Monday, June 27, 2011

Our Deepest Fear

We just finished up our second full week of camp. First week was blind campers AND cub campers and the second week was junior campers. This is the first summer that I've actually thought: "Oh, this is why people like camp so much!"

I think I've finally found a role that suits me (har, har) because I am now the pool director and NOT a counselor. Counseling was one of those things I felt like I was actually pretty good at and yet, I just didn't enjoy it. It was a bit too much intense group time for me. It wasn't just finding socks, applying bug spray, and getting everyone to bed at a decent hour, what most exhausted me was just the constant time with that many people for 7 days. It doesn't even matter who it was: if it was needy cub campers or a group of friends from school, I get my energy from being alone and there is not much of that in a camp environment.

I lean introverted. On the spectrum, I've got a lot of extrovert in me, but at the end of the day, I just want a few quite moments alone and I'm now in a position at camp where I can get that. Ahhhh!

I'm the youngest child in my family. I didn't really grow up with someone younger than me. Kids have always been somewhat of a conundrum to me and I'll admit my patience for them has been sparce. I enjoy the kids more and more as they get older. I have a hard time paying attention and holding valuable a conversation that revolves completely around Justin Beiber and peanut butter. What I have enjoyed about these weeks of camp is watching the development of girls.

As cubbies the girls are carefree and sweet and they want lots of hugs.
As juniors the girls are funny and silly and they cluster in groups and start to notice boys.
As tweens they've become more aware of what it means to be a "girl" and they spend more time in front of the mirror, more time talking about their bodies, and even more time pining after boys.
By teen camp, the girls are goners. They are SUPER aware of their appearance, their weight, their hair (and what they hate about it), their body (and what they hate about it), and what they should and should not eat (based mostly on what they've heard their mothers say).

Mary Pipher writes about this phenomenon in her book Reviving Ophelia. I'm reminded of it every summer. She talks about this incredibly saddening transition from girlhood to womanhood where only a few girls make it out alive (alive meaning, with their soul and sense of self-worth). At ten they're silly and daring and they want to go swimming and catch frogs. At thirteen they're shy and awkward and their spirit cowers in the shadow of the more ambitious and confident boys. I'm not saying this is true of all females ever, but it is overwhelming to me the prevalence of this shift as we go from week to week at camp.

Like Baylee. I spent one day this week subbing for the sports class because the instructor was on his day off and I taught the class last year. I asked Baylee, "Do you want to play basketball with us?"

She shrugged her shoulders, "No, they're all bigger and faster than me."

I pulled her aside, "Baylee, let me let you in on a little secret: there's a good chance (thanks to genetics) that some boys will always be a little bit bigger or faster than you, but I don't want that to keep you from playing. Come on, let's give it a try."

She did. She's a short and scrawny 9 year-old with glasses and she wore jeans, but she ran and shouted and leapt and dribbled as best as she could. At one point, I asked Hudson (one of the staff kids) to pass her the ball more and he did. In fact, every time his hands touched the ball, the next hands were Baylee's. He'd get it, kick it back to her, and she would clutch it with both hands, swing it low to her ankles and huck it high completing a beautiful Granny Shot. At least 18 tries later: it went in.

I wanted to cry. This is what I was blessed with as a kid. A few generous mentors (women, but mostly men) who gave me a shot, who told me that yeah, I could play sports. Who believed in me, if even for five minutes of their time, and that made all the difference.

If anything, in my limited role with these girls, I want them to feel that too.

At meal times I intentionally correct them when "good" and "bad" begin to enter their vocabulary surrounding food: "You are neither 'good' nor 'bad' for eating this ice cream. Look, I'm eating it and I don't feel guilty or 'bad' at all!"

At the pool, I stop body bashing language at the door: "This is a safe place. If you want to attack your perfectly designed bodies, you'll need to stay outside. But I'd appreciate it if you'd only talk well of yours and each others appearance."

On the Darebase field, I encourage the girls who are out there giving it their best and I hope they can see that girls can play hard and compete just like the boys.

These are little things, but I know they made a difference to me and I hope they make a difference to them. No, not every girl is giving up by not playing sports, we've all got our interests and our strengths. But I think it's incredibly important to positively intercept this stage in their lives when they're are asking, "Who am I to be?" and to replace fear with hope.

And Marianne Williamson says it best:

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be: brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."


Ruth Ibuado said...

Heather! I'm glad your summer is going great :) I really enjoyed reading this post and I wanted to thank you for being such an inspirational writer. It's nice to read something of substance and meaning these days. Also it was really good to hear your voice on the phone last week. Tell everyone at camp I said hi :)

kessia reyne said...

That's awesome, Heather. I love this vision. I want to be that countercultural voice for my nieces and nephews, for my Juniors SS class, for all the children and teens in my circle of influence.

We CAN de-legitimize the critical and misogynistic and appearance-obsessive voices-- I know we can because somehow along the way, some people did that for me.