This past week I had the awesome opportunity to volunteer at a camp for children with cancer and their siblings, who often feel forgotten in the cancer experience.
I have to say, it was one of the most incredible weeks of my life. I got to be a counselor to little 6 year old girls and I fell in love with each of them so quickly.
There were 7 campers in my cabin, with two main counselors, a CIT (counselor in training), and me- the night counselor. The other part of my job was to serve as an activity helper in arts and crafts (which is pretty funny because I am not a crafty person). But it was cool because I got to hang out with all the other campers all day and got to know more kids than I would have if I were strictly a cabin counselor.
Although I loved my position as an activity helper it broke my heart every morning after breakfast when I had to say goodbye to the girls in my cabin to go and set up that days activity. Every time I left them they would say “Claire you are leaving us again?!” or “Claire can’t you just stay with us today?!”
Luckily I was never gone for too long, just a couple hours each day. Because spending time with those little six year olds was honestly life changing. There is so much to be learned from innocent little children.
None of the girls were currently undergoing treatment for cancer. There were two who finished treatment last year and the rest were siblings of cancer patients. We never really talked about that aspect of their lives. The point of this camp is to escape the realities of cancer. But even though I never got the whole story on any of the girls, I could see how it had changed their lives. Seeing that changed mine too.
I can’t post any pictures of them or even use their names (because of privacy issues) but I will tell you about each of the girls and their special traits that made me fall in love.
The Crazy One: It is impossible to say I had a favorite, but I am really going to miss this one. She had soooo much energy. At first, I was nervous about her being in my cabin. I knew it was going to be a tiring job looking after her but it turned out for the very best. I don’t know where or how a 6 year old caught on to sarcasm… but holy cow…. this little one was hilarious. I can’t tell you how many times she said something that made us counselors literally laugh until we had tears streaming down our faces. She was so quick and in the moment. Not to mention her smile took up her until face. Even if you didn’t hear what she had said, you couldn’t help but smile back because of her contagious grin. I wish I could follow her through her life and see what she accomplishes. She was always willing to try something new and think outside of the box. Which is perfect because she wants to become an artist. And we all know artists always have an interesting style about them. Well, hers was the fact that she was not afraid to get messy. The whole week she was playing in the dirt and getting food all over her face. I must say the permanent blue popsicle rim around her mouth made her huge smile that much happier.
Lesson learned: Always be yourself. There is NO ONE who can do it better.
The Young One: Even though overnight camp is for 6+, she got special permission to come as a 5 year old. And I am so happy she did because she was darn cute. And you know what else? A 5 year old can be OCD. How funny is that? I’m serious. She was the most organized kid I have ever seen. Every night she would say “Claire, come look at my bed!” And I would go over and admire her perfectly tucked blankets and little suitcase perfectly positioned in the corner of her bed. There was a time when she asked me to put her towel away for her and I sort of just threw it on top of her stuff and she looked up at me all flabbergasted and said “Woah… fold it up first!” Haha where did that come from? Only heaven knows. But I must say I got lucky because she was on the bunk on top of me. So I didn’t have much of a mess to deal with in my little area. Also, I could totally relate to her in the fear department. If you know me, you know I am terrified of birds. Well, she was terrified of bugs (which were all over camp). Every time she saw a moth or a spider she would come crashing into your legs, screaming for help. It’s weird to say, but it was kind of adorable. When I saw a bug before she did I felt responsible to get rid of it before she could see it and when we saw it at the same time I was ready to stay with her and comfort her until she felt better. It’s funny how we all have our fears.
Lesson learned: Passions are important and it’s okay to admit to our fears.
The Sweet One: Oh my lanta. This little one was a complete doll. She never rocked the boat and enjoyed the safe side of life. She was on a top bunk and it took her about 5 minutes to come down the ladder because she was so cautious about where she stepped. She loved having a hand to hold onto and someone to listen to her cute little stories in her sweeter than honey little voice. The funniest thing I saw her do all week was at superhero training she kept winning a game where she got to splash water on her opponent and at first she was so kind to be careful where she splashed the water but after she kept winning she starting gaining confidence and she did the best glory dance I have ever seen in my whole life. She was punching the air and jumping up and down with a grin that reached her eyes. Her little giggle was so adorable. She was seriously the epitome of childhood innocence. She was always the first to obey what we said. With her light blonde hair and fair skin she looked exactly like the true angel she was.
