The one where we had fun!

The last few days have probably been my favourite at camp, so far – prepare for an extremely erratic summary of this week!

When applying for camp, there was a huge focus on what “skills” you can bring. As a general counsellor, we don’t really get a chance to teach much, as we’re constantly running after our own kids! Every day at camp we have the chance to run a club in something we’re into and think the kids would love to learn. A lot of the things on my list when applying wouldn’t really do, as either there’s already a class in it (photography and music) or it’s impractical (science), so I tried my hand at teaching an anime class. I love drawing, and doodle on just about anything, but teaching it is a different thing entirely. It was scary, I’ve never appreciated how much planning goes into it as you have to try and cater for every kind of student, and acknowledge that not everyone is going to be super keen and into your lesson. However, one kid, G, absolutely loved it, and improved his drawings loads! Some kids that came didn’t want to do what was on the lesson plan, and were happy to do their own thing. Initially, it was frustrating because you’re trying to teach the rest of the class but often they were actually incredible little artists at their age, and hopefully I’ll get to show what they did at the art show! I definitely don’t think I’m cut out to be a teacher though, it’s way too stressful.

G features twice in this list because he was the inspiration behind the bucket spaceship. A couple of nights ago, just before my day off, we were super short staffed, and so a friend of mine and I had to stay on after we clocked out because there was almost no one else. I walked around to find G sat in this huge bucket, there was another bucket next to it so I thought it’d be funny to put it on top of him. Instantly he started making revving noises. Have you ever been in those Virtual Reality machines in arcades? They’re always really overpriced and pretty terrible. They did, however, give me the idea to tip the bucket over and see what he’d do. Before long, a huge queue of kids formed to get into G’s bucket spaceship, and so myself and another counsellor made the rides increasingly more elaborate, adding asteroid belts, meteors, black holes and landing sequences! They did whatever we asked, fights stopped, they shared, they listened,  just as long as long as they could have another go at being an astronaut. I miss my imagination! NY-2They loved light sabres too!

Program staff and lifeguards collectively form the pillars upon which all the structure and order on camp stands. Therefore, it follows, that “special days”, when the program staff and most of the lifeguards have their day off, is hell on Earth. Last session, during the first period of soccer, we had to break up around 11 fights in the first fifteen minutes for the Little Johns and the Merry Men – kids that age need constancy and regularity, without it it’s chaos! This time, however, they managed to get their acts together and instead of the normal “international day”, we celebrated Holi, the Indian festival of colours. I don’t really know much about the actual tradition behind it, I just know it often involves lots of paints and powder! We turned the hill into a giant water slide by placing some mats from the gym down under a huge tarpaulin and hosing the entire thing. We then got the powder paints and mixed them in with water (and a little bit of poster!) to make neon coloured water pistols, sprays and bottles, which we let the kids loose on! I can’t describe to you how therapeutic it is shooting three foot kids with paint, until they turn around and empty entire buckets of the stuff back on you! It was madness, but everyone went nuts for it!

That night, when everyone came back, we had Counsellor Catwalk. The kids get to pick a counsellor from their travelling tent on the girls/boys side to dress up as a member of the opposite sex. Last time, K, our floater, got picked and the result was incredible. Sadly, I was the favourite, and was promptly shipped off to Fairy field, where a multitude of little girls got to work on my hair, nails, makeup and dress, this is the story of how Princess Bryanna was born. Following our (torture)makeover, we had to strut our stuff down a red carpet, trying to win over the judges with our fabulous moves, amongst other tricks everyone had up their sleeves. And I won! NY

Yesterday, we got back from dinner at Rhodes (which was fantastic!) And my friend L asked me whether I’d ever seen the lake at night. I hadn’t. So I walked with her down to Fairy field, as Sherwood is up on the hill so we can’t see the lake, and it was breathtaking. The lake itself took a backseat to the fireflies. Against the pitch blackness of the trees and bushes on the road around Ramapo, hundreds of fireflies blink asynchronously to create this brilliant light show. Think starts 10ft in front of you. I’m not sure whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing that I didn’t have a tripod or a good enough lens to film it, but it was honestly one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen in my life. The lake was good too, I guess. NY-3 NY-4 NY-5

B

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The one with the new kids

Second session for me started off with the incredible news that, yes, we would only be having five kids! The delight between my co and I was tangible, as we fist pumped out of the gymnasium with our new crew in tow. There was an odd shift in numbers, meaning that this session, there were a lot more girls than boys, so from a hellish first of seven, five with extra staff on hand should have been a piece of cake. Should.

