Friday, August 15, 2008

My Little and How Camp Traumatized Me

I was recently matched up with a Little Sis from Big Brothers Big Sisters. YAY!!!

Her name is V. She's 11 and about to start 6th grade. I was really excited to hear that she is this age, because middle school was the most difficult time for me when I was a kid. That's when I was picked on by bullies and when I felt at my most awkward -- glasses AND braces. To make it even worse, I was the first girl in my class to hit puberty. It was a rough time. So I am excited to be there to support her and be someone she can talk to, because I know how mean 12 year olds can be. I'm hoping that I can help her have enough confidence to weather the storm, you know?

She's really nervous to start 6th grade next week. I told her that the first couple of weeks might be a little sticky, but after that, she'll be a pro. Luckily, lockers don't seem to phase her. I, on the other hand, would have daily battles with the lock on my locker throughout my 6-12 grade years. My stubborn locks caused me to be tardy many times. I never did get the hang of combination locks, and I still avoid them to this day. So I was relieved to hear that she found them to be of no concern.

Her concern is more about getting to the right classroom at the right time. I can totally understand. A natural rules follower myself, this was my secondary concern when I was a student. (The first, of course, being those g-d combination locks.) So I told her that the teachers usually give everyone a break for the first week or so, until you get your little routine down. I told her by the third day, she will feel pretty comfy with where things are. She seemed relieved to hear this.

V and her little (biological) sister live with their mom and grandma. They just got a dog who looks like a pit bull mix. Her name is Zoe and she's very sweet. What I think is really cool is that the mom, the younger sister and V are all cloggers. And apparently, pretty good at it -- V just tried out for the competitive team, and she made it! If you are not familiar with this part of the country, you might not know about clogging. It's like....Riverdance. Kinda. But more country-music oriented (IMHO). And there's outfits. Colorful, sequined, knee-length dresses with crinolines that they wear for their recitals and competitions. This is right up my alley -- bring on the girly-girl stuff!! Let me see if I can find a video so you can see clogging in action. It's pretty cool! Take a look at an example:

Other than clogging, V is into Hannah Montana and The Jonas Brothers. So I am rapidly becoming acquainted with this whole pre-teen phenomenon. Apparently, there's a lot of albums and 3-D concerts on the Disney Channel. Oh, and Nick is the hottest Jonas Brother. That's what I've learned so far.

V and I hung out last night. We took Sammy on a walk in her neighborhood and she told me all about camp. She just went to camp for the first time, and she loved it. I was very relieved to hear this, because I. HATED. CAMP. I thought it was the most horrible idea ever, and begged my mother to never ever take me there again. The Czarina, always the penny-pincher, was happy to oblige this request. So aside from one horrible week the summer after 5th grade, I was spared this experience.

Why did I hate camp so much? The main reason was that it seemed everyone brought their best friend with them to camp. I apparently missed this memo and arrived solo at Camp Merri-Mac, which is located near Asheville, NC and is probably a wonderful camp, if you are not 11 year old VB. But I was a naive 11 year old, so when I was being dropped off at camp, I was a ball of excitement, ready to pack my days full of all the fun activities you find at camp.

I remember that all the cabins were named after celestial bodies: moons, stars, planets, etc. I remember getting excited about the fact that my cabin was called "The Milky Way", because that is and always has been my favorite candy bar. "This is a good sign," I thought. So I got to my cabin, greeted by my super nice counselor, Jodie. Jodie, I would find out later, was from Michigan, which at the time seemed as exotic as India to me. (I didn't get out a lot.) The first thing Jodie did was give me a "fun size" Milky Way candy bar. So far, camp ROCKED. I remember thinking, "Ok, Mom, you can go away now!" (Actually, I think this a lot...but anyway.)

After talking with my mom for a minute, Jodie took me inside the cabin and announced my arrival and introduced me to the other girls in my cabin. They all said "Hi" and then went right back to what they were doing. The bliss of summer camp all came to a screeching halt when I realized that all the other girls in my cabin were already paired up, because they had gotten that "bring your best friend or camp will suck donkey balls" memo. And they had no interest in me whatsoever. They were gathered in pairs, talking excitedly as they unpacked. I was being ignored. Not that I am an attention-seeking person, but I was old enough to realize they were intentionally sending me an unfriendly vibe.

Since I was new to the whole camp idea, I had a lot of questions for the other campers. Where do I put my toiletries? What time do we get up in the morning? My questions were met with one word answers. I got the impression that they all just wanted me to leave them alone. And since I was extra-super shy and possessed the self-esteem of a homeless crackhead prostitute at that stage in life, I didn't do anything about it. So I spent the week alone, silent and shunned.

I definitely got a very snooty vibe from the other girls. I remember one of them looking at me with disgust when I told her that I hadn't started shaving my legs yet. I still remember what town she was from: Jupiter, Florida. She had long blonde hair, subscribed to Seventeen and shopped at some mysterious place called "The Gap". She already looked like a teenager. I, on the other hand, still had baby fat and secretly played with Barbies and wore clothes my mother picked out at Stein-Mart. She watched 90210. I watched Disney movies. Forming a picture in your head yet? Yeah, it was kind of sad, really. This Florida Girl was sort of the ring-leader and enabled the snootiness to percolate in the cabin for the entire week. I can still see her face when I close my eyes. Brown eyes, bangs, a turned up nose.

