A Place to Share
by Alicia Kaul
Dante: Speaks only in whines, would fight
the wind if he could see it, has an affinity for cuss words, and can tattle-tale
with the best of them.
DeQuandis: Sent home last year for fighting;
seems to have a fighting reflex instead of a gag reflex; teases; and bullies.
Andre: "Fights, steals, runs away, does
not respect authority, uses foul language, and lies . . . . " and
this is all according to his Grandma who filled out his camper information
Jamal: Fast and furious, will hit you and
be gone before you can turn around to see who it was. Then, he will look
you in the eye and deny hitting you in the first place.
Tyler: Looks sweet and innocent, but looks
can be deceiving. Sent home last year for fighting, mouths cuss words
to other campers while he's giving you a hug — as sneaky as they
Montrell: Follower, starts fights then tells
his older brother so he can finish off the fight for him.
Above is the playbill of kids in my group, but it would probably be
more accurate to call it their rap sheet, and below is the story of boys
learning to be boys.
For the last session of the summer, these six boys were assigned to
me. On the first day, working together, we created the Full Value Contract:
- No fighting;
- No name calling;
- Listen to your counselors;
- Respect each other;
- Don't touch each other's stuff; and
- Have fun.
Within the first three hours it was apparent that the kids were really
good at #6. Unfortunately, it meant breaking the first five rules to get
there. It was obvious that things needed to change, or this session would
be a wash and at least three of them would be sent home.
After the next morning meal, I wrote on a large sheet of paper several
rules, and I defined rewards for following these rules:
- We will be eating on the front porch until we have two meals in a
row where you can show respect to each other and your counselors.
- No Frogs. (A side note here is that my kids loved frogs and were
begging to get a tank and keep them in the cabin.)
- Lights out immediately after evening activity.
Each camper signed this paper, agreeing to these new rules and rewards.
I would like to say as soon as these rules were written my kids changed
their act, but that would be a blatant lie, it was a slow and painful
process. I was beginning to feel run down—eight days and I felt
I kept saying, "Just one of you, that's all I'm asking.
Just one of you step up and be respectful for an entire day." That
evening I got my wish; I got it six-fold. Each kid took that challenge,
stepped up, and showed respect. During the evening activity, my kids weren't
the ones causing trouble, they weren't fighting or cussing, my kids
were the ones listening and participating.
That night, we celebrated with a campfire. For the first time that session
I saw ten-year-old boys acting like ten-year-old boys. They were playing
with each other and talking about which superhuman power they would pick
if they could pick any.
My kids continued to be a challenge through the remainder of the eleven-day
session, and I continued to challenge them to change, to be leaders, and
make something of themselves. The day they left all six begged to stay.
What they were really begging for was an opportunity to remain ten-year
old boys, to feel safe, and loved.
I've written a new playbill for my cabin, it's the one I
sent home with them . . . .
The Last Act
Dante: It's a funny thing when you love something
you are terrified of (frogs), but Dante faced his fear and became a fearless
DeQuandis: DeQuandis would do something nice
and then quickly tell you he did something nice. The more positive attention
he received, the more he wanted to do nice things.
Andre: I told Andre he was like King Solomon
from the Bible. Andre had an insight and a brilliance I have never seen
before in any child.
Jamal: Jamal was pure energy, and best of
all his energy was contagious. He could make you laugh when laughing is
the last thing you want to do.
Tyler: Tyler had determination and drive,
if he truly wanted something, there was nothing that could stand in his
Montrell: Montrell had a twinkle in his eyes
all the time and would surprise you with a hug when you least expected
it. He was, by far, the saddest to leave camp.
These are my kids. Perfect they are not, but trying hard to change their
act is something they learned to do. To trust, to respect, and to love
— that is what my kids learned at camp.
Alicia Kaul is a registered nurse at Children's
Hospital of Wisconsin. She has spent the last five summers as a nurse
and/or counselor at Camp Helen Brachman in Almond, Wisconsin.
Originally published in the 2005 November/December
issue of Camping Magazine.