I am not familiar with kids; I have none of my own and just haven't ever spent much time with any. I was asked to babysit for a friend's month old son a number of years ago and did enjoy that experience immensely. It was easy. I fed, burped and changed the little guy and put him in the middle of my queen sized bed penned in by pillows (yes, I put him on his back) - then I'd go play games on the internet until he woke up and I'd repeat the process again. The top of his head smelled so good.
Volunteers for the camp are required to attend two five hour training sessions, which I did. This Friday through Sunday outdoor experience has been created for children who have lost someone close to them and the activities are carefully structured to help the kids feel safe enough to work through grief. At the training sessions we were taught how to facilitate each child's expressions of a wide range of emotions. When I learned that I was assigned to the cabin that would house 10 girls ranging in age from 6 to 9 years, I felt a flutter of uncertainty (I had hoped to be assigned to the teenager cabins, but figured that those making the assignments knew what they were doing.)
I arrived at camp at 4 pm on Friday and left the grounds at 3 pm on Sunday. Following is some of what I learned.
- Little girls like to scream. They like to scream just for the sake of screaming. They will scream alone, but they prefer to scream with others. Put ten of them in a 16' X 16' cabin in the woods, and they will scream for hours without becoming the least bit hoarse. The camp schedule read, "10:30 pm - Camp Sleeps". Little girls will begin telling "scary stories" at 10:30 pm and scream until adults from other cabins show up at 1:00 am and request (beg, plead) that they stop.
- Little girls' mood swings make PMS look like a walk in the park, especially when they are grappling with something as serious and tragic as loss. They are the bravest little souls I have ever encountered and being with them is liked riding a very fast, extreme roller coaster. Two of my classmates who volunteered with me developed what they thought was a slight case of the stomach flu on Saturday. I think they had motion sickness.
- House 9 female nursing students ranging in age from 24 to 60 in a cabin in the woods (maybe 500 feet from the building containing toilets and showers), provide them with rickety bunk beds and plenty of electrical outlets and you'll soon have pandemic constipation (I mean really, who can do that in a public toilet with screaming girls nipping at their heels?) and previously well-groomed women wearing funky hats to cover unwashed hair because it's just too daunting to consider carrying toiletries, a change of clothes and a flashlight through an extremely early snowfall to a bath house that may or may not still have hot water. With regards to the electrical outlets: count on ghostly silhouettes created by the lights of smartphones at all hours of the night as the students quietly tap out desperate texts to loved ones - unable to sleep due to the cacophony of snoring and flatulence (remember - we're constipated).
- It's not a good idea to tease the one nursing student who likes to go to sleep earlier than the rest by waking her several times before everyone else hits the sack. She will rise before the crack of dawn and wake you up to tell you that you're snoring, then ask to borrow your flashlight so that she can make her way to the bathroom. You will then be unable to go back to sleep because everyone else is snoring (that's right, it wasn't you in the first place).
- It is possible to earn a bit of spending money if you tuck antacids, analgesics, and wax earplugs in your backpack before leaving for camp. Nursing students housed next to screaming girls and snoring peers will pay top dollar for these lifesaving items. She who remembers to pack a nightlight? Well, she is forever held in highest esteem
- Last, but not least: children are the sweetest of souls, even if they do scream for fun. Some of them grieve the loss of a parent who drank too much or smoked too much or a sibling who shouldn't have waded so far out into the water. None of these actions are within their realm of control, but they are left with the overwhelming task of navigating the rapids of fear, anger, guilt and sorrow at an age when they should be treading the earth with wide-eyed innocence and joy in their little hearts. Today I climbed a ladder to a top bunk in a cabin in the woods and held a child who expressed her grief with such deep sobs that I knew I'd stand on that ladder for as long as it took for her to breathe quietly again-in spite of the fact that my legs grew stiff and shaky and sore. I did not let go until she pulled back, squared her shoulders, and faced the day with astounding courage.
Scream on, little girls! Life awaits you, and some of it is wonderful.