When I went to summer camp, the counselors talked about camp magic. There were special days like Pirate day when everyone wore bandanas and eye patches and whatever else we could scrape together, and competed on teams, although it was more about being silly and having fun than competition. There were raids, like the one where some boy counselors moved the entire contents of the dining hall outside to the flag pole, and we had breakfast altogether in the cool air and the morning sun. There were barbeques and fireworks on the Fourth of July, spontaneous girls’ side dances, and evening activities like Friday night ice cream socials. There were bonfires and skits and camper and counselor stunt nights. I remember the first time I captained a sailboat by myself, and when I got up on water skis. All of these moments added up to plenty of magic, and memories.
As campers, we had very little idea that everything was planned and orchestrated by the counselors and staff. Now I realize that those counselors worked hard to make those experiences, that magic, happen for me.
When I was 12 years old at camp, my counselor was this wonderful woman named Barb. She was not the most popular counselor on camp, but she was very special. Every night instead of rushing to check out and get to see her other counselor friends, she would stay back and read Jonathan Livingston Seagull out loud to us. Every night we heard about how Jonathan would fly above the ocean as we listened to the gentle sound of the Chesapeake Bay outside our tent. Every night we listened with rapt attention to the story, and fell asleep with Jonathan soaring in our heads.
One morning late in the summer, Barb woke us before the morning bell. She roused us from sleep, told us to get dressed, and to bring a bathing suit and a towel. She took the seven of us 12-year-old giggling girls in the camp van to breakfast at the local diner, and then for a beach day near the Bay Bridge. She had arranged packed lunches so we could eat sandwiches and drink sodas while we lounged in the sun. We all had such a blast that day. I have pictures taken with a Kodak disposable camera of us laughing and playing and talking on that beach. Selfies before they were called that of our sunburnt, happy faces. On the way back to camp, we even stopped for peach milkshakes.
That day was pure magic. I will never forget it. And I will be eternally grateful to Barb, wherever she is, for giving me and my friends such a distinct and happy memory of my childhood. I wish I could find her and tell her what an impact she had on me. That I appreciate her efforts for magic. That she succeeded in creating it for me and my friends in the bunk. That I recognize what she did for us in making these memories.
When I turned 16, I became a Junior Counselor. I was put in charge of a group of young girls, and I had little very little guidance or training about how to handle my new responsibilities. Looking back on it I feel I did just an ok job. It was a hard transition, and I still wanted to be at camp for me. I was selfish. I wanted my fun. I didn’t understand that the camp magic had to come from me. That it was my job to make camp special for the next generation of campers. Some counselors used to joke on days when they were stressed or burned out that the magic was gone. It was never gone. We just had to make it happen.
I don’t think I really got all of this until I had kids of my own. Now I see that we parents/camp counselors/grownups are the real magic makers. Because kids only get one childhood, so why not make it as magical as possible? It’s up to us, the adults, to make our children’s childhood special, wonderful and filled with awe. Make the chocolate chip pancake breakfasts on Sundays. Surprise them with a note from the tooth fairy. Keep the Elf on the Shelf and Santa Claus alive. Take them into the backyard on a starry night. Explore with them on a bike ride. Go to fireworks on the Fourth of July and watch it all through their eyes. Read a special book with them. Surprise them when you can with a trip to the zoo or a day at the beach. Delight them with a morning snuggling in bed watching a movie, or a pajama day on the weekend. Make memories and traditions and special snapshots for them to hold onto when they are older.
Sure Disney World is a magical place. We went there when I was a kid, and I have many vivid memories of our trip. But I also remember tending to the garden in our backyard with my mom, or sitting on the porch with her and my siblings during a fantastic thunderstorm, watching the lightning light up the sky. I remember going to a baseball game with my dad on a beautiful spring day, or riding on the back of his motorcycle and skipping stones into a pond. It’s about the time you spend, and the effort you put into it.
On cold nights in our house when all homework is done, we sometimes gather in our living room around a fire. Our two older kids play guitar and we all sing along as best we can. And when I’ve thought of it ahead of time and have the ingredients on hand, we make s’mores.
It takes work. It takes effort. It takes planning. But we are the magic makers. And we’ve only got this one shot.
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