Thursday, July 17, 2008

Campers In the Mist

Campers In the Mist
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2008

Several days ago, I was asked to join an expedition to southern Indiana, to observe a group of 10- and 11-year-olds through a life-changing rite of passage known as "weekend church camp." Inspired by legendary primatologist Jane Goodall, I agreed to go, especially since my oldest daughter was going. Here is a record of my observations.

Day 1, 3:30 pm – Campers have begun to arrive. Since these campers are from the same social group, the social structures have already been established. While the girls and boys have varying opinions on many different issues, both groups agree that the other group is "disgusting" and "dumb." Members of both groups go out of their way to point this out to each other.

6:30 pm – Dinner time. Battle lines have been distinctly drawn. While the occasional boy or girl will venture to the other social group, they are quickly chased off by that group's members. I notice one boy I call Shaggy, and a girl, Elf, are the ones doing the venturing and visiting. While the girls and boys are content to talk amongst themselves, Shaggy and Elf seem to be developing a closer friendship.

7:30 pm – Low ropes course. A low-grade obstacle course designed to promote teamwork and cooperation among the participants; the young males refuse to learn this lesson. Many of them are eager to show off for their female counterparts. Unfortunately, they are not successful: the females are not paying attention, and the males are not tall enough or strong enough. Fighting ensues among many of them until I get tired of the noise, and tell them they need to cooperate if they want to succeed. They consider my words carefully and go back to what they were doing.

10:00 pm – Capture the flag. I have noticed it is usually Elf's friend, Freckles who chases Shaggy off. As the leader