Call it an emotional report card.
It was one of those moments that give you a reality check on how your kid really feels about you deep down.
I had just rounded the bend that led to her cabin at Camp Christopher, a residential campground in Bath Township. It was Saturday, and she had been gone for six days — the longest she had been separated from her mother and me during her eleven years on the planet.
I was busy running my mouth, so the little girl spotted me first and set upon me like a blur. As she screamed “Daddy!” while racing the fifty yards or so toward me, I noticed that she had a large black boot on her left foot and a sandal on her right.
She nearly bowled me over as she leaped into my arms and exclaimed “Daddy!” several times and hugged me tight.
She told me she missed me “so much,” and then shifted her weight, which was my signal to put her down.
Once on the ground, she stepped back, looked me up and down, and then spoke to a friend who had come running up behind her: “My dad has a hole in his t-shirt. Daddy, why are you wearing that shirt?” she asked, redirecting her gaze toward me.
I could only shake my head. That’s when I knew my loving moment was over. Now Faith was back to being a pre-teen.
My designer t-shirt, with the strategically placed designer hole in it, was fair game. Now, after being separated for a week, I had to stand there and listen while my gear was publicly critiqued by a sixth-grader wearing a rubber boot and a sandal.
It wasn’t until we got the girl to the car with all of her luggage — including the broken sandal that had been replaced by the boot — that I started to understand how a week away from the parents, how a week at a well-run camp, can change your kid’s perspective, if not their life.
Only after she did a rapid checklist of everything she had done during the week — the swimming, the hiking, the canoeing, the fishing, the archery, the zip-lining, the horseback riding, and the learning of more campground songs, cheers, and prayers than any kid she should learn in six days — did she finally get to the heart of her camping experience.
“Daddy, I know what I want to do now when I grow up,” she said about thirty minutes into our drive home.
“I want to work with mentally disabled people.”
The short statement that seemingly came out of left field momentarily stunned me.
The girl has told folks for years that she plans to become a singer, a writer, and possibly an attorney when she grew up.
But as we drove, I recalled that she had enthusiastically spoken to a mentally-challenged young man as we left the campground. She had called him by his name. They had exchanged high-fives with each other and smiled broadly as they departed.
“Why do you want to work with the disabled?” I asked.
“Because they seem so happy. It’s like they don’t know that they are disabled,” she responded.
“They’re always smiling. I like them.”
Camp Christopher accommodates children and young adults from all over the region. The diminished mental capacities of a few of the campers doesn’t subtract from the camp's potential to transform lives — it only adds to it in ways many might not imagine.
My little singer, writer, future lawyer now has an appreciation for others with whom she had never had much exposure with before. Her capacity for compassion has been expanded. We have the Catholic-run camp to thank for that. It clearly lived up to its motto: “Come grow with us.”
Only perhaps next year they might also teach her how to sew. I know just the shirt I’ll be sending with her.
Phillip Morris is a Metro Columnist for The Plain Dealer. He also blogs, discussing general interest topics with a focus, on Cleveland.com at www.cleveland.com/morris/.
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