Of the five kids, one, D, is probably the best child I have ever seen, he listens, does what he’s told, and is all around a total boss!

Of the five kids, one, S, is probably the funniest child I have ever met. He had this hilariously air-headed accent and comes up with the most fantastic lines. He becomes passionately fascinated with various things, currently Legos; “I love Legos. Legos is like a part of my life, I just can’t stop thinking about Legos”. I would love to take a peek into his brain and see what goes on as the world must be a wonderful place through his eyes! “Do you know that life is like minecraft, but you dot have any weapons”. I asked him the other day whether he’d like to be a counsellor when he grows up to which he replied: “I don’t want to be a counsellor, when I grow up ima be the president!” Look out, America!

Of the five kids, one, Sh, is a …tricky. If you’ve ever seen the film Hulk, you’ll know what I mean when I say he’s like Bruce Banner; mild mannered and actually quite fun normally but when something sets him off, he becomes consumed with this terrible rage that takes several people to quell. He will run anywhere and everywhere and is really quite a handful when he enters these fits, pulling out every card in the book to manipulate you and get his own way.

If I’m totally honest with myself, life would be a lot easier if he did get sent home like one of the kids in the tent across from us who lasted little more than three hours. However, as hard as it is for us as counsellors, having to give him 2:1 attention at the expense of the other campers, this, for him, is a lot better than home. It comes through in a lot of what he does; he’s had to fight hard to get to where he is, and it’s hard to break walls down that he’s been forced to build over the last seven years.

We did see a small breakthrough though when he went around and gave us all hugs, and there were some really lovely moments watching him “play camping” on the bed under blankets with a few of the other kids, watching him having genuine fun and laugh his age! So, for now, we’ll fight to keep him.

I feel the worst of storming is now over. A few temper tantrums, lethargy, petty arguments over who’s soccer ball it is and some time outs are the worst we’ve had, and now we’re into norming, hallelujah! We didn’t really see much of this last session but the kids are becoming settled in their groups. You still have the odd child who just loves picking fights, but at least it’s not a whole tents worth. So we have more time to relax and actually have fun doing our job, which is nice.

B

The one in the big apple

Intersession!

We stayed at The Lexington, on 48th, which is two or three blocks up from Times Sq, making for great travel and food opportunities! Sadly, our room was the party room for the first night, with …mixed results. However, despite a slightly groggy start to the morning after (trying to fit five people in a double bed is not a good idea guys), I got my professional tourist on!

Had to grab lunch at a classic diner. Comfort got really good reviews. Despite the slight price, the food was delicious!

Had to grab lunch at a classic diner. Comfort got really good reviews. Despite the slight price, the food was delicious!

This BLT was probably the healthiest thing I ate all weekend  I still can't quite get my head around prices in America, you have to add a random amount of tax to everything you buy, AND everyone expects tips, it's insane, buying anything is like a sick game of Russian roulette as you never know exactly what is going to happen until you get the receipt!

This BLT was probably the healthiest thing I ate all weekend
I still can’t quite get my head around prices in America, you have to add a random amount of tax to everything you buy, AND everyone expects tips, it’s insane, buying anything is like a sick game of Russian roulette as you never know exactly what is going to happen until you get the receipt!

this was a longer exposure shot of the main plaza, it's interesting to note how still some people stood for the entire length of the shot, they are so sharp!

this was a longer exposure shot of the main plaza, it’s interesting to note how still some people stood for the entire length of the shot, they are so sharp!

The roof of Grand Central is spectacular, Sadly, I don't have a wide enough lens or short enough legs to capture the entire thing in any sort of detail, so this little bit will have to do

The roof of Grand Central is spectacular, Sadly, I don’t have a wide enough lens or short enough legs to capture the entire thing in any sort of detail, so this little bit will have to do

Classic

The subway is like a dirtier, more expensive version of the tube, I miss you, London!

The subway is like a dirtier, more expensive version of the tube, I miss you, London!

This has to be my favourite advert of all time

This has to be my favourite advert of all time

It's longer than you think

It’s longer than you think

NY-9

The view from Brooklyn Bridge was pretty fantastic, great sights of the water and the Manhattan skyline

The view from Brooklyn Bridge was pretty fantastic, great sights of the water and the Manhattan skyline

Lock & Key NY-12
NY-13 NY-14 The view from the other side of the bridge Knot NY-17

Shake shack make incredible stuff, How did I not know about this before?!

