Thursday, June 24, 2010

Yoo-Hoo

Dear Mom and Dad,

I seem to have lost my patience somewhere in the gymnasium on Tuesday. I searched everywhere for it the rest of the day, but I’ve only found bits and pieces around camp and managed to scrounge a few pieces since then.
I’m not pretending that patience and understanding are always my most prominent qualities, but my tears in the ball room closet confirmed that I had definitely lost both after fourth period dodge ball with a handful of screaming ten year-olds. I didn’t lose all of my patience at dodge ball; no, I’ve been misplacing and losing remnants ever since camp started two weeks ago.
Blind camp and cub camp were combined in the same week this summer. So while individually these weeks would compete for the most attention and tiredness, packing them together into seven days proved downright exhausting. I moved forward with the hope that as the kids got older, they would require less of me. This was indeed true, but alas, they demand different parts of me.
Junior week brought ten to twelve year-olds bursting with energy and moldability. These kids aren’t yet too cool to listen. I know they look up to us. I know they are eager to learn, but their limited maturity makes it difficult for me to relate to them.
“They’re just kids,” Jeremy tells me.
“I know, I know. But I really want them to be adults,” I tell him. I really want them to see how ridiculous they are. I really want to reason with them. Not an option. Not quite yet.
The cabin I subbed for on Tuesday overflowed with boisterous complainers and bad attitudes. It’s hard to lay down firm rules when they know I’ll be gone in twelve hours. Bed time was rough, getting the cabin clean proved an incredible feat, and by lunch time a few clumps of my limited patience fell off in the cafeteria.
“The food may look different, but it might be good. Everyone please try at least a bite,” I said. “One cup of water before we get juice,” I said. “All right ladies, it’s time to clean up the table.”
Five minutes later.
“Come on, girls. Please work together. We need to clean up.”
Two minutes later. Voice a little louder.
“No seriously, out of your chairs. Someone please wipe up the table…No, you can’t go to the bathroom. Not until we’ve cleaned our area… Yes, we have camper duties… We’re cleaning the bathrooms before rest period….No, you can’t stay here…Yes, you need to help us…”
Jodi pouted dramatically as we walked down to the bathrooms.
“I’m hot,” she whined.
“Me too,” I stated flatly.
“But I’m really hot!” she protested. “I’m sooooooo tired.”
“Well, do you think that whining about how hot it is will actually make it cooler?” I asked her.
“No.”
“Well then, what do you want me to do about it?”
“I don’t know.” She frowned. “I have a headache”
“I’m sorry. Are you drinking plenty of water? After we clean the restrooms we’ll have rest period and you’ll feel better, okay?”
“No, I want to sit down right now!”
I stopped walking, put my hands on her shoulders, and looked her straight in the eyes. “Jodi. I’m sorry you’re not feeling well. We are all hot and tired. Complaining about it won’t make anything change that. We’re going to clean the bathrooms then you can rest, okay?”
She hung her head and walked slower than a sloth, avoiding me and the responsibilities at hand.
Deep breaths, Heather. Deep breaths. She’s just a kid.
Later at dodge ball, the last activity of the day, I couldn’t take another whiny kid. Little did I know that twenty of them would be showing up for fourth period. Essentially, the game of dodge ball just begs for anger and frustration; add to that kids, long days, and heat and humidity that would suffocate a lizard, and you’ve got a losing combination.
By the end of the period, the place resembled a war zone. Jimmy was crying because someone hit him with a ball, which I tried to assure him was only natural since hitting people with balls is the point of the dodgeball. Connor insisted he had broken a rib. Vincent, a definite pathological liar, argued with Brian that; No, he had not been hit on the leg, he’d fallen over on purpose. Leah couldn’t find the Yoo-Hoo drink she had just bought at the camp store and was pointing fingers accusing anyone within sight.
As the period ended, the kids headed for the door. “Wait! Before we go, I need everyone to sit down. We need to have a talk. Does anyone have any guesses what I might want to talk with you about?”
Dan piped up, “That we need to stop cheating?”
Greg followed, “That we shouldn’t get so angry?”
“These are all good guesses. And you’re right on target. I like all of you. I’m glad you came today.” I tried to assure them. “But some of you are yelling and getting angry as if this is a life or death situation. This is dodgeball. It’s a game. It’s only a game!”
“But…” Chad began.
“No, hold on. It’s not fun when people get angry and start accusing each other of cheating. It wasn’t everyone, so I’m sorry all of you have to listen to this. I did my best to be the referee, but I am not perfect.”
Chunk of patience. Voice raising.
“In fact, I don’t want any of you to come back to dodgeball tomorrow!” I said.
“What?!”
“You can come back in two days, but I can’t have you all fighting and arguing. It’s not fun that way.”
They sulked out the door. Insert my own cries of frustration. I got dirty looks in the cafeteria. One kid remarked as I walked by, “I never want to be play dodgeball ever again!”
The next day, a new group showed up and one boy asked me, “Are you going to kick us out of dodgeball forever if we spill our Yoo-hoo?”
Uggggggggh.

