Dear Chippewa Parent,
Remember the Tasmanian Devil? That was that Looney Toons guy that spoke in grunts, spun like a vortex, ate everything in sight and was somehow calmed by the sound of basically any kind of music (the random exception being bagpipes if I’m remembering correctly… I vaguely recall an episode where he smashed one over Daffy duck’s head). Now Tas is not to be confused with Wile E. Coyote. He was a whole different form of chaos. He was the speedy one that would create those brilliant and elaborate ACME traps for catching Bugs Bunny, only to lose focus for a split second, consequently turning the same upon himself. Different metaphor, but I’m sure I could find a personal connection with that one too if I really wanted. Back to Taz… He is my end of summer metaphor. The music has begun and all is calm. Every year these curtains drop down like a ton of bricks, and the heavy calm that follows brings on a healthy combination of relief, sadness, peacefulness and even some residual anxiousness. Typically a couple weeks pass and we’re ready to do it all over again. This year, however, I may welcome a few extra minutes…
Beneath the Glitter
My end of the season letter is typically filled with glowing recollections and glittery reflections of the perfect and magical summer that we all just experienced. I like to touch on the love that our community shares with one another, and how life lessons learned here will carry our campers well into the future. I like to reminisce about glowing campfires and the roasting of perfect golden marshmallows. Frankly, I’m usually trying to cover you with a fuzzy blanket of summer camp bliss and tranquility, floating on your tippy toes like Pluto the dog sniffing out a sizzling pork chop in his sleep. Now all of those great things that I just described do remain wonderful and true of course, but this summer made apparent that the real success that camp delivers cannot simply be defined by a shiny glittery cheek or a wrist filled with friendship bracelets. Often times the seeds of success are grown from the grind. Zig Ziglar said that “difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations.” I like that because the metaphor highlights the journey, not just the beginning and the end. The road will lead to a beautiful destination, but first it’s going to be a bumpy ride and drinks are gonna spill on the seats and stain the leather. Someone else will get to choose the music and you’ll be stuck listening to the same 18 songs on Yacht Rock Radio for five hours straight. People will get bored and nauseous. Tummy aches will occur and the car will inevitably smell like stale McDonalds for the next two weeks (even if you only ate Subway). With that checklist of fun in mind you may actually want to reconsider the trip altogether, but that would detract from my point. What I am getting at is that the most rewarding results come from the deepest experiences, and those are what we strive to deliver at camp. They are not all going to be glowing either. Your daughter did not necessarily come home with a gold metal from her time with us. in fact, she may have come home with a rash. What she DID do, however, was live like a novel for the past four to eight weeks, and her storylines ran deep. That I can promise. Each chapter took her to the next level and helped her to size up into a stronger version of herself. We were definitely disheartened by the pain that we saw come through our gates this summer. Girls were hurting in a way that we have never experienced here, and it became abundantly clear that we had our work cut out for us.
Slightly Off Key
Have you ever listened to someone sing a song that was just slightly off key? Many of our campers came to camp just a little bit like that. It was as though someone had attempted to tune a guitar but ignored the high E string, creating an almost perfect sound, but also totally dissonant. When COVID-19 came crashing down on everyone’s everything, it hit so hard that it shook most of us to our core, and then it kept shaking for months on end. It’s reasonable to assume that this impact created an intense emotional disruption for so many of our campers, and the simple act of pulling through our gates was not going to be enough to reverse so many months of confusion and sadness. Thus began the aforementioned grind.
Our counselors are truly remarkable people. We hired them with the understanding that they too were coming out of a painful and complicated existence. They gladly accepted camp’s anticipated challenges, and there were times when I was literally overcome by what I saw from them. They came with nothing but a degree in “Life as a Teen,” and they truly delivered in so many ways. They knew how to talk, and they knew when to listen. They knew to seek help when the challenges were too great, and they gave their campers all of themselves while navigating their own complex journeys. Odds are decent that your daughter wants to come back to camp in 2022, and these counselors are in large part why that is. In the best of times their jobs are difficult, but this past summer truly put them to the test. It didn’t matter if they were working in the kitchen, healing in the health center or mentoring in a cabin. Everyone had a role to play in the 2021 experience, and in no uncertain terms they succeeded without shortcuts. Hats off to this staff. Full stop on that.