Shake shack make incredible stuff, How did I not know about this before?!

NY-19 NY-20 NY-21 Selfie NY-23 NY-24 NY-25 NY-26

Ground zero, you have to see it, words can't really do it justice.

Ground zero, you have to see it, words can’t really do it justice.

Yesterday it rained, hideously, and so the only place we could find in the few moments we had between monsoons was a nondescript Chinese. I had slow cooked beef brisket in noodle soup. Normally, I'm not a big fan of Chinese, with a very reserved pallet (darn you, Mother!) but this was fantastic! I'd definitely have it again, a great bargain for $10.

Yesterday it rained, hideously, and so the only place we could find in the few moments we had between monsoons was a nondescript Chinese. I had slow cooked beef brisket in noodle soup. Normally, I’m not a big fan of Chinese, with a very reserved pallet (darn you, Mother!) but this was fantastic! I’d definitely have it again, a great bargain for $10.

There was this nice little french-looking patisserie a few blocks up from my hotel. As the guys in the room were recovering, I stole the opportunity for a cheeky breakfast. The pastries were delicious, and the service was fantastic, however, it's probably the worst hot chocolate I've ever had, ever. It was like drinking warm water *shudders*, couldn't tip.

There was this nice little french-looking patisserie a few blocks up from my hotel. As the guys in the room were recovering, I stole the opportunity for a cheeky breakfast. The pastries were delicious, and the service was fantastic, however, it’s probably the worst hot chocolate I’ve ever had, ever. It was like drinking warm water *shudders*, couldn’t tip.

I love this

I love this

NY-32

Lego wall!

Lego wall!

This Apple store was pretty cool, unnecessary, but awesome - apple in one!

This Apple store was pretty cool, unnecessary, but awesome – apple in one!

To shelter from the rain after our Steak 'n' shake (seriously, the best and cheapest burgers in Midtown Manhattan), I happened upon The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, and had, after my disappointing breakfast, one of the best hot chocolates of my life. This was a sweet offering, contrasted to TAP's darker, more wholesome contribution. It was big too, and just under $4!

To shelter from the rain after our Steak ‘n’ shake (seriously, the best and cheapest burgers in Midtown Manhattan), I happened upon The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, and had, after my disappointing breakfast, one of the best hot chocolates of my life. This was a sweet offering, contrasted to TAP’s darker, more wholesome contribution. It was big too, and just under $4!

 

Now for Second Session, wish me luck…

 

B

The first session

Despite the trials and tribulations of The First: the bedwetters, the runners, the fighters and the pouters, saying goodbye was more emotional than I thought it would be.

Some kids wanted to leave as fast as possible, and got their wish with my blessing! In fact, J, one of my campers, tried to walk home yesterday after a fight during story time; he packed up his bag at around 11pm, and stormed out of the tent. Halfway down the hill he began to ponder the various obstacles that faced a very small seven year old boy in the woods, with our help, of course; bears, coyotes, murderous people in cars he’d hitchhike, oh and hunger, no doughnuts for breakfast! After which he promptly returned to bed without another word as long as I gave him a flashlight!

Others, who I wouldn’t have even thought enjoyed camp were actually tearing up at the prospect of never seeing me or their other counsellor again, which was nice, because it showed us that they were, indeed, still children and not the hardened little demons that they’d been several minutes hitherto as we tried to get them to pack their stuff – never give water guns as prizes, it never ends well!

Reflecting back on the session as a whole during the bus ride into the city has been pretty useful. Firstly, I think there were a lot of things we overreacted about, because at the end of the day, they are just children! In the heat of the moment, we may get really mad at them, which serves to cement that behaviour. One day V, another one of my campers, was doing his usual stroppy run. Seeing this, a friend of mine suggested giving him some space. Now, considering I had six other kids/potential time bombs to look after, passively waiting around for one of them to calm down wasn’t very high on my list of possible options, however, I decided to give it a go, silently sitting on a rock and letting him do his thing. Initially he didn’t really know how to react to the fact that I wasn’t chasing him, but upon seeing my face, he began to flip and throw almost every rock in a 10 metre radius. After exhausting the quarry, he turned to large sticks, and kept at it. Eventually, he actually wandered over back to the spot where I sat, and we had a really good chat about a lot of things. Sadly, due to the insufficient attention span of that age, he was back to throwing rocks in no time.

