I was thirteen, in the midst of a growth spurt, and lacking confidence about what I could do physically. This was the first year of Explorers Camp, and at the time it accepted eight to thirteen year olds all in one big session, so I was one of the oldest campers. Looking at that last camper, I felt the eyes of my teammates looking expectantly at me for what to do next, which was very new for me. I got a couple of the other campers on either side of me to lift me high enough to reach down over the bar without touching it. I grasped both of the last camper's arms and pulled her straight up, until some of the teammates on my side of the bar were able to grab her feet and safely guide her over. We were euphoric in our team success at a challenge that originally seemed impossible, and I was bursting with pride at the part I had played. Frankly, I was surprised at my new-found strength that had played a decisive role. The fact that when things got difficult, people were looking to me and listening to me was intriguing but confusing.
Even more confusing was the attention I received from Courtney over the course of my week at Explorers. She was twelve - so a younger woman - and at thirteen I was ill-equipped to deal with the dazzling glare of an unrequited crush. She was remarkably savvy at finding ways for us to suddenly be out sight of the rest of camp at the back of a hike, or engineering the seat next to me in the dining hall. I can't say I discouraged her, because at thirteen I was desperate for any and all attention. There's also a certain momentum that builds when a camp sniffs out a potential couple. Boys start asking when you'll kiss her. Giggling emissaries from a group of girls come to grill an intermediary in the boy's group about plans for the dance. Counselors have a knowing look in their eye, and lightly tease. As the week developed, I felt the spotlight of camp focusing around Courtney and me, and I was buzzing with its energy, if not exactly romantic feelings for Courtney. With busy days, I was able to navigate a friendship with Courtney, but I began to worry about the impending dance, slow songs and all.
I had certain ideas about what to expect at a dance from the dimly lit middle school shindigs I had attended. Back in middle school, there were loud DJs and a few chaperons standing on the edges of hundreds of students, while the older students found dark make-out corners. That is not a camp dance. I encourage you to read John Ohmer's piece on camp dances, because the goofy outfits and enthusiastic counselor thrashing that might be interpreted as dancing has not changed much since I was a camper.
I took my cues from the counselors, and rather than being cornered by Courtney as I feared, Courtney and I made up goofy dances and tried to get the rest of camp to try them; I remember "the penguin" was especially popular. We made it our mission to get the youngest and shiest campers involved. During the dreaded slow songs, we formed big circles with other campers. Again, I was in a situation where I was unexpectedly leading.
By David Churchman
(ages 12-14) still has space. Click here to register.
He is working to end guitar hegemony at camp, and plays the accordion wherever a camp will let him.
Off the mountain, David resides in San Antonio and works as a middle school math teacher.