Am I that person who just should not work with kids? Am I incapable? Am I too stuck on what they should be? How they should behave? Is there part of me that is so critical I can’t lighten up and let kids be kids?
Kids exhaust me. No, that’s not true. Constant time as the only supervisor, with lots of kids exhausts me.
I lost my cool. I was not at my best. I spoke too loud and too quickly. I said things I wish I could take back. I wish I would’ve handled the situation differently.
If anything, the good thing about kids this age is that they move on pretty quickly. This morning Dan gave me a hug and Chad gave me a high five. Jodi started an entire conversation about her neon pink pajama pants and Leah ended up finding her Yoo-Hoo.
Mom and Dad, I’m not exactly sure how you raised three kids. We don’t just jump from cute little babies to independent adults. At nine years-old I made my college-aged baby sitter cry. At eleven I had such a bad attitude I’m not sure how you kept me around. I obviously have a lot to learn because I was once a bratty junior camper myself.
Thanks for not giving up on me.

Love,
Heather

Introvert

Dear Mom and Dad,

Can I blame you for who I am? Is introversion and extroversion a nature or nurture thing? Is it a genetic disposition that can’t be explained? And what about optimists and pessimists? Are we more likely to lean positive or negative based on life experiences? Or once we’ve been labeled “optimist” or “pessimist” do we just conform to those titles?
Well, camp reminds me I am most definitely your introverted child. I’m afraid to say whether I think I am an optimist or a pessimist for fear of it being a self-fulfilling prophecy. Camp has a way of exposing a person’s true character. I know I’ve seen parts of myself that I am less than proud of.
For example, I think introverts get labeled as unfriendly or socially awkward. The best definition I’ve heard is that an introvert gets their energy from being alone and extroverts get their energy from being around other people. Counseling reminds me that: YES, YES, YES, I need alone time. I get energy from quiet moments. Though hard to come by, I find it where I can. The trouble comes when that much needed alone time is taken away or threatened. I get exhausted and not too patient. I can always take deep breaths. Lack of alone time does not give me permission to shut down.
I also fear that I have a way of noticing the not-so-great things about life instead of relishing the good. I don’t want to be this way. I am surely a realistic person, a practical person, but sometimes that makes me calloused and a bit too serious. I can be a realist and still choose to dwell on the good.
For example, last week at blind camp I had the privilege of meeting and spending time with some wonderful people who definitely made me laugh. Like Bob, a 20-ish year old man who stated quite seriously: “I mean who doesn’t love stuffed animals? I don’t believe a man can ever have too many stuffed animals!”
Also, I met a young girl named Teresa who has cerebral palsy. She was telling me about the cabin rules. She slowly formed the words with much effort, “I made a cabin rule: Save the drama for your mama.” Then she tapped on the shoulder and whispered, “I don’t even know what that means!”
The blind campers and cub campers have gone. The junior campers have arrived. They come with a whole new set of ideas and behaviors. They’re a little more grown up, but still young at heart which allowed sidewalk chalk, Adventures in Odyssey, and a group chorus of “Hachuna Matata” during rest period today. Their a little tougher to catch during Dare Base, but still young enough to think I’m cool.
The summer looks long from where I sit on June 21st, but I can thrive in spite of my introverted, often too-analytical self.
I can make decisions that help me adapt to an ever-changing environment.
I can take deep breaths.
I can learn flexibility.
I can make mistakes.
I can ask for what I need.
I can catch myself being good.
I can take my time.
I can accept who I am.
I can thrive.

