By Tommy Gagliano
I have been working at a summer day camp on Long Island for the past three summers. The pay is awful, parents don’t tip enough (if they tip at all), the kids are annoying, there are bugs everywhere, we’re often short-staffed, and I love every minute of it. I’m probably the only college student ever that hates having to leave their job to came back up to school at the end of August. For my first two summers, as well as my two years as a CIT (counselor in training) before that, I worked primarily with younger kids, ages three to seven. Last summer, however, I was the counselor for the middle school kids, ages ten to thirteen. This was obviously a pretty drastic adjustment for me, and I learned a lot in the process. I have a plethora of stories from my time at camp, but I would need an entire issue to myself to write about them all, so I’ve picked just a few to share with you. Part 1 will probably make you laugh. Part 2 will probably make you cry. Enjoy.
Part 1 – Kids Say The Darndest Things
Let’s start off with something funny. Halfway through my first summer working at camp I started documenting the hilarious things my kids would say. Here are some direct quotes from my campers, presented without comment:
“If you don’t poop your pants you can’t come to camp!” ~ 6-year-old male
“How do you spell DNA?” ~ 7-year-old male
“Boo Hillary Clinton! She’s so hairy!” ~ 6-year-old male
“I saw my mom’s penis once, it was so weird! It was like flat.” ~ 6-year-old male
“Is this a weed leaf?” ~ 5-year-old male
Camper (5yo): “I’m a frog!” Counselor: “What sound does a frog make?” Camper: “Oink!”
“Can you untie my girlfriend? She’s tied up in my basement.” ~ 6-year-old male
“I hate everything in the world except God.” ~ 5-year-old male
“I just want to have lunch, and then drink all day.” ~ 6-year-old female
And finally, my favorite: “Why are there locks on the bathroom? That’s ridiculous! Who would want to steal something from a bathroom?” ~ 6-year-old male
Part 2 – Unexpected Gaga Ball Champion
This story happened the second week of camp this past summer, and I’m still not over how incredible it was. It’s long, but trust me, it’s worth the read. There was a kid with autism in my group (we’ll call him Bobby, which is not his real name) that came for two days. He has an individual aid at school and it is fairly obvious to the other children that he is “different” than they are. I was worried about it since middle school kids can be cruel, and we had issues the previous week with campers using the word “retard” as an insult and making jokes about being “special”. I’d also heard nothing but awful things about this age group, including that they’re rude, disrespectful, and mean to each other.
The first day he was at camp was a Thursday. In the morning we played 4 square. The whole group (about 10 kids) played on one court, so there was a line waiting to play when someone got out. Ryan (not his real name) quickly made it to the serving box. Ryan is kind of like the “leader” of the group. He’s by far the most athletic camper, and he’s been going to camp longer than anyone else. He’s also friends with everyone. Ryan eliminated people until Bobby was in the box next to him. He then gently served it to Bobby, who hit it back to him. He “missed” the ball, and Bobby moved into the serving box. Ryan said “good job”, gave Bobby a high five, and went to the back of the line.
After lunch we played gaga ball, which is a game that is very competitive, and usually taken very seriously. (Gaga ball is an every-man-for-themselves game that is similar to dodgeball, but you have to smack the ball into people’s legs instead of throwing it at them.) Before we started I noticed Ryan whispering to two other campers. Fairly early on Bobby was eliminated. Ryan and the two campers he was whispering to then began targeting the camper that got Bobby out, and encouraged others to as well. Ryan had obviously planned to protect Bobby, and help him win. By the beginning of the next game the message had spread to all of the campers in the group. They all tried to get each other out, but worked together to make sure Bobby stayed in. Everyone cheered for Bobby from the sidelines once they got out. Eventually there were only two campers remaining – Bobby and Ryan. Bobby hit the ball towards Ryan, who was “unable” to get out of the way in time. Bobby won. Everyone clapped and cheered for him. He danced around, and had a huge smile on his face. The same thing happened the next game. Bobby was ecstatic. He told me he “can’t believe it”, and “maybe I am good at sports!” I’ve never seen a child that happy before. He was so excited to tell his mom at the end of the day too.
Ryan continued to help Bobby in various athletic activities the rest of the day Thursday and on Friday. I brought in candy for everyone on Friday, and let them know that although they don’t have to do that every time, and it’s their activity to enjoy too, what they did was really awesome, made Bobby really happy, and I was very proud of them. I already had my doubts, but that day confirmed it for me – everything I’d been told about that age group was a lie. They are all great people that care a lot about each other – the other staff members had just mistaken their middle school sense of humor for rudeness and malice.
I can’t wait to return to camp next summer. I’m dreading the day I get a real job and can no longer work with my awesome campers. Maybe next year I’ll have more summer camp stories to share. Good luck with classes everyone, have fun, and always remember, “If you don’t poop your pants, you can’t come to camp.”