Lesson learned: You don’t need to be loud and proud to get attention.
The Homebody: I loved this little one with my whole heart. She came with her older sister and brother and those kids are the best of friends I have ever seen. I helped her and her siblings to their cabins the first day and the love they have for each other truly radiated. I didn’t know little kids could be so cordial to each other. They looked out for each one another and helped each other in all times. Seeing that was so uplifting. When she couldn’t be with her siblings, she clung on tight to me. I think I earned her trust by talking to her parents and assuring her everything would be okay. She never left my side. And I don’t know how she got so smart but she was insanely intelligent. Just the way she talked to me showed how smart she was. It made me sad because half way through the week she got really sick at night and was really homesick after that (which I do not blame her for one bit). She ended up leaving with her brother Thursday night. He had to be back Friday for treatment so her parents were there anyway. I know she could have stuck out the last day but I could tell how important it was to her to be with her family.
Lesson learned: Families are important. They are always there when you need them and they can be the best friends if you let them.
The Sassy One: Oh, how I loved her. She was so shy for the first half hour and then she became the most outgoing of the group. Just like The Crazy One, she made me laugh soooo hard alllll the time. I am going to miss her voice and her goofy laugh and her silly jokes. I love the way she strutted around and waved her tiny finger. But not only was she a sass master, she was a sweetheart and was the first one there when anyone needed help. When someone fell or was crying she was right there with them, offering to help and do whatever she could to make them feel better. She was more than willing to share anything that was hers and tried really hard to distract someone when they were feeling homesick. How does a 6 year old even know to do that? She amazed me and was more of a friend to me than a camper. During superhero training she made me laugh so hard when she was getting into a game and threw her hands in the air and declared “THIS IS MY WORLD!” Haha her confidence in herself was inspiring. I also think she should go into drama or something because she could put on any persona so well. Whether it is a renaissance woman or a valley girl or a selfless caretaker. She just has it all. Once she looked up to me with her hand out saying “Oh my my how I love you so” And then turned her hand just a bit and turned her gaze to a moth by my head and said “my giant moth friend so high in the sky”. Haha she laughed pretty hard about that joke she played on me and I couldn’t help but laugh along with her.
Lesson learned: Sassy and sweet is the best combination. EVER.
The One Everyone Loved: This blonde cutie was friends with everyone at camp. Everyone knew who she was and loved her so much. Not only that, but she loved her older sister so much. Every time she saw her she would go running to her and give her a giant hug and tell her how much she loved her. Although she could be stubborn and hard to motivate, she was so much fun to be around. She treated everyone with so much kindness and loved everyone. She appreciated everything you did for her and recognized a kind action. She got so excited when she got to pass out treats and brought bows for everyone in our cabin. One of the funniest things she said all week was when we were talking about boys having cooties she was like, boys don’t really have cooties and I said oh yes they do and she said hm, and thought for a while and then said “Well, only my grandpa…. And they are like this big!!” while holding out her hands. Hahahah I have no idea what she was referring to… but whatever it was is hilarious!
Lesson learned: If you love someone, show them.
The Quiet One: This one never spoke much, but she laughed a whole lot. She loved playing jokes on people, like hiding behind you or tapping you on the shoulder and looking away really fast. She was full of giggles and a little monkey because any chance she got to jump on your back, she took it. She was a sweetheart. She never got upset about anything and moved on from hard things really fast. I think that is such an important trait to have. She really understood that life is too short to waste time complaining or being angry at someone for offending you. Instead, she laughed it off and went off to do her own thing.
Lesson learned: Do what makes you happy.
And that’s all 7. They were all so different and that is what made each of them so special to me. I am going to miss them a lot. I am going to miss being responsible for them and making sure they are doing well and are happy. I am going to miss helping them do things, like reaching the soap in the bathroom, washing their hair, making sure they brush their teeth, being sure they eat enough food and helping them feel safe and happy. Although I have never been so exhausted from being on constant watch for 7 little crazies and putting 7 others needs ahead of my own, I have never felt more useful and important. It is fun to help others and nothing is more rewarding than seeing your hard work pay off in an innocent smile or hearty laugh. I am so grateful for this past week and the impact these little ones had on my life. I am thankful for this program that lets kids do things they normally don’t get to do due to their unique circumstances. It’s a good life and we should all make the most of it. Life is special and the mark we can leave with love is priceless.