize especially helpful campers and staff by awarding them “bend-a-back” beads. That’s why we have daily cabin chores that cabin groups share. That’s why we cheer for girls who muster the courage to jump off the dock during their swim demos. That’s why we celebrate each person’s self-expression embracing them, quirks and all. We know that these are the values that foster a supportive community and that lead to deeper and more meaningful friendships.

Of course we’re having big fun too, but if happiness can spring from “doing nice things for others,” as Santos suggests, Rockbrook girls have an extra advantage. We’re happy when we’re rafting, but even happier when doing it together with people we care for and are kind towards. We’re happy to eat a freshly baked muffin each morning, but even happier when sharing it with friends. There are lots of reasons to be happy at camp, but when we’re this close, when our relationships are rooted in kindness, there’s a deeper current driving that great feeling.

Some people call this the “Spirit of Rockbrook,” that special something that makes whatever we’re doing better. By embodying this spirit, by adopting those values of kindness, caring and generosity, we’re setting ourselves up to be happier. While we’re having fun at camp, we’re also learning to be a happier person. Thanks to the culture and community of Rockbrook, we’re giving and receiving, developing habits and instincts that may just be making us happier in the long run… at camp, and hopefully long after.

summer camp whitewater rafting

Busy in Every Way

Today was the first day of activities for this session, a day when camp was busy in every way. Last night the girls were presented with the different options, and after much discussion among their friends decided on their first set of four activities.

summer calendar project

This practice of having the girls select their own activities has long been a part of Rockbrook. We believe that having to choose on their own, away from parents, is a really good experience for the girls. It’s empowering for them to make this decision, to make it based entirely on their own desires and interests. It might mean doing lots of crafts, or perhaps spending extra time at the barn with the horses. Or it might mean taking a break from tennis since that’s a regular thing at home. Parents are sometimes surprised to learn what their child selects, and they may even wish their camper would branch out more, or be inspired to try something different. Some of that variety happens on its own as the various options are limited, and peers often encourage each other to do things together. But the girls really appreciate this independence. Wednesday night, all the girls will select a new set of activities, giving them a chance to switch things up. Horseback riding operates differently. Girls can keep riding on the schedule arranged with Kelsi our riding director. They can switch up their riding days, but most don’t want to.

With the campers schedules set, they were off…. off to shoot arrows, to climb the alpine tower, and to twist, tie and dye white t-shirts. They were calming down and stretching out in a yoga class held in the stone hillside lodge. They were learning tricks to perfect a cartwheel in the gymnastics activity. They were getting the hang of operating the floor looms in weaving and the feel of cool clay in the two pottery studios. They were swimming in the lake and riding horses in the rings, smacking tetherballs and gaga balls, making friendship bracelets and painting flowers. They were busy!

There were trips happening too. Two different kayaking trips went out to the French Broad river, one in the morning and one after lunch. The CA campers (9th graders) took a hike in the Dupont State Forest to discuss and select their secret Banquet theme. Starting with about 80 different ideas, they narrowed down the options and ended up with a single theme that will focus their planning for the end-of-session party they host for the whole camp. Now, they have a theme, and it’s a good one.

In camp, zipline trips were happening all day as well. Different cabin groups were assigned specific times. This allows us to make sure that everyone, even the smallest Junior, has the option to take a ride through the course. Wearing a harness tethered to a dual-wheeled pulley and a steel backup carabiner, the girls also put on a helmet before following the adventure staff up into the forest where the course begins. With three zips and 3 different challenge bridges strung between huge boulders, the course is uniquely thrilling and beautiful at the same time.

I should add that despite this busyness, our regular daily schedule also includes three periods of “free time” when the girls can just hang out. They can join various clubs, swim in the lake, or play several games during these times, but they can also sit and read under the walnut tree on the hill, goof around in the creek by Curosty, or just sit and chat with a friend in one of the red porch rocking chairs. Here too, the girls decide for themselves how to spend this free time. Unable to default to technology or passive entertainment, it’s interesting to see them be more creative and active than they might be otherwise. They have plenty of friends to do things with, so their “free time” can seem busy as well.