There were also things we may not have picked up on, that would have been helpful as boundary setters for the later stages of behavioural management. For example, our unit leader, on a particularly bad night where absolutely nothing would quell the random violent outbursts, suggested a points system, as the good kids weren’t getting rewarded, which is what might have lead to the deterioration of behaviour. Unfortunately, by that point, it was too late to properly instigate such a thing, and even if it wasn’t, where was the time to think it through! We did give them little sanctions and rewards, which worked well, even at a later stage, such as the aforementioned water pistols and other things such as a bubble machine. We also noticed they loved eating more bread at the salad bar (with cream cheese and this ‘jelly’ nonsense) so if they weren’t behaving, we used that as an incentive, to good effect, although you need to remember what you gave to which kid as they won’t let it go!

My hopes for the second is that we’ll manage to get on top of behavioural issues from the get-go, allowing more time for us to actually enjoy our job and talk about more important issues that might actually be the cause. I had a few opportunities, often with the naughtiest kids as I took them to the side to talk about the latest scuffle or dispute, hints being slipped into conversation that you attempt to purse open, although mostly they’re closed books, as are most boys of that age and upbringing, as they have real difficulties expressing more complex emotion.

I’d also love to foster an environment where the kids feel safe. On an end-of-session questionnaire, a lot of the kids said that they didn’t feel 100% safe (ticking the ‘fair’ box rather than ‘yes’ or ‘no’). Talking with a lot of them, the dog-eat-dog mentality is king. Yesterday, one of the kids wouldn’t get off the bed and stuff of J. Up he was and within seconds throttled the other kid, who may have done it as a joke. “He was messing with me so I’m going to mess with him”, “do that again and i’ma give you a black eye” and “thats what you get” were some of the quotes of his response, so it’s understandable that the kids don’t feel safe if they’re already always on the defensive. But how do you change something so deeply ingrained, probably as a mechanism of self preservation from their life at home?

It’ll be interesting to see just how everything pans out now I’ve had some exposure to the types of kids that I’m expecting. For now, NYC awaits, hooray for intersession!

The 22nd floor, what a view!

The 22nd floor, what a view!

The one where I lost it

 

During staff training, we spent a day talking about the various stages of group development: forming, storming, normalling and performing. The idea sounded a bit too theoretical, and I thought there was no way it would play out so well, but it has, and we’re currently storming.

 

The theory goes a little like this, initially, unsure of the new environment, kids get to know each other and are sizing one another up. Fights are rare during the forming period, as are cliques as there is no established alpha in the group. Behaviour is generally quite good. During the storming phase, you start to see dominant ones take up their role as the docile stand by the wayside or go with the tide. The rate of fighting escalates rapidly as they fight, tensions run high and cliques begin to form. This, so far, totally checks out with my boys. To further add to the madness, we’ve no got an extra kid, and he’s definitely eyeing up that top spot on the food chain.

 

The hardest part about what’s happening right now, I think, is the lack of gratitude. Now I don’t mean a camper not saying Thankyou when I tie his shoelace for the umpteenth time, although that would be nice too, rather, giving them chance after chance, and spending hours comforting them with their own problems, for them to throw it back in your face as they enter yet another fight.

 

I’ve never totally lost it with a kid, and I’m utterly ashamed to have raised my voice in such a manner, but I’ve had to do it at least two times in the last three days, all involving really serious fights between the four usual suspects after which I literally had to take five to cool off. It almost seems impossible, as the instant you diffuse one time bomb, three spring up in its place, all 3ft tall and running in opposite directions! This means that we never actually have time to spend enjoying ourselves with the well behaved campers who want to be here, as it’s all burned on brawlers or sulkers. And the sour cherry of this morose muffin is that they feel unappreciated and undervalued, causing them to resort to that same petulance as it’s the only thing that seems to garner our attention.

 

There have been a few rays of sunshine during the metaphorical (and literal) storms of late. The two that constantly behave well are lovely, and I treasure the precious few activities were I get to work with them because they’re actually enjoyable!

 

B
Pancakes

J, age 7

The one with ihop

Ok so I was sort of warned that food in America was ridiculous, but knowing and experiencing something are two completely different things. I normally grab some porridge (almost typed oatmeal there, whoa) for breakfast, a sandwich from Sainsbury’s or one  from home if I’m feeling frugal, that’s lunch, and then a pasta or rice concoction for dinner. All with lots of veg and maybe a cereal bar here and there.