Here’s what I’ve been learning this week at camp. Sorry I missed Father’s Day, wish I could’ve been there. Take care. Talk to you later.

Love,
Heather

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Margarite

Dear Mom and Dad,

I am both humbled and privileged to be a part of blind camp. How am I so lucky? How am I so blessed to interact with these campers for the week? I have much to learn and spending time with them only confirms it.

This summer I am sub-counseling. So instead of having one cabin of campers during the week, I rotate between a different cabin each day so that counselor can have her day off.

Monday I spent with the teenage blind campers. These incredibly mobile and energetic girls swap info on the latest rock bands and cell phones. They talk about boys and school. They also happen to be blind. Tabitha is known at camp for being a bit of a handful. She’s not ornery or mischievous; she’s blind and mentally disabled. Her words come slowly as the sentences and movements fight their way out of her small body. She sleeps on the floor beside my bed and requires much attention at the risk of seizures. At twenty-two years old there are only a handful of things she can do on her own. Yet, Tabitha thrives. She has her Top Three list of hot guys at camp. She laughs and cheers at the Audio Adrenaline song “Big, Big House.” She relishes her morning and evening cup of coffee.

Monday taught me patience.

Tuesday I spent with an older cabin. These women range in abilities from highly independent to barely sustainable. Each requires a different amount of attention. Suzanne lost her sight and her hair at age six due to a brain tumor. She calls herself a Navy brat as her father was in the military and she spent eight years living in Hawaii. She has been coming to camp every summer for eighteen years. Suzanne loves the jet ski, particularly if Jeremy’s driving. “The new driver’s okay, but I really need a ride from Jeremy.” When I informed her that Jeremy was my boyfriend, she told me she’d share him with me.

Tuesday reminded me to laugh.


I spent Wednesday with another adult blind cabin. Sue, a quite rambunctious and lively gal, drinks about 6 Coke’s a day to wash down at least 18 different medications by bed time. She complained before bed time of an upset stomach and the nurse brought her Pepto Bismol which she drank between handfuls of Fritos. Madonna volunteers and sings in the gospel choir at her church, fitting in stand-up comedy whenever she gets the opportunity. Sharon wears a hat fit for Gilligan’s island, smiles everywhere she goes, and calls me darling.
Wednesday opened my eyes to how some people adjust to living life, without complaint, even when I wouldn’t blame them if they did.


It continues to amaze me at the common thread among these blind campers: optimism. Yes, they are blind. Yes, they have a few struggles in a sight-dominant world. But they’ve accepted the situation and are making the best of it. I imagine that there came a point in each of their lives where they were handed two choices: get angry at their situation and die, or accept it and live.

I suppose we are handed these two choices just about every day. Will this situation pummel me or strengthen me? Can I endure or will I crumble? What can I do with these circumstances and make it out alive? May it be an incredibly ridiculous term paper or that car that pulls in front of you at the gas station as if they didn’t see you waiting the last ten minutes.

A few months ago I read Phillip Yancey’s book Reaching for the Invisible God. I was just walking through the library and the title jumped out at me. He had a lot of good things to say, but the most meaningful message was what Yancey wrote about arranged marriages. Westerners are not the majority when it comes to the methods by which we marry. Much of the world still relies on arranged marriages. I’m not necessarily advocating for arranged marriage because I am well aware that it can be harmful if not deadly in situations where there is marital rape or other abuse. But the analogy struck me.

In America we are quite picky when it comes to choosing a partner: Does she have blond hair? Does he make me laugh? Is she vegetarian? Does he snore? We pick and choose the qualities we desire and, most of the time end up dissatisfied, when the other person doesn’t fit our mold or—God forbid—changes. The resounding mentality in this situation is: Do I like this person? And when it comes to the alter: “I’ll stay with you until I get bored with you or I change my mind.”
It’s different in an arranged marriage. The partners are selectively chosen and whether he snores or she can cook only Ramen, they find a way to make it work. Instead of asking, “Do I like you?” the question is, “Given this partner, how am I going to make this work?”