Yes camp is busy, but it’s a good kind of busy. It’s self-directed and fun, filled with extraordinary opportunities to experience new things, and includes built-in companionship and support. It’s a busy that helps a girl grow.

camp nature girls exploring

A Spectacle of Excitement

An opening day of camp is a spectacle of excitement. It’s the start of something we’ve all been looking forward to, and is something that’s filled with possibility, great feelings and new experiences. Just about everyone involved knows this feeling— the parents driving into camp with jittery children in the backseat, the campers themselves who’ve had to wait for many, many months for this day, and the enthusiastic cabin counselors literally jumping up and down to greet the campers as they arrive. Even the directors! All of us at camp were very excited this morning to open our second session of camp.

summer camp arrival

I want to thank everyone for managing all of the pre-camp tasks we asked of families this year. In addition to all the regular health forms and camper information forms, this was another year that included covid-19 concerns and this created an added burden leading up to camp. We know that is was a lot, but we’re also very thankful that everyone, without exception, took care of the details. We done!

The parents being prepared helped make the check-in procedure go smoothly too. Our staggered arrival times and “drive-thru” stations kept the line of cars moving steadily ahead all morning. The highlight of the process was hopping out the car and meeting each camper’s counselors. Our crew of luggage guys worked steading all morning as well, quickly moving trunks and duffles to the cabins where the girls could begin setting up their cabins together.

Setting up the cabin has become a fun group activity now that the different aged girls are arriving at similar times. It really helps make everyone feel included as they arrange trunks in the cabin, share decorations, and pick their bunk more collaboratively. In fact, this whole day is an extension of this process as the girls spend most of their time with their cabin group.

camp cabin group tour

Lunch was Rick’s signature homemade mac-n-cheese. This is a perpetual favorite for open day. And Rick does it right. Mountains of shredded cheese, pounds of elbow macaroni, mixed with a roux of butter, milk and flour, and baked until bubbling hot. Everyone loved it.

The cabin groups also spent time walking around and touring camp. This was a chance to visit the different activity areas and to learn where to find the Health Hut, the Office, the Dining Hall, the Gym and the Lake. We also spent time visiting the camp store to pick up the items parents ordered for their campers. Soon you’ll start to see those new sweatshirts, bucket hats and water bottles in the photo gallery.

The afternoon brought all of us to the lake, all the counselors, directors, lifeguards, and campers too. It was time for our “swim demos,” which is the process where we ask everyone to demonstrate their ability to swim. The lake has various areas that are appropriate for different swimmers, deeper and more shallow areas for example. To make sure everyone finds the best area, we check how well everyone can swim, tread water, and be comfortable in our chilly mountain lake. We all take turns jumping off the dock (cheering support!) swimming and treading water for a minute, and then receive a colored wrist band and tag. The three different levels are easily identified with this color coding.

The lake is such a popular place to be, we want to make sure everyone has a chance to cool off on those sunny summer days. We now have a full board of tags, one for each person who can swim in the lake, maybe take a ride down the waterslide, or just float lazily in a tube.

We’re off to a great session, and the girls are ready to dig into their first rotation of activities starting tomorrow. They selected their activities tonight, so they are eager to say the least!

Let me remind you to send mail… lots of it! The girls check their mailbox after lunch each day, and it’s a big deal to see something waiting for you in your box. Likewise, it’s a little disappointing to see your box empty. So write those letters! And send those emails (Instructions for sending mail are here). Everyone loves mail at camp.

A Special Energy

Every camp session has a certain momentum to it, a feeling of accelerating energy, that becomes incredibly powerful with each passing day. The girls enjoy themselves more and more, are more quick to laugh at things, and are more eager to dive deep into camp life. All of those great camp feelings— enthusiastic support from everyone around you, friendly encouragement, a general sense of belonging and wellbeing, a joyful approach to whatever arises —become more regular and true. Part if this is because we are simply more familiar with camp life and therefore we come to expect these feelings. But, of course, the quality of our camp experience is mostly derived from the the deepening friendships we form while here. All this time together, doing so much together, creates a special kind of energy that builds on itself, day after day.

monsters camp party

The end-of-session all-camp events, for this reason, are particularly exciting and powerful. One such event is the camp play, which this session was “Shrek the Musical.” This was a chance for campers to play their favorite Shrek characters, including that beloved green ogre, the princess Fiona, the evil Lord Farquaad, and Donkey. In addition to spoken parts telling the story of Shrek rescuing Princess Fiona, the show included singing and fun dance routines.

