I remember struggling to remember the names of the campers I supervised. At the end of the first day, someone's parents would come by and say "I'm here to pick up Jacob?" and I'd stare across a sea of over twenty kids, hoping it wasn't too obvious I had no idea which face was Jacob's. On the second day of the week, I'd realize I'd once again attempted to memorize campers' names by the colour of the clothes they'd worn the day before - this happened most frequently with kindergarteners, whose faces share a similar sort of roundness. One the third day, I'd remember maybe half of their names, and the kids would tease me for asking again and again, but I quickly lost shame for asking someone's name since this was the only way for me to get anywhere. We had fun together as I stumbled through my learning. By the end of the week I'd finally reach my goal, and the following Monday I'd start again with a fresh group of campers.
I hate that it's a norm for adults to give kids such little autonomy. I'd been the camper that didn't want to play the game with everyone, and I wasn't going to be the annoying counsellor who'd force a camper to play anyways (though if they got bored while sitting on the side, then that was their own problem). When we wrote out rules at the beginning of the week, I asked campers to help brainstorm rules, and I encouraged them to add reasons why those rules existed. I wish I'd had the time and patience to build trust with each camper and never force them to finish their lunch or punish them with a time-out, but I had a week and many campers, and so I swallowed those uncomfortable imperfect moments.
I'm not always the kind of person to naturally think of how to be helpful. If I come over to your house for dinner, I might not think to ask if I could help set the table or clean the dishes. In my first year as a camp counsellor, I received a work evaluation that criticized my ability to do work without being explicitly asked, which was devestating feedback to hear but also very useful feedback. I had noticed an apple core on the ground, but hadn't picked it up to throw it away. My coworker had set up a craft and I hadn't stepped in to help. Many of these are recipes, patterns to be learned. Snack time means checking if campers are eating their lunch food before lunch. Walking time means singing an entertaining camp song. Finishing dinner means offering to help clear plates from the table. I learned a lot about initiative as a counsellor, though I still find it exhausting to be as aware of my surroundings and my responsibilities as I was at camp.
I look back fondly on the five years I spent as a camp counsellor, a job that likely had significant influence on how I think about communication, connection, play, and responsibility. I miss the camp songs and the children's laughter and the smell of sunscreen and chlorine. I especially miss the conversations I had with kids, and hope to some day have more of these kinds of interactions in my life again.