Tag Archives: camp

A Child’s Nightmare

It’s been a while since my last post, but that’s probably because life is one harsh mistress, and the universe is doubly so.

By no means has my life been bad these past couple of weeks (or however long it’s been since the previous post), but it has been busy. And sometimes busy can be bad–for my mental health, for my sleep schedule, for my stress, for my emotions. But I don’t want to start this off on a negative note.

I’ve been involved in a Summer Shakespeare production of As You Like It. I portray the villain, Oliver, as well as a drunken old priest and a stupid Lord. It’s been a lot of fun, despite the demanding nightly schedule that has now extended full rehearsals past ten o’ clock. So, I’m coming home from long days working at the camp, only to go to rehearsal an hour later, and I’m not returning home till 10:30, having not eaten dinner.

Needless to say, that kind of schedule can kill a person, or nearly do the job. As You Like It will perform next weekend for three nights at my school’s outdoor amphitheater, and it’ll be a lot of fun. But it’ll also be a relief to have a bit more time during the night to actually relax.

I’m almost done reading the first installment of the A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones. I’m in love with the book, and might do a review when I’m finished.

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I’m going to get to one of the main points of this post, now. As you probably know, I work as a Junior Counselor at a summer day camp for kids. I work primarily with five and six year olds, and yesterday, I was sitting on the bus on the way home with one five year old named Brody.

A little bit about Brody: He’s a wide-eyed boy with short dark hair and a sort of high, lilting voice. He likes to kick his sandals at people and swing his sleeves at people’s faces. Sometimes he runs off into the woods, which is a huge hassle. Several of us think Brody may be on the Autism spectrum, but we’re not positive. His mother rarely speaks to counselors when she picks him up and drops him off, so we really can’t learn much about his personal life. He has two younger brothers, ages three and four, and he talks about his pet geckos, who he feeds bugs. One of them, an “old mommy” is dying, but he doesn’t seem to mind. He’s an incredibly sensitive boy with a huge interest in art, nature, strategic games, and so on. He hates field games and sitting around doing nothing, and these sort of activities can lead him to misbehave and act out for attention. Inside he’s an insanely intelligent child, but he doesn’t like to show it.

Now–yesterday, on the bus, Brody told me he had a bad dream the night before. I had been reading A Game of Thrones, but now I set it down to listen. I asked him what had happened in his dream. He told me this: he told me that in the dream he had been watching the night sky with a telescope, because “I was looking for airplanes.” He didn’t find airplanes, but he did find an alien spaceship, or several of them. He immediately alerted his family and friends, and they all went an hid in a building somewhere. I asked him if he had been scared, and he said yes.

The aliens, Brody told me, eventually found everyone, anyway. When he told me this, his already huge eyes grew huger, and I could practically feel his fear. There’s something so raw about children’s emotions, and Brody is no exception. In fact, his emotions seem amplified in comparison to other kids’, often. He told me that the aliens found everybody but him and his two younger brothers. Naturally, I thought this meant there was a happy ending, or at least not an awful one. I said, “What did the aliens do, then?”

“They took them onto their spaceships,” he said.

“What did they do?” I asked.

“They put everyone in hot water.”

“Hot water?”

He seemed to think this wasn’t an apt enough description, because he corrected himself, speaking over me with great urgency: “Hot, hot, hot, hot, hot water.” Now I was getting worried. Alien dreams are common, I’m sure. Hell, I’ve had these kinds of dreams…but not at age five, that I can recall. I almost didn’t want to know what happened next, but I had to ask him. I think he would have told me, either way.

He told me, “They put everyone in fire.”

That gave me chills, and the worst kind. I could just feel my heart stop for a second, because the way he said it was so sad yet honest, as if this was normal. I had to ask him why the aliens did this, and he said the aliens didn’t like people. I asked him why, and he grinned and said, “You know why!” As if everyone should know. He didn’t explain further. He told me the dream made him sad and that nothing else happened, and then he went back to peering out the window. I didn’t ask him any more questions, but I was deeply disturbed by the whole thing. I still am.

What gives kids these thoughts, these nightmares? It’s something beyond our control, certainly. I remember having awful dreams of my mother, a blue and deformed zombie with glowing red eyes, bursting from my closet, rushing toward me, screaming with all the anger any monster could muster. I still cringe to think of that recurring dream. Or, the one about the tyrannosaurus rex that chased me down my grandmother’s long and winding drive way, eventually trampling me. Or, the muddled, black-faced creatures stalking that same grandmother’s house in the middle of a storm, closing in on her as she chopped wood. Or, the image of my recently deceased grandfather’s face, appearing in windows and mirrors, frozen and smiling–all those things petrified my childhood self, and they still hold that power over me. If someone told me to confront those images and scenarios in reality, I would break. Mentally, I would be destroyed.