The other event held at the end of the main sessions is the “Banquet.” This is a BIG deal, and is something everyone looks forward to. It’s essentially a huge party with music and dancing, decorations, special food, and costumed characters entertaining. The 9th grade campers (our CAs) plan and present the banquet, keeping its theme a secret until revealing it on the second to last day of camp.

monster camp party costumes

This session the theme focused on the Pixar characters from the movies Monsters, Inc. and Monsters University. They called it, “Monsters Incamporated.” This was a colorful and fun banquet theme. Taking styles from the movies, the dining hall was decorated with painted doors, Monster University sorority and fraternity insignias, well-known characters from the movies, balloons and streamers. The CAs themselves dressed up too. We saw Mike Wazowski, Sully, Randall, Celia, Art, Janitors, Members of the PNK (Python Nu Kappa) Sorority, Hardscrabble, Johnny, Roz and others. There were skits enacting a couple of scenes, and dance numbers combining several characters.

The tables of the dining hall were arranged to leave plenty of space for dancing, which everyone enjoyed between scenes performed by the CAs. The tables had decorated cups for everyone, a variety of candy treats, and small cans of soda. The meal was “Ears and Eyes” (tortellini and meatballs), “Mini Mikes” (green grapes), and “Green Goo” (Chips and Guacamole). Dancing and singing, eating and drinking, colorful and loud— it was a fabulous party.

candle ceremony campers

The final event of the session, which occurred on the last evening, was the closing campfire. This “Spirit Fire” is a tradition reaching back to Rockbrook’s very first summer more than 100 years ago. It’s a chance to reflect on the session and what we’ve all learned from being together at camp. Different campers and counselors take turns giving short speeches, alternating with traditional songs sung around a roaring campfire. Tonight we heard a camper talk about feeling immediately accepted at Rockbrook. Another said that she had found “another home” at camp. One staff member was surprised how much camp meant to her after taking a few years off from being here.

The Spirit Fire brings up these sorts of feelings. Sitting shoulder to shoulder with so many friends with whom you’ve shared so much— it brings up emotions. It makes you appreciate what’s special about camp. It makes you feel good about yourself and your place in this positive community. The Spirit Fire ends with each person lighting a small white candle and then processing around the lake. This creates a beautiful ring of candlelight reflecting off the water of the lake. The girls sing softly and after a few minutes head back to their cabins for their last night at camp.

Thank you everyone for being a part of camp this session. Thank you for recognizing the value of camp, and for trusting Rockbrook to provide the kind of summer experience your girls need. It’s been a wonderful session, and we look forward to seeing everyone again very soon.

WHOA Warrior Celebration

Sundays at camp start off lazy with the morning bell ringing at 9am, campers getting straight out of bed and heading right to the dining hall, PJs and all. We feasted on glazed doughnuts while taking breaks to sing some classic morning songs… “and this is what we hear our counselors yell. Get out of bed! You sleepy head! And do your chores on the run…”

Rockbrook Camp had many celebrations on Sunday. The first being Juneteenth! A few members of our staff helped educate and celebrate this national holiday by teaching a popular family reunion dance and working with the kitchen for a delicious soul food dinner.

Sunday was also a big day focused on teamwork and fun with a WHOA Warrior celebration! What makes a WHOA Warrior at Rockbrook Camp? First, we need a color to show some spirit for our lines! Our Junior line showed spirit in their best red. Middlers sported their bluest blues. Our seniors were decked out in oldschool Rockbrook green!

Next, we need sunscreen! Counselors, this is a reminder to make sure your campers are wearing sunscreen. Campers, this is a reminder to make sure your counselors are wearing sunscreen!

Water bottles. Clothes you don’t mind getting wet. Teamwork. And enthusiasm!

Our lines split up and spent some time at three different locations around camp for a variety of WHOA Warrior events – think NBCs “Survivor” but less focused on competition and more focused on teamwork and fun! At landsports there was an inflatable obstacle course and slide. Campers of all ages loved racing on the inflatables and going down the huge water slide. We also passed out some refreshing snow cones on this hot and sunny day – another major crowd pleaser.

The second location was the Carrier House lawn. At this station, campers finished creative relays and challenges requiring lots of teamwork. Campers worked together on a “Coconut Relay” involving teams racing to get a coconut from point A to point B as quickly as possible. There was also a Tic-Tac-Toe relay and a Hot Coal Walking Challenge which tested communication and listening skills as one camper directed a blindfolded partner around an obstacle course to collect ping pong balls scattered throughout.

