I have always been a camp girl.
But it has been almost a decade since I have done anything other than look at old photographs.
This week I am back at camp.
Urban Challenge Week.
Which is really just a nice way of saying kids from area shelters and a children’s home.
I have been looking forward to it all summer.
Until I went to orientation last week.
And after learning more than I ever wanted to know about sexual predators and promised not to give anything but side hugs and to wear a one piece bathing suit.
I started to worry a little bit about the heat.
It has been 106+ for like the last two weeks.
And they said the camp has very little shade. And there will be lots of walking.
And a little bit about the urban part. What will they think of a middle aged white girl?
I am not 21 anymore. These kids aren’t going to think I am cool.
And maybe, like most non-profit organizations, they go a little easy on the organization.
So I showed up ready to go this morning.
Keep in mind I know no one.
I know where nothing is.
Nor do I know protocols or procedures or anything like that.
I didn’t even have a name tag.
Thankfully, I had a helper who I figured would have things covered.
And she totally did. When I could find her.
After a little while the kids started piling off the yellow dogs.
Hundreds of them, some stumbling to my table.
I got them a pop tart and tried desperately to make conversation.
I was horrible at it.
Within the first five minutes I was breaking up a fight and learning bad words in Spanish.
Eventually I ended up with fifteen 12-13 year old girls and boys.
And I could almost smell their hormones.
There was a lot of unstructured time that I desperately tried to fill.
They kept asking me questions that I didn’t know the answers to.
So I kept referring them to a 13 year old who had been here last year.
One that I had stopped from beating up a much smaller boy in the group and nicely suggested she use words besides faggot and ass to describe the others in the group.
And eventually won them over with a game of uno and a conversation about music. My days of listening to rap were paying off.
Eventually we made it to chapel, and lunch, and the zip line.
I might have almost wet my pants on the zip line.
Obviously the college girl pulling my harness ridiculously tight has never birthed children.
The whole time I just kept talking and trying to learn names.
And encourage them that walking up the hill would indeed not kill them.
And that there probably weren’t any bears in the woods. You know. Here in the city.
And the conversations were starting to pay off.
Kids started talking back.
A few of them I couldn’t shut up.
And it was normal 12 -13 year old stuff.
Except when they said things like their mom was in prison.
Or that money was kind of tight. Which is an understatement since they live in a shelter.
And I helped the kids dig through big plastic tubs of donated swimsuits and towels and flip flops to help find one in their size before heading to the pool.
I kind of wanted to sit it out. To watch from the side lines and stay dry.
But it is hard to love from the sidelines so I got in.
And one of the girls from my group got me out on the diving board.
It turns out that I can still do a heck of a cannonball.
At one point I held a girl’s braids while she puked.
And I couldn’t help but wonder if maybe she was pregnant.
And then hate myself a little for thinking that. Even though it might be true.
The day was almost over and I was hot and sweaty and smelled almost as bad as my 12 year old boys.
And I still didn’t know anyone.
Except for most of the kids in my group.
I still don’t know where things are or what happens next.
I still don’t have a roster or a schedule or a nametag.
But I do know that they are just kids.
Even if they say bad words and don’t listen.
And I know that they want desperately to be loved.
And maybe that is all that matters.