And we’ve all had our share of alien dreams, I’m sure. And I’m not surprised that Brody has nightmares, nor that any child would. It’s part of life. What did and does surprise me is Brody’s brutal honesty about the whole thing. He had a story to tell, but to him it wasn’t a story. It was nearly reality, and it was as if he knew it was utterly out of his control. As if he knew awful things happened to innocent people, and he was helpless to the progression of life and death and nature.

These musings seem pretentiously profound when I remind myself this is just a five year old’s nightmare.

But with kids like Brody, you can’t help but wonder if they know…more. When my sixteen year old sister Sadie was five or six she had a dream that she was trying to sleep, but God was talking to her through the window. In the dream she told God to stop talking and let her sleep.

Kids are so goddamned beautifully innocent, yet so intelligent at the same time. It’s almost too much to handle sometimes.

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I’ll leave things here, tonight. A couple other fun tidbits:

I’m working on writing a one-act play about a girl and a ghost who form a friendship, only for it to be taken from them through the natural progression of life and death. I kind of imagine something Disney-esque, with creepy and funny elements tied into it. I’ll direct it this winter, since seniors direct plays every winter at my school.

I’m still watching 30 Rock, and loving it. I just finished Season 3.

I’ll be visiting Kenyon, Bard, and Marist college in the next couple of weeks. I can’t wait to see my first-choice (Kenyon) and my close second (Bard). In September I’ll also see Bennington, which is a tie for second.

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To the few of you who have subscribed to my posts and liked my posts, I thank you a hundred times. There’s a quote from Dean Koontz that says “If something in your writing gives support to people in their lives, that’s more than just entertainment–which is what we writers all struggle to do, to touch people.”

I hope that I’ve at least managed to touch a couple of people with my posts. That’s all I really want with my writing, be it books or plays or blog posts. While I don’t have the most interesting life, I think we’ve all got stories to tell.

I’ll try to be more frequent with my posts, time allowing. For now, I bid you farewell.

Goodnight, Faithful Readers. Goodnight.

-J

11:31 PM

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Friday Musing

It’s finally Friday, and after another (especially) long and tiring week of work, this Friday evening couldn’t come fast enough.

Yes, it’s been one hell of a week. Kids can be and usual are quite insane, and for some reason, this week the energy at camp was pumped up an extra ten notches. With a lack of counselors due to family issues and other personal businesses, the kids seemed to enjoy taking advantage of their increasing outnumbering of those of us who remained.

Despite all the stress, I’m still pleased with the things I’ve done, for the most part. Making connections with the kids is one of the most amazing things, because I don’t know most of them, and it’s crazy to become involved in all their individual lives, one by one. I learn new things about different kids all the time–some things aren’t as pleasant as others. I have to keep in mind that many of the kids come from very difficult backgrounds that range from parental abuse (both physical and verbal) to parental drug usage to poverty and everything else in between. The excruciating thing for the counselors is that we know all these things are going on with these kids, and we only have eight hours to bring any small amount of easy feelings into their lives. Whatever they return to, we can’t do anything for them. It’s sort of awful.

Of course there are always great things to do with camp, it isn’t all negative. But I can’t help thinking about it a few times every day, especially when I look at certain kids…

Aside from all that, I’m still living a personal life. Not much of a social life, though. People are always busy or I’m always busy or just too goddamn tired to do anything. Last week I read Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. That was one of the best books I’ve read in a long time, about an MMORPG and its implications in real life. Wonderfully written with a whole bunch of great references to classic and current sci-fi culture, as well as 80’s culture and so much more. I’m now reading Suttree by Cormac McCarthy, which is definitely a change from Cline’s easy-to-read video game book. McCarthy’s book is supposedly a comedy, though it’s still pretty dark. After all, this is McCarthy we’re talking about.

It’s sad that I begin a paragraph about my social life, and by the time it’s done, all I’ve done is talk about books. Oh well.

I discovered some papers I wrote at the end of Junior year while I was cleaning my room, a while ago. A poem imitating Ginsberg’s “Howl” and a short word-vomit paper about something I had done that was out of the norm for me. My English teacher graded them and loved them, and didn’t have words. They talked in part about my struggles with writing and also with college, and the poem was largely about my dislike for many social norms around St. Johnsbury, which trailed into a long piece about the death of my brother, three and a half years ago. I also received a 5 on my AP English exam. My teacher sent me an email saying simply, “You rock!” and I later saw him–he hugged me.