My counselor, Jodie, was extremely nice and I believe, totally clueless about how Florida Girl treated me. I still like the name Jodie because of her. Jodie = fun size Milky Way bars. It's a good association to have.

Anyway, there was only one other girl in the cabin who shared my fate. Her bed was directly under mine. We shared a bunk because we were the only two girls who hadn't arrived with best friends from home. I can't remember her name, either. But I remember she had frizzy brown hair and big red Sally Jessy Raphael glasses. She liked animals and she talked too much. So she was an even bigger dork than I was. She was easy pickings for the snooty group in our cabin. By default, she and I hung out together for the week, despite the fact that I didn't really enjoy her company. But I do remember sticking up for her when someone said something mean about her.

Ah, pre-teen girls.............they are possibly the most evil and cruel group of humans on Earth.

Where was I? Oh yes. The rest of camp was not very memorable. I remember lanyards and archery and swimming and Shepherd's Pie. But mostly, I remember feeling rejected, extremely lonely and homesick. It was the first time I had ever been away from home longer than a night. It was the first time in my life I had no one to talk to or "play" with. (Remember, I am from a big family, so being alone is a foreign concept to me, and very scary, actually.) I remember crying quietly into my pillow, so the mean girls wouldn't hear me and make fun of me. It was horrible!

By mid-week, I was counting down the days until my mother would arrive to pick me up. Finally, she came! I have never loaded my stuff into any vehicle so quickly in my entire life. Then, she and I did the COOLEST thing that almost erased my traumatic week at camp: we stayed in a bed & breakfast in Asheville and went to Biltmore the next day before we drove home to Virginia. I don't think my mom knows how much better this made the whole experience for me. If it hadn't been for that portion of my time in the Asheville, NC area, I would vow never to near that horrible part of the country again.

To this day, I have a tendency to go out of my way to make new people feel welcome, or at least not lonely and shunned. And I also have a tendency to hang out with people who are alone, even if I don't enjoy their company. Weird how things that happen to you in childhood stick with you.

Did you go to camp? Did you like it?


Jonathan Zero said...

Camp was not fun for me till "church camp" in my teens that was actually held on two different college campuses. In fact I went to one of those colleges after high school cause of all the good experience I had there. At regular camp, I was the loner, no one to hang out with and was picked on most of the time when I was around other campers.

Smug said...

I am a naturally outgoing person and seemed to fit in well with people from all walks of life, so camp was fun for me. I did go out of my way to talk to anyone who looked lonely or sad (this is the big sister in me). My summer camp was for 2 weeks and I hated to go home every summer. This camp help 3different 2 week sessions and I always begged my parents to let me stay the whole 6 weeks, but they never would let me. I guess money was an issue.

My sister went one year to the same camp, but a different session than me - she hated it! So, different strokes!

I know all about Hannah Montana and I have no little children to blame it on. I simply like the show... a lot... I DVR it... It hurts a little to admit that!

Good luck with your new little sister, I have a feeling that you are going to love this time that you get to spend with her!

Coco said...

Camp was always a grab bag. Sometimes it rocked, sometimes it sucked big hair balls. The year I got lice? sucked. The year I almost got bucked off a horse? rocked.

See? There is no explaining me.

Lady Wanderlust said...

I went to church camps in my preteen years (and worked at one in my late teens). I remember feeling rejected when I didn't get invited to sneak out of the cabin at night. I got lumped with the most unpopular girl because our moms worked together. I hated my preteen/early teen years. What an awkward, horrible time!

Alison said...

I never went to camp but was always fascinated by it because of The Parent Trap (the one with Hayley Mills!). I thought summer camp was for the rich kids who lived on the East coast. :) I've actually never known anyone who ever went to camp!

Fluffycat said...

I never went to sleepaway camp like that. I'm not big on roughing it.

tallglassofvino said...

congrats on getting paired with a Little! good friend of mine has been involved with hers for going on 2 years, it's been great for them both. funny how it flashes you back to all of your own issues from those days, though, huh? maybe a good way to work through old issues - perhaps I should try it myself! [grin]

RWA said...

Wow. Sounds to me like you just didn't give all of those other girls in your cabin a fair chance to be nice to you.

Just kidding.

"...that 'bring your best friend or camp will suck donkey balls' memo..." Ha!!!!!

I went to camp - but it wasn't nearly that bad.

teahouse said...

Mean Girls!!!

I never went to camp. But the Husband and I are going to martial arts camp next weekend. I'll report back on how it goes and whether anyone is snooty to us!

Baja Hockey Fan said...

I went to camp. First one was Camp Strong River - went with my best friend from childhood. Didn't like it - at the end of meals they poured all of the bowls of milk together - fruit loops and cocoa krispies - ew. Next came Camp Merriewood - went with all my friends from home - hated it. Then I went to Greystone with no one else (although my childhood best friend ended up there a few years later). I loved Greystone. I went for 8 summers. I broke my femur in 91 at camp - went back 3 more years.

Camp sucks until you find the right one.