We Kept the Water Out, But We Still Got Wet
Our industry got a run for its money this summer. The pandemic has been hard on all of us, but for the average American summer camp every single day became a challenge in perseverance. Camps like Chippewa are old boats, and the demands brought on by this past summer would test the integrity of every seam and hatch below deck. We kept the water out, but we still got wet. Perhaps the most ironic and notable challenges came out of our health center this summer. We have become COVID-19 specialists here at Chippewa. We had the best testing in place and we had staff who knew how to administer those tests with near perfection. We had designated facility spaces for managing outbreaks. We had great nurses and telemedicine pediatricians in our corner. We had a vast playbook representing countless hours of preparation and planning. We had policies and procedures in place that kept the virus from making its way into our bubble. We were indeed COVID-19 free this summer… but that turned out to be the easy part. Kids make contact with viral pathogens all the time. They may not get sick from them, but the exposures build a defense against future encounters. Mask wearing and distancing over many months protected them in a number of ways, but created new vulnerabilities in others. For Chippewa this presented in the form of what we assumed was some other coronavirus, plus a mysterious stomach bug and even the impetigo that a number of our campers went home with the other day. There was actually nothing all that unusual about our operation this summer, but we felt the effects of a somewhat vulnerable population exhibiting decreased protection against illness in a congregate living environment. Bottomline, we avoided COVID-19, but still faced our share of health complications. Sadly, with children going back to masks this Fall we are likely to see more of this in other settings.
I have no idea what the next year is going to bring in terms of masks, distancing, programming limitations and other disappointments, but we as a society need to consider the implications of how we structure this winter for our children. So many came to camp socially and emotionally off track, but some also exhibited a new found sense of invincibility. This presented in a number of ways, but one was absolutely behavioral. We did maintain a controlled albeit empathetic policy this summer when it came to poor behavior. Next summer, however, we will need to be much less tolerant. Children need structure and they need discipline when necessary. The pandemic’s implications on our kids (disproportionate and unfair as they may continue to be) should not lead to the loosening of the core structure and routines that make them feel safely protected within the guardrails of society and the home. There is no logical correlation between the hardship of a child sitting in school all day with a mask on and the loosening of structure elsewhere as a result. One does not compensate for the other, and most children would never draw that connection anyway. To them the reward is simply an AND not an AND THEREFORE.
Every summer we have a theme and a special coin to go along with it. Your camper will have received one if you would like to see it. This summer our theme was Hope Rises, and the coin’s symbol featured a Phoenix rising from the ashes stronger than she was before. Everyone has their moments, but I truly believe that our campers will come out of this rough time with a new found strength, and a new sense of determination and grit. Since the beginning of this pandemic I have been repeating the same thing to our camp community: The longer this takes, the stronger we’ll be when we come out on the other side, and there will be an other side. Our campers are incredibly lucky to have parents willing to send them to camps like Chippewa. Camps like ours are expensive and they force distance and independence that can be hard on a parent (especially now). Having said that, the independence that they learn at camp will help them to mold into an adult who is responsible and self-sustaining. At the end of the day that is something that Lisa and I desperately want for our own girls because we know that we will not be around forever to guide their every move. The idea is to provide them with an organized set of tools, a compass to show the way and a level for maintaining perspective and balance (We want that little yellow bubble to remain between the two lines.) At the closing campfire I explained to our campers that the Fall may bring some more discomfort and some new challenges. I reminded them that how they responded to those challenges would be a choice. They could choose to be sad and upset. They could choose to gravitate toward discontent and anxiety, OR they could choose courage. They could choose to press on strong and confident.
My hope is that your daughter enjoyed an incredibly rewarding summer with us at Chippewa. The stakes were high and we knew that going in. I hope that she tried new things and made new friends. I hope that she loved most of our programs and was happy with the food. I hope that she learned from her counselors and developed new life skills. I also hope that on occasion she had to tolerate and overcome difficult moments with other campers. I hope that she was forced out of her comfort zone, and that she had to navigate other food options if she didn’t like the main course. I hope that she was occasionally faced with the cold shower and even got to plunge a toilet from time to time (regardless of who clogged it). I hope that when she missed her family she found comfort in the friends and counselors around her, and that she leveled up from that experience. I hope she felt like she was part of a beautiful and loving community. I hope that she got some dirt under her nails.
The summer of 2021 was incredibly challenging, but I am currently the best camp director that I will ever be because of it. Thank you for making this summer possible. I trust that we were able to deliver the experience that you and your daughter had hoped for, and we can’t wait to see her back at camp in 2022 with a cheek coated in glitter.
Just think of how strong she’s gonna be by then…