The (Inner) Child Goes to Camp
By Miriam MacPherson
Illustration by James Noel Smith
While their sons plunged right into the activities of Webelos Scout camp, the parents held back-until they remembered what it was like to be a kid.
Nine Webelos Scouts from Pack 1858, Fairfax, Va., assembled at the elementary school on a hot, overcast, and muggy morning in mid-August, along with the den leaders and parents who would accompany them on a weeklong camping adventure at Goshen Scout Reservation's Camp P.M.I.
The boys' excitement was high as we drove nearly four hours to the camp at Goshen, Va. Upon arrival, we unpacked the cars, strapped on our backpacks, grabbed our sleeping bags, and hiked the quarter mile to our campsite.
The boys were thrilled, filled with a sense of adventure. We parents, however, having agreed to accompany our sons to camp, had resigned ourselves to what we were sure would be a week of dirt, bad food, and sanitary inconvenience.
At least those were our feelings as we spent the rest of the first day seeking shelter from steady rain.
That evening we met at the parade grounds for the flag lowering ceremony, then sloshed our way under ponchos and hats to the dining hall for our first camp meal.
By now everyone was feeling the effects of being forced by the rain to stay inside all afternoon. The nearly 200 assembled boys were loud, boisterous, and hungry. (Many, however, were not hungry enough to try the evening meal of "sloppy joes" and opted instead for the alternative choice of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.)
Parents and leaders remained quiet and reserved, assessing the situation, knowing that there were still six days to go. Camp staff and counselors, on the other hand, were jovial and spirited. This was, after all, their last week of camp, and they would soon be returning to their homes, their jobs, their colleges, full of memories of the previous eight weeks at Camp P.M.I.
Never having been a Scout and never having gone to any camp as a child, I watched with wide-eyed wonderment, fascinated with the dynamics of all the people assembled in this small, wooden structure in the woods.
The children, from diverse parts of the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, clearly understood that they were at camp to play, to learn, and to have fun. Sitting in the dining hall on this first night, however, the parents and den leaders, from equally diverse backgrounds - lawyers, grandparents, teachers, doctors, moms, company executives - seemed out of place, awkward, and reserved in this children's camp.
As they would do at every meal, the counselors attempted to liven things up with a song, encouraging the Webelos Scouts and adults to sing along. The boys followed along immediately, but the parents and den leaders held back, not singing or even just mouthing the words.
As the week went on, however, things began to change. All over camp, the adult child was coming out to play!
The moms (who before this week had been teachers, technicians, and executives) could be seen hurrying to the camp trading post to buy yards and yards of "gimp" (vinyl craft lace) to braid the colorful lanyards they proudly wore around their necks. They boasted how they learned to make each new braid pattern right here at camp.
The dads (who in their "previous lives" had been lawyers, carpenters, and doctors) proudly displayed their riddled paper targets from the shooting range or tie-dyed shirts and Native American dream catchers they had made during nature crafts.
Fragments of the now familiar camp songs could now be heard echoing throughout the woods in deep, loud adult voices as the dens moved about camp. By the last evening meal in the mess hall, the adult leaders and parents were singing and shouting the loudest, more than even the boys or the staff!
Camp P.M.I. had been a wonderful adventure for our Webelos Scouts, but it was truly a unique experience for the adult leaders. It gave them a rare opportunity to let their (inner) child come out and play with their outer child.
I wouldn't have missed it for the world.
Miriam MacPherson of Fairfax, Va., served as an assistant Webelos den leader in Pack 1858.
September 1999 Table of Contents
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