Tuesday, November 8, 2016

#428 Parea

This past August was my fourth year volunteering for a week at The Hole In The Wall Gang Camp (see Post Nos. 351, 382 and 405). 

This summer’s theme was Parea.  In Greek culture, a “Parea” is a group of friends who gather together to share their experiences about life, their philosophies, values and ideas. 

I had a multitude of things going on and had to choose a week in August that coincided with two of my favorite summer events – the Indiana State Fair and the Olympics.  I was ok about the fair and more bummed I’d miss a week of the Olympics.  I got over it. 

I had a surprise after checking in– I was assigned to a boy’s cabin!  I’ve always had girls.  I’ve loved my girls, but was a bit excited about the boys.  I usually stay in LuLu’s Lodge anyway (last year I stayed in the doctor’s housing) so that was not different.  I did sleep in one night in our unit’s girl’s cabin (more on that later).  I am a tomboy at heart so hanging with boys was right up my alley.  And I always joke that I have the humor of a 12-year old boy so I knew I would fit right in.

My cabin had nine boys aged 10-11 years old.  I got along well with all of them, but there were a few I connected with.  After cabin chat, maybe the third night, I made my way around the bunk room saying goodnight and then headed toward the door.  One of them called my name and said that I’d missed saying goodnight to him.  Oh no!  They have the option of giving us a high five, fist bump or a hug goodnight.  I figured the boys would not be huggers, but they were very sweet and after the first night, most wanted hugs. 

Love the purple unit!
One afternoon I had a blast in the music studio with one of my boys who played the drums to “Get Lucky.”  (Each kid could sing or play an instrument in the sound studio and they’d record them and give them a CD.)  Let’s just say, my boy didn’t know that he didn’t know how to play the drums.  That’s how it should be – you do something with pure joy and no thought of whether you’ll be any good.  I had so much fun seeing everyone explore their musical interests.  He also performed at Stage Night, complete with shades and a purple poncho from that afternoon’s Expro. 

Another highlight of the week was that tennis was part of the programming for sports and recreation.  There are tennis courts at camp but I’ve never seen them used.  Four years ago, a husband and wife started traveling from Florida one week during the summer to teach tennis to the kids.  I finally hit the right week!  I was able to join in one afternoon and thoroughly enjoyed it.  I overheard the husband say that if any camper says tennis is their favorite activity, they will give that camper a free adult racquet on Awards Night.  I passed along this tidbit to one of my boys and he got his free racquet (and thanked me for letting him know). 

I haven’t had many (if any) lowlights at camp.  Yes, we’re on the clock 24-7, but we get some breaks and we’re at camp, so we’re having fun.  However, I had perhaps my worst night sleeping in a cabin during this week.  I only mention it because it was so awful it was hilarious. 

Each volunteer counselor signs up to sleep one (or more) night in their cabin’s bunk room.  Since my cabin was boys, I had to take my turn in my unit’s lone girls’ cabin.  I didn’t know the girls by name and arrived after my boys’ cabin chat, so it was around 10:30 p.m. and they were already in bed.  I can never sleep in the cabins anyway, so I lay in bed hoping to get a little bit of sleep.  When I started to kind of fall asleep I felt a tap on my arm.  One of the girls stood over me and said, “I just threw up in the bathroom.”  Oh.  My.  Word.  This is my WORST nightmare.  I have a horrible gag reflex and was not looking forward to my reaction once I smelled the puke. 

The girl said she probably ate too much at Carnivarty.  (Carnivarty is a carnival and a party, and the kids play games and eat cotton candy, cupcakes, etc.  They give them snack tickets to limit what they eat, but you know how that goes.)  (Note to self – don’t sign up to sleep in the cabin the night of Carnivarty.)  She told me she felt better so I sent her back to bed while I tried to figure out how to clean up.  She just missed the toilet (of course) so I used an old mop and bucket (the kind that wrings out) I found in the bathroom closet.  Except that the bucket wringer didn’t work and the mop just pushed around the puke.  This is where the hilarity starts.  Picture me with my left hand holding my T-shirt over my face and my right hand/arm awkwardly trying to mop up vomit.  Oh yeah, I’m also dry heaving.  I finally made headway after finding some paper towels and Windex.  Thankfully, I also had gloves.  It was pretty much cleaned up when I turned around and saw her COMING BACK and vomiting on the common room floor (right in front of the bathroom door).  You have GOT to be kidding me. 

By this time, the other volunteer counselors woke up and sprang into action.  We got the girl to the infirmary and cleaned up the second mess.  When I finally got back into bed it was around 2 a.m.  I think she woke me at 12:45 a.m.  My heart was beating so hard I don’t think I slept the rest of the night.   

Luckily the next morning was the beginning of my time off, so I could have a fresh start and put the puke behind me.  We get an eight-hour block of time off during the week, so after breakfast, I drove to Newport, Rhode Island to visit the International Tennis Hall of Fame.  So cool!  It was a beautiful, sunny day.  I couldn’t resist stopping to take a picture of the Rhode Island sign (“Rhode Island is neither a road, nor an island.  Discuss.”) 

The grounds of the International Tennis Hall of Fame
As always, it was a fun and rewarding week.  I met new friends (my co-volunteer counselors Rob and Dennis, who is Bradley Cooper’s cousin) and saw old friends (Kathy and her daughters Annie and Grace, who were in my cabin/unit last year).  I even saw some girls from my past years (three were senior campers!).  And then there’s my boys.  They were a hoot!  They wanted to do stuff!  This was the first year that I enjoyed Carnivarty!  The girls usually stand around and don’t want to do anything and it seems to last forever.  This year Carnivarty flew by with the boys playing putt putt and wanting to try all the games. 

After each tennis session, the volunteer instructors passed out a plastic courage badge to each participating camper.  One of my boys, who is not particularly athletic, tried tennis during our sports and rec afternoon.  As we walked to dinner, I mentioned his cool courage badge.  His response?  “You know courage in itself is more valuable than any Olympic medal.”  Heavy stuff for a 10-year-old. 

That sums up my week at camp.  Camp is all about courage.  Courage for the parents to let their ill child go away for a week and be taken care of by strangers.  Courage for the campers to be away from their friends and family.  Courage for the camp staff to take on the huge responsibility of caring for the campers.  Courage for the volunteers to give up a week’s vacation to play with/serve the campers. 

But look at what you get in return for that courage!  The parents get some much-needed time for themselves and possibly their other children.  The campers learn that they are not alone in their struggles.  Best of all, they can just be kids and have FUN.  The camp staff and volunteers give out a lot of love, but it is nothing compared to the love they/we get back from the kids. 

It took no small amount of courage for Paul Newman to put his idea of camp into action.  After almost 30 years, it’s still raising a little hell.  I may have missed a week of the Olympics, but what I gained was much more valuable.   

Comparing hands with one of my boys.

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