When I was a kid I never went to summer camp. I wanted to go more than anything, but my parents just wouldn’t send me. They said it was because they couldn’t bear to part with me for a week. I don’t know if that was true, but their explanation did nothing to appease my desire. I was a Campfire Girl for years. I started as a Bluebird in second grade and ended with Horizon Club when I was in high school.
Every week about eight of us would trudge to Mrs. Hartse’s house after school. We learned songs, we sewed, we took weekend camping trips all over western Montana, and yes, we learned to build a campfire. But I never went to summer camp. Every year in July the Campfire Girls from all over the state went to Camp Watanopa. It was the worst week of my summer because not only was I not learning how to make key chains and I was not beading an Indian headband, but there was no one my age around. They were all having fun, jumping in the lake and learning songs about Camp Watanopa. Songs they would sing to me after they got back while proudly showing me their merit badges. I was even jealous of their mosquito bites and sunburns.
Now, I don’t think that I led a very deprived childhood. In fact, you can ask any of my nine older brothers or sisters and they would most definitely tell you that I was not deprived. And I don’t think I need to go into therapy to examine the ramifications of being the only person in the United States who didn’t go to summer camp. But, I will say that I have been thinking about Campfire Girls and camp and summer lately. When Aubrey brought the boys up last weekend they pulled out a box of old tinker toys given to them by their neighbor. These things were pretty old. The reason I know this is that they were in a box that used to hold Campfire mints. Just like our rivals the Girl Scouts, we had to go door to door selling mints every year to help pay for camp. No matter how much I complained I still had to sell these things even though I never got to go to camp. But, I think I mentioned that already.
Anyway, here was this box from probably the late 60’s or early 70’s. The motto was clearly emblazoned on the side “Wo-He-Lo”. And, without even reading the box, I immediately remembered that stood for Work, Health and Love.
Geez, that memory whizzed out of my brain from the deepest recesses. And that linked to other memories of the girls I knew and things I learned and the fun I had as a kid. Mostly I remember the summers. What freedom we had then! I would often take off on my bike early in the morning, returning home only when I got really hungry. My friends and I would explore Greenough Park near our houses, bike to the library to return with armloads of books or hike Mount Jumbo across the street. We waded in creeks, ran in the grass in bare feet and played endless board games. I also spent many wonderful hours reading in a little opening I’d made in the lilac bushes along our property line. This was my own world and I loved hiding in there. It was always cool and dark and as I sat cross-legged on the tangled, trampled grass I could escape from everything.
I’ve been thinking about the sweet freedom of a child’s summer this week. I’ve been remembering the feeling of waking up each day to be greeted by a pile of possibilities before me. My summer days would unfold rhythmically as I chose activities based solely upon what I felt like doing and who I felt like being with. My brothers and sisters were so much older than me that I basically grew up like an only child. And I chose to spend much of the time alone rather than with my friends, lost in a world of my own making. One day would flow into the next, punctuated by the occasional weekend camp at a lake with my parents, my father’s two-week summer vacation and the Fourth of July. It really was a wonderful time and I think I enjoyed more freedom then than at any other time in my life. All too soon I was in high school experiencing the angst that adolescence can bring and very soon after that I had a family of my own. Responsibilities, employment, bills to pay and a house to clean all took its toll. Grass became only something that had to be mowed on a weekly basis to maintain a neat appearance. Lilac bushes needed to be pruned, books needed to be studied in order to qualify for a promotion at work, and the park was only lovely to look at as I drove by in a rush to get to the grocery store.
I became a planner. I found that I could accomplish more if I wrote down a list of intended tasks. The satisfaction of crossing off those items one by one became almost more important that completing tasks themselves. Over the years I’ve perfected the art of making lists, multi-tasking and generally shoe-horning as much into a day as possible. I tell myself that it’s the only way I can do justice to all of the things I want to do. And I want to do a lot. But, somehow along the way I began to equate productivity with happiness and goodness.
And then last week I saw the Campfire mint box and at the same time I got some discouraging news concerning my work. It all pulled me up short.
Maybe I needed to be pulled up short.
The weather finally turned to summer here in Montana and the kids I treat are out of school for the next couple of months. I’ve noticed a collective sigh of relief as things have slowed down and schedules are loosened. And these past couple of weeks I’ve so yearned for those childhood days of summer with their endless possibilities that I can really think of little else. At one moment I also want to sigh with relief and slow down and the next I tell myself that I have to work and continue with my projects. I mean, how else will it all get done? I have responsibilities, people depend on me and I can’t just stop it all to go jump on my bike or build a hideaway in the bushes.
Or can I?
Maybe, just maybe, the world won’t stop spinning if I am not quite so productive. Maybe for just a couple of months this summer I could slow down a little and focus on what I want to do, not on what I feel compelled to do. Maybe, instead of charging full speed ahead I could retreat. When I first had these thoughts I was upset and the idea was born of frustration and a “What the hell, it’s no use anyway” kind of attitude. But, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that even though I still can’t go to summer camp, a summer retreat is just what I need. I think it’s what everyone needs once in a while.
Over the days the idea took on even more appeal. I started to make a list of all the things that I could put off for a while and then I was going to make a list of all the things that I really don’t have to do at all. But, luckily I stopped myself and decided that sometimes it was all the list-making and planning that got me into this trouble in the first place. Instead, I’ve been evaluating everything as it comes up. Since the kids I treat are out of school I was able to change my schedule a little so that I don’t have to get out of the house at O’ dark thirty anymore. I work more days per week, but have fewer kids to see each day. That makes me happy. It also allows me more time to plan for and enjoy each treatment. That is as it should be. I also gave myself permission to not watch a full hour of news every night. Wow! That freed up seven whole hours a week. In fact, I decided to stop watching television much at all, exchanging it for more time to read. I looked at the self-improvement book I was reading, tucked it into a drawer for later and pulled out a novel I’ve been wanting to read since last summer. I finished up some sewing projects I was doing for others and cut out a skirt for myself. And every morning when I wake up I ask myself what I want to do. I’m fitting more want-to’s in along with the have-to’s (I’m still a grown-up after all.)
My summer retreat officially began three days ago, and there have already been so many wonderful surprises. Like yesterday. We basically spent all day on boats with Noel’s daughter Lindsey who is visiting from Great Falls. I enjoyed every minute because I wasn’t worried about planting that bush that we bought at Costco. This morning when I woke up early I decided to take advantage of the quiet morning to finish this essay. Normally I would have been in the kitchen making a big breakfast for company. They’ll make their own breakfasts and it will be just fine. The house is a little messy, there are weeds in the garden and the windows are in dire need of washing. The earth is still rotating on its axis.
I have established a few “Rules of the Retreat.” I can no longer make a list that is larger than a post-it note and I’ve limited myself to only one of those per day. I will focus on relationships rather than things. I will sit more and do less. I will wake each day asking myself, “What do I want to do today?” I will simplify.
I‘ve also decided to return to the wisdom of the Campfire Girls. My motto is now “Wo-He-Lo” with an emphasis on (mental) health and love. I seem to recall that the reason for the triangle is because there should be a balance of work, health and love. What a concept.
So, maybe today I will read my novel or maybe I’ll finally start putting together that rowboat kit I bought five years ago. Or maybe not. I do know that when the grandsons come up next weekend we’ll play in the fort we’ve been carving out of the bushes on the corner of our property. I’ll also build a campfire in our new fire pit even though it isn’t nearly finished. I’m pretty sure I still know how to build a campfire. I just wish I knew some good campfire songs, but since I never went to summer camp…