I don’t have a weird teacher fetish, but I’ll be damned if these things don’t feel amazing. A person I look up to, a person with great intelligence and compassion, who has clearly been impressed with something I’m doing right. It just feels good. Really good. Because he recognizes me for succeeding in things I truly care about, where my parents don’t always seem to know how to react because we’re so different. They don’t get into English and writing and reading and science fiction. It’s not who they are. I feel alienated around them often times, but when people really seem to get it, really seem to appreciate it…that’s what feels best.

Home tonight. I think I’ll crack open some ice cream and popcorn and watch 30 Rock for a while. It’s my new obsession, ever since I had to move on from The Office. Although I’m not quite over it, yet. It’s hard. (That’s what she said.)

I’ll try to write another blog post when I feel interesting.

Adios.

-J
8:50 p.m.

My First Week As A Summer Camp Counselor

The title itself should explain the basic concept of this blog post, but if I need to elaborate, I suppose I can do that.

On Monday, I began work at Camp Laughing Turtle, here in good ol’ Vermont. We’re in the first lap of summer, and all the kids are getting done with elementary and middle school finally, so they need somewhere to go–whether their parents dislike them or have jobs, I’m not really sure. I landed a job at the camp as a Junior Counselor, which means I’m not eighteen yet so I have to be “Junior” everything. I love that I’m making money, though, so that’s great.

Without a doubt, the most eventful element of this job, thus far, has been meeting all these kids. The camp had a small percentage of its total applicants this first week, since a few schools had to go over their time because of all the snow days from March. I’m not joking, but God I wish I was. So, we had a relatively tiny group to work with most of this week, and I gravitated to the youngest of them, the five and six year-olds. They’re a great bunch, for the most part. I love kids this age because they have such wild, bright, exciting personalities, but they’re rarely intent on pushing your buttons and pissing everyone off. They really just want to have a good time and learn and experience as much as they can. Of course there are always the troublemakers, but it’s nothing compared to the older kids–but more on that later.

The thing about five and six year-olds is that they are the most honest age-group. They will tell you exactly how they feel, exactly what they think, and everything in between. There’s no sugar coating or insecurity, just pure bona fide genuine humanity. The only real barrier is the language barrier, but they usually can overcome it with some help.

And boy, do they have personalities. One boy is the brightest, happiest kid you’ve ever met. He’s helpful, kind, and considerate, and really quite intelligent. But something weird happens sometimes: often, when he doesn’t like the answer to a question, or when he doesn’t really get what he wants, he sort of just loses all the happiness in his face. Actually, he loses all emotion. His face becomes stone and his eyes just fix on whatever denied him his pleasures, and if you’re the subject of that stare, you actually wonder if you should watch your own back. Seriously, it’s frightening. He doesn’t cry or scream or even say anything, he just stands there and stares. It’s a pure “Bitch, I will fuck your existence” expression.

Another girl is similar in this way, but it’s sort of creepy because you don’t understand why. There’s never rhyme or reason. She’s often very happy and sociable, but sometimes she just closes up and doesn’t seem to hear you. I’ve found her playing with sunscreen way too often, and she drained an entire bottle in under two days, applying it during meals and rubbing it all over herself in quite an excessive amount. But that isn’t the worst of it: I really think she’s possessed sometimes. Like, by a demon. Or the spirit of a mildly-annoyed teenager. I dunno. I’ve caught her just staring at me and at other people with this blank look, as if she’s totally figuring out your entire being without any issues. She’s like Robert California from The Office, but cuter and without the raspy voice or mild depression.

There are so many other kids that I can’t sum up in a few paragraphs. A beautifully happy little boy with way too much ambition, a little girl who probably has narcolepsy and likes to hit people when they don’t stop talking, a boy who went and hid under a bush and went unfound for fifteen minutes–and so on. In just a week, I’ve already learned a lot about myself alone. I sound like a broken record, telling kids to slow down and not hurt themselves, to stay with the group, to take one more bite of their snack, to quiet down because it’s fucking quiet time, for Christ’s sake–but it all feels worth it, somehow. Of course, a week has felt like a month, but I think I’ll adjust with time.

There are still so many frustrations for me, being a seventeen year-old in his second real job. I struggle to remain patient and level-headed, and I have to remind myself that the kids who cause problems and push buttons may have it the hardest when they go home. There’s an extremely important element of compassion, sympathy, and understanding when working with all of these kids, and for an anti-social, individualistic teenager like myself, these can be difficult things to understand. But I think it’ll all pay off, one way or another. Yes, I’ll get money, but there’s something else here, some sort of spiritual or emotional healing involved.

Maybe it helps that so many of these kids remind me of myself, at that age.

And maybe it helps that so many of these kids remind me of my brother, wherever he is now.

 

-J