Blind campers may say: “Given my circumstances, how am I going to get through life?”

In relationships: “Given this partner, how will we make this work?”

And with God: “Given this God (invisible, hard to hear, confusing, etc.), how am I going to make this work?”

Life is about choices. Sometimes I wish it was more about fate and miracles, but in the end, I cannot always change people, circumstance, time, or place, I can only change my reaction to them.
As Margarite sat at dinner last night, she put down her sandwich and stared at the ground, huffing and puffing.
“Are you doing okay?” I asked her.
Through clenched teeth, “If I don’t get outta hear, I’m going to punch someone.”
I quickly offered my arm to her and we paced the hallway outside the cafeteria. Margarite’s anger and frustration with another camper in the cabin had been building all week long. At this stage, she was about at boiling point.
“I’m sorry you are frustrated,” I told her. “I can see that you are angry. If we can’t change her, what can we do to help you get through the rest of the week?”

We brainstormed options like taking deep breaths and spending less time with that camper. I know as a blind person, Margarite, has had to adjust quite regularly to a world that doesn’t often mold to her. I can only hope for a similar response within myself.
Summer camp is only just beginning and I have many weeks ahead. Tell Trinket and Oscar, “Hello” (the dogs), and I’ll call you soon.

Love,
Heather

Annointing

Dear Mom and Dad,

Well, here I am at summer camp. We just wrapped up staff orientation week. I never considered myself the camp “type” and am still unsure what that means or if that is me, but either way, I’m learning, I’m growing, and the ride is about to begin.
Remember when I’d go away to camp as a cubby or a tween camper? I’d come home after seven days and it felt like my life had completely changed. I watched those cool college students accept me and challenge me. Well, now that is me and I feel completely unqualified.
Last night, the staff was led down to the water to take place in an anointing service. As we considered what we wanted to commit to God for the summer we were then supposed to put a dot of oil on each others foreheads. As the pastor finished the explanation and was about to set us loose, I just couldn’t help myself.
“Excuse me. I have a question,” I said. “I’m not sure I completely understand the symbolism of the oil and the anointing. I want this to be meaningful, but I don’t just rub oil on mine or anyone else’s forehead on a regular basis, so I was hoping you could explain a little more about what this is supposed to mean.”
Silence.
I like to think that standing there in the dark with 60 other people, I was not alone in my wonderings. I like to think that a few people let out a deep exhale. I like to think that someone else wanted to ask, but didn’t feel like they could. I like to think that, if anything, I can speak up for those who don’t yet feel comfortable doing so.
The pastor spoke up and began explaining why we were anointing each other, but didn’t really explain the historical or cultural reasons for smearing oil on our foreheads. We divided into our groups and I said, “I am glad for anyone of you that feel comfortable with this, but I don’t fully understand this process and since I want it to be meaningful, I think I’ll just sit this one out.”
The five others in my group stared intently at the ground before Jordan spoke up. “I’m with Heather. I don’t get this either. Frankly, I don’t get God, I don’t get Adventism, and I don’t get how putting oil on my head will make any of that more clear.” The rest of the group nodded in agreement. In the end some of our group prayed together. Some people spent time staring at the starry night sky. Jordan and I found a log and talked.
He told me about his own journey. He told me of his fears in leading young minds to a God he neither understands nor feels connected to. I can relate. Our biggest fears involve being a spiritual example to these campers without being fake or just saying what we “should.”
Last summer, the theme was Set Free. Free from our dirt. Free from what weighs us down and keeps us from God. Ding! Ding! Ding! Right up my alley. I shared very publicly with the staff, as well as a few hundred campers, each week about my own struggle: an eating disorder.
“You do realize,” Jordan told me, “that the only realize I am talking about this to you is because you’re so honest, right?”
I nodded.
He continued. “Last summer, you didn’t mess around. You didn’t beat around the bush. You didn’t try to be perfect or act like you didn’t have issues. That looked so liberating to me. I realized I was tired of pretending to be into this whole God-thing.”
I wanted to hug him. I encouraged him not to pretend. It’s not worth it. It’s not easy or comfortable, but it’s true. I told him that his version of spirituality will look completely different than a lot of people here, but that doesn’t make his version wrong, it just makes his spiritual walk different.
This may very well be a continuing theme for me throughout the summer: acknowledging that while my spiritual walk may be different, that doesn’t make it wrong. Yes, I want to continue learning. Yes, I want to be willing to listen. Yes, I want to grow and change and feel that this journey is authentic. But comparing kills. There is no positive result when I compare myself to other people who “seem” to have it all together. They don’t. I know they don’t.
I’m a bit overwhelmed and a bit nervous. But time stops for no one and I am no exception. Bring on the blind campers.