Since coming to camp, I’ve had either muffins, waffles or pancakes every day for breakfast, with syrup, of course, several meals which were 100% fat and carbs e.g. macaroni & cheese crumble (?!?!) and dessert as a starter (Cornbread, seriously, try it). Any shreds of a diet I held to hitherto are gone, and I’m left wondering how I can ever return to the dreary embrace of a british breakfast. Sigh.

Today we went to the mall and I had my first ihop, oh sweet heaven above. The pancakes were delicious (having had breakfast already, they were a challenge to polish off) and the butter pecan syrup was literally heaven in a jar. Where have you been all my life?!

B(+20lb)

Pancakes

The one where I was off

Lake-2

We get lots of bugs, some look like this!

Lake-3

standard lake Long exposure

Lake-4

She came right up because I was barefoot and didn’t make a sound! Couldn’t get a snap of her baby though, she was wise to my schemes

Lake-5

.

Lake-6

One thing I really dislike about the X100 is the bokeh and blur when wide open, they are ugly!

Lake-7

A mile or so down the road is this seemingly abandoned cabin with a fantastic view across the lake

Lake-8

Arts, crafts, they happened here

Lake-9

Being surrounded by mountains means you can’t quite get to see it over the lake, but I was lucky this time!

Lake-10

Enter the moon

Days off are few and far between, because I’m a broke student, I decided to stay on camp for my first one and just enjoy a day of child-free bliss!

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The one with the surprises

With a quick sweep across camp, one an easily tell that the kids have arrived. Gone are the days where we would wave a hipper hello to each other as we brushed our teeth in the morning, or entertain lighthearted conversation on the walk up to our tents at night; there isn’t enough fake enthusiasm to waste on such pleasantries.
 
All things considered, my bunk, the Little Johns, are relatively well behaved, but that isn’t to say that it’s been an easy couple of days. Each child will inevitably come with baggage from their individual circumstance, something i’d mentally tried to prepare myself for. One thing I didn’t fat ore in, however, is their age! 
 
I had been psyching myself up for deep heart to hearts and to have to deal with some pretty tough stuff, but for seven year old boys, it is manifest, not in what they say, but what they do, and that blindsided me like you wouldn’t know it. For example, one of my boys, afraid of spiders, was in hysterics for around two hours despite us getting rid of everything that could possibly resemble insect life from the showers, another has a tendency to bolt off in a random direction for no apparent reason, and one has this way about him in that once he says he won’t do something, he becomes a brick wall. 
 
It may be a tall order for us, as counsellors, to expect good nature and behaviour from seven year olds coming from where they are, I mean they’ve only just started school. I think it’s that expectation that is killing me as its constantly failing to be met, so we get angry and pick up the rope in the futile tug of war.  
 
Another thing that completely caught me off guard was the lack of potty training. I did come with a little bit of me thinking”I’ve done this before, so how different could it be?”, oh boy. Again, it definitely could be worse, going by the stories I’ve heard of campers over the years, but we’ve had our fair share of “surprises” in the middle of the night, both kinds. You never really know why it happens either, be it physical incontinence or emotional issues arising from their upbringing and family environment, maybe they didn’t have anywhere to “go”, maybe their parents were abusive, maybe they’re homesick. The only thing we can really do is be there to be woken up at whatever hour of the night they please to take them out, because it’s definitely preferable to finding out the following morning. 
 
The main thing that sets this camp apart from my other one is what these boys want from you. The older group I’m used to see you as more of an older brother, someone they can look up to and have fun with, but can also chat to about other things in life. These boys see me as their dad, and sometimes, when I’m laden with their fanny packs, schedule in one hand whilst the other is splitting up a fight, I really do feel like a dad! And that is going to take some getting used to, for sure. 
 
There are good things about working with seven year olds, for example, they can be really cute at times when they get scared of a big moth that they just caught and hold on for dear life, they go to sleep almost instantly when you read them a few chapters of Diary of a Wimpy Kid and they’re the only tranche of society that would probably think I’m older than I actually am; some kid thought I was thirty! They are also really easily entertained, as long as that involves sticks, stones and hunting bugs, which, if it were up to me, I would happily let them do, but sadly can’t due to health and safety, or something. 
 
It’s been a pretty mixed bag but on reflection, I’m enjoying it a lot more than I think I would if someone was to tell me the above. Having days off is also a nice little treat, which involved lots of walks across the lake, some reading time, and napping under the afternoon sun. 
 
That’s all for now! 
 
B