Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The First "First Day"

I always say that the best part of my summer job as a camp director is bearing witness to the moment that a child falls in love with camp.  It is, truly, a magical moment. 

The other amazing part (and privilege) is watching that child grow up and bearing witness to the change he or she has upon the rest of the world. 

This is Katie.  She is the human, of course.  I'm sure I have clearer, better pictures of Katie, but this just happens to be one of my favorite pictures of her because I think it encompasses who she truly is and has always been: loving, kind, and generous.
Katie is a kid that I've known as a camper, Counselor-in-Training, Junior Counselor, Senior Counselor, and, for the last two summers, as one of the CIT Directors.  In every one of those roles, she has been the same: loving, kind, and generous.  And incredible.

And, tomorrow, she'll be a second grade teacher.  An incredible second grade teacher, I might add.

So, my Katie-did, as you begin your very first day in this new career, I want you to remember something.

You are more equipped for success than 90% of the teachers in the field.  You have lived with your classrooms for years, surrounded by a tribe of dirty-faced, question-filled, needy (and sometimes whiny) children for weeks at a time.  You've taught them to chop vegetables and cook over an open fire.  You've hiked and played and explored and prolem-solved in the 110 degree heat.  You've held the hands of countless homesick children, dried their tears, and found a place for them to belong.  You've explained the multi-step mysteries of the shower to dozens of clueless 7 year-olds.

Reading and fractions can't be much more difficult.   

Tomorrow, seventeen tiny faces will stream through your classroom door.  You will probably not feel ready, but believe me, little one, you are.  You've been ready for this since the first day I met you.

Tomorrow will fly by before you know it.  As a teacher, your life will be filled with a great number of "first days of school", but you will only have one first "first day".  Savor it.  Whether things go perfectly (they won't) or completely fall apart (they won't), it will be a day unlike any other.  And this is the beauty of teaching... every day, every moment, is a brand new chance for the best day ever.

Those 17 faces?  They will wear you out.  They may drive you crazy, even.  Remember: that's every kid's job.  So what do you do?  Love them.  Be kind to them.  Be generous with your time and attention and spirit.  I know you will because that's who you are, sweet friend.  It's who you've always been, and they are going to adore you for it.  They will be, I predict, the luckiest 2nd graders in the state of Oklahoma.

Have the best, most wondrous, first "first day" ever, Ms. Krambeer.  And then, maybe a drink and a nap.  You're gonna need it.

I love you, kiddo, and I'm so very, very proud of you.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Waiting For Inspiration

Hey, friend.

Remember me?

I didn't leave you forever.  I've just been busy.  And tired.  Really tired.

But I'm still here, waiting to be inspired.  Waiting for something to write.  But nothing amazing seemed to happen for a while, so I have just been waiting.  And waiting.  And waiting.

You know that feeling, don't you?  That emptiness -- that loneliness -- that comes with waiting?  If there is a Hell, I'm sure it will not be a pit of fire; it will be a waiting room.  Or the line at the DMV.  Nevertheless, it will be a feeling of doom, underscored by the lilting insanity of elevator music and boredom.

But today, I was asked to list the interesting things I've done this summer.  (It was the first day back to school for teachers, and, inevitably, whether you are 13 or 35, this is the first assignment.  Teachers... we never change.)  I panicked as I stared across at someone who I knew had traveled and lounged and done "interesting" things for the past 2 months.  What would I say?  "I worked.  At camp.  I slept a coma-like sleep on every break."  Believe me, exhausted comas do not equal "lounging".  It took me a few minutes, but I eventually came up with a couple of answers.  I still wasn't happy, and the question nagged at me the entire drive home.  It itched my brain while I shopped for sneakers, waited on my take-out, and priced refrigerators online.

Only now, hours later, do I realize what I wish I'd said.

  • I worked at camp.  All summer.  It was exhausting and stressful.
  • I worked at camp.  All summer.  It was exhilarating and full of renewal.
  • I watched my best friend's son spend his first 2 nights at camp.  He only stopped loving his counselor, activities, and friends long enough to hug me twice.  Well... once.  I stole the second, fair and square.
  • I saw my favorite campers -- kids I've known since they were 8 --  graduate from the C.I.T. program and then come back as junior counselors. 
  • I spent 49 days working alongside my third generation of camp friends.  They are the most dedicated, supportive, and talented groups of people I've encountered in a long time.  Well... since my 2nd generation at least.
  • I watched children from all over the world -- literally, from Mexico to the Czech Republic to England to China -- fall in love with the magic of camp.
  • I laughed.  My God, I laughed.
  • I cried.  My God, I cried.
  • I busted kitchen raids.
  • I narrowly escaped the clutches of Grandaddy Raccoon during one of his late night dumpster dives.
  • I lured the camp dog out for a swim in the lake -- much to the delight of the canoeing class.
  • I sang beautiful songs, with wonderful friends, on a gentle breeze by the light of a dying campfire.
  • I sang loud and silly songs, with wonderful friends and giggling children by the roar of a fresh fire.
  • I saw children become more than a stereotype. 
  • I saw children without a home find the home they never expected.
  • I witnessed friendships forged, stronger than steel, and bridges burn with the spark of regret.
  • A circle completed itself as one of my campers from my cabin at grief camp became a counselor at the same camp, fifteen years later.  Her healing helped to heal another cabin of litle girls.
  • I waved goodbye to one friend to finish his bachelor's degree, one to finish his doctorate, and one to ready her very first classroom. 
  • I prayed that they won't be gone for long.
  • I spent far too long from another best friend's children this summer, only to be welcomed back into their home with squeals and giggles and kisses from their grown-up faces.
  • Just days ago, I saw another friend's son, one of my favorite miracles, walk to me with steps that were never guaranteed.
  • I cried about that one too.
  • And I read.  I read 14 books this summer, and I've got about 24 more on the stack.
But I didn't write because I didn't feel inspired.  Man, sometimes I'm blind.  And dumb.  And tired of waiting.