We went to camp last weekend. It was 20 kinds of wonderful with whipped cream and sprinkles.
Something happens to Selam when she’s there. She is just home, in a way that no other place (except for our home) is home for her. We were in the dining hall a mere two minutes when she left my side, and began making the rounds, greeting all the adults that she knew, and a few that she didn’t. I was still talking with another adult when they started serving dinner. I turned around, and there was Selam, standing in line with a yellow plate and confident air. After the meal, she jumped into the center of the dining hall floor and alternately danced alone and played trucks with Will. A familiar counselor picked her up to twirl her around the floor (is there anything more delicious than being pulled up off your feet?) and she squealed with delight. I was catching some photos of this when a different counselor–one I’ve never seen did the same, and she just as happily leaped into his arms. At the campfire, she broke free and wiggled to the front row, making frequent excursions to the back for snuggles from me. She is just home there; comfortable. Is it because I’ve been there so often? Because her grandfather is a beloved volunteer (there’s even a sign up in his honor)? Is it the common ground that families share? I don’t know. Whatever it is, she’s moved in, rearranged the furniture, picked some curtains, and forwarded her mail there. She’s home.
I grew up with a wild place as my home away from home. My wild place was much wilder than hers. We cooked over fires and portaged canoes over rocky banks. Kerosene lanterns lit our nights and we shared just one phone. I grew inches there, in the sunshine, with the shrieks of delighted little girls. I led songs in a cavernous dining hall, found God in the loon calls, learned to paddle and pitch, build and strike. We had no elaborate system of marking adults, no id cards or wrist bands.I just knew that all the adults on that piece of land were inherently mine, just as I believed that every rock and tree was mine, too.
Every child needs a wild space, even better when the wild space is also a home space. I fear that we are raising too many children who don’t know what it is to be wild: to get too dirty and too tired and make friends with people your parents don’t even know. I can’t imagine a childhood without hair tangled from the wind, the half-breathed scent of adventure in my lungs and the smell of campfire in my favorite sweatshirt. I’m glad Selam will never have to do that.
I’m not sure why, but there’s a pop song, “Bulletproof” that the counselors like to dance to at camp. It’s a sort of a flash mob/line dance combo. The dance isn’t taught, but it isn’t performance either.
It just is. Selam loves Bulletproof. She wiggles out to the center of the dance floor every time and takes the steps very seriously. I have to stifle a giggle at her hip shaking moves.
The song isn’t really appropriate for the age group. It’s sort of a credo about a woman who refuses to fall in love or fall for someone who has hurt her (or perhaps it’s someone else who has hurt her and the newest suitor is wrong place/wrong time. I don’t know.) I regret looking up the words, honestly. Before I read them, I was having fun with the sassy chorus. “This time, baby, I’ll be bulletproof.”
I want Selam to be bulletproof. I want a big old bulletproof vest for her. One made of mama’s love and God’s embrace, but heavily fortified by all the good there is in this world–by wild spaces and wild people. Heck, let’s make it a bulletproof bodysuit, with her whole family and all the Atos and Misses and fairy godmothers and family friends and teachers joining in. Let’s wrap her tightly; let nothing painful touch her.
The winds will blow cold, of course, and sooner or later someone is going to break her heart. Her beatiful spirit won’t be appreciated by everyone. Cruel words will be said. But please, gracious God let those tiny bullets just fall impotent to the ground. Maybe that’s half the job of parenting—to find the people and places that will build up the other half of the armor—the part that isn’t yours to fill.
On the last morning, we went back to the archery range. It was a blue-crisp, angel skied morning. The sun nibbled at our fingers. Jackets were pulled off into broad piles in the archery shed. The kids over at boating were calling to each other, and a crazy cluster of bullfrogs marked the time. I could feel my hair tangle in the breeze. Selam ran toward the archery range. “Slow down, Selam, you don’t want to get too close.”
“Well, big kids are shooting arrows. You don’t want one of them to hit you by mistake.”
She slows down obediently, but says this. “Nobody would ever hit me, Mommy. Everybody here is my friend.”