Location three required teamwork and creativity. Cabins worked together to create their own “Redbird Idol,” a beaded necklace, to represent their cabin. After creating their idol, cabins went out to different locations of camp to hide their idol. After dinner, the camp came back together for a camp wide “Redbird Idol” hunt. After 30 minutes of searching, there was a three way tie for the cabin who found the most idols! Middler One ended up winning the prize of “Floats on Floats” – Rootbeer and Cheerwine floats while relaxing on floats in the lake at resthour!

The teamwork and enthusiasm for WHOA Warrior is really what makes the event special. Whether it’s going around in a circle taking turns adding beads to a “Redbird Idol” or cheering on a teammate as they’re hopping with a coconut in between their knees, our campers were working with each other rather than against each other.

First Session Highlights Video – Part Two

Robbie Francis of FrancisFilmworks worked his filming and editing magic again this week to produce another short video for us. He spent the day last Thursday filming, and now we have this wonderful glimpse into life at camp. The video does a great job of depicting the mood of camp… so much action and so many happy girls!

Take a look, and let us know what you think.

Frolic with the Foam!

Tonight we witnessed how these Rockbrook girls know how to let loose! After dinner and signing up for next week’s activities, we had an all-camp shaving cream fight and slip-n-slide dance party down on the grassy sports field. It has a gently sloping area for the long sheet of plastic, a couple of water hoses to keep it slick, and a large area for everyone to romp around in.

shaving creamed trio
shaving cream fight laugh
shaving cream hairstyle
camp shaving cream kids

First we piled up about 150 cans of shaving cream (not menthol!). We lay out the slip-n-slide plastic and soaped it up a bit. We got a water sprinkler going. We set up our sound system. Add a bunch of excited camp girls, and you have a shaving cream fight!

They came dressed in their swimsuits and wearing their water shoes. They tossed their towels in a pile, grabbed a can of shaving cream and were off!

Some first sprayed a little of the foam on themselves, as if testing the can. But most immediately began chasing someone else, can outstretched ready to fire away. Of course, that’s exactly the point, emptying every can of shaving cream on everyone there. Frolic with the foam! Squirt it, slather it, and smear it everywhere and on everyone.

Yes, there’s running to get away from an attacking friend, but really, everyone realizes its fun to slow down just enough to be caught and splattered with the white slippery stuff.

The mood is complete hilarity, laughter turned up as high as it will go. Laughing perhaps as hard as they have ever laughed. There’s a mischievous twinkle in their eyes as they sneak up on people with a handful of shaving cream, ready to strike. There’s also a sly grin as the girls enjoy themselves, since getting this messy is ordinarily “not allowed” at home.

And messy it is! Unavoidably so. In about 5 minutes, there’s white foam everywhere— no person unscathed. Getting the shaving cream in your hair is part of the fun. Friends help each other with that goal, and soon there are mohawk styles, helmets of foam, twists and random blobs decorating almost everyone’s head. Some of the littlest girls made it a goal to cover every inch of themselves with shaving cream, while some of the oldest girls want to draw on each other and pose for a group photo.

Throughout this “fight,” the girls would take turns sliding down that sheet of plastic. All that shaving cream covering them made the ride fast and easy. Yes, messy here too, as the water and foam sprayed up during each slide. Some of the girls really loved the slip-n-slide, taking ride after ride.

Even though we made participating in all of this optional, this was one of the largest shaving cream fights I can remember. It was most popular with the Middlers and Juniors, but there were plenty of Senior girls enjoying the event as well. All-ages fun!

As the sun was setting and the many cans of foamed had been emptied, a few girls took their last ride down the slip-n-slide as others began hosing off. The temperature was dropping and these girls needed a warm shower.

Letting loose like this with your friends feels really good. It’s all smiles from the girls because I think it taps into a basic urge to be completely silly and experience a moment free from regular decorum. It’s the messiness of it all. We can’t be messy like this ordinarily, so when we can, it’s hilarious and fun. There’s really no other feeling quite like a shaving cream fight at camp.

shaving cream fight sunset

A More Authentic Life

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?”

summer camp free time

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?

summer camp tetherball game

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.

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.

summer camp relaxation

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.