Love,
Heather

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Showing Up

Her puffy eyes opened forty minutes after her alarm went off. Ugh, why even get out of bed? Why bother? She slid her body over one side of the lump in the middle of the bed. Covering her head with the sheet she tried to pretend like the sun wasn't out, like she didn't need to get out of bed, and like she wasn't the same person who went to bed last night.

She dreamt another twenty minutes about being someone else, someone better. But then she awoke to the same girl, lying in the same bed, trying to wade through the same issues. After four years of learning to distinguish between the two voices in her head--truth and lies--she knew them well. The problem was that even though she had learned about the existence of the two voices and what each sounded like, she had a hard time listening to the voice of truth.

She slid her body out of bed her knees landing on the carpet first. Keeping her head low and her eyes closed, she came to a seated position, back leaning against the bed. True drunkenness had never entered her body, yet she imagined that morning-afters like this were the closest she'd ever get. Taking a deep breath she lumbered to the bathroom, toothbrush in hand.

"Oh, there you are, lazy bum. Did you finally decide to drag yourself out of bed?" the lies remarked snidely. "Ick! What happened to you? Puffy eyes? Bags under your eyes? Dark circles? Are you collecting zits now? You look like a monster."

"Thanks," she whispered.

"What? You act like I'm making this up. You act like I'm the only one who sees how you've let yourself go. You act like I'm the only one who thinks you look like a blurry convict mug shot," the lies continued.

"No, I get it, all right? I'm know I look awful. I know I feel awful. I know I'm a mess. I just don't really need your reminders. I'm doing quite fine on my own."

He scoffed at her almost-confidence, "Give it up, girl. You're a wreck. People may say they like you, but what their really thinking is, That girl's got issues. They feel sorry for you. You should too."

Leaning in a bit closer to her own reflection in the mirror, she poked and prodded at her skin imagining how much happier she'd be if she were pretty.

"Damn right!" he laughed. "If you were pretty. Ha. If."

Brushing her teeth, she peered out the bathroom window. A sunny day. Dangit. Somehow her crummy mood would be easier to justify is it was raining.

Brush. Spit. Rinse.

"You can't hide from yourself? No amount of make-up can cover up who we know you really are," the lies grinned at her. "You're still that girl with issues. You're still a problem."

The truth in her begged for a chance to talk, but she didn't even offer her the chance.

He continued, "You should just stay in bed today. Why would you dare step outside the way you look? You'll scare little children. Your boyfriend will be ashamed to be seen with you. People will only talk to you out of pity. I mean, let's be honest, you don't have much to offer this world. Just go back to bed."

"I am tired," she replied. "I guess, I'm not feeling great. I could play the Sick Card." As she laid on her bed, staring at the ceiling for answers, she remembered something her sister often reminded her, "We may not be flawless, but sometimes the best thing we can do is just show up for life."

Just showing up.

Yes, today she probably wouldn't feel beautiful or even tolerable, but she could show up.
She probably wouldn't feel incredibly energetic or fun, but she could show up.
She might not be at her best, but she could show up.

She slipped on a comfy, summer dress and some flip flops and started toward the door.

"Umm, where do you think you're going?" the lies piped up angrily.

She didn't turn around. While taking a deep breath seemed about the hardest thing to do in that moment, she did anyway and kept walking.

"Wait, I haven't even gotten to how fat your thighs are yet!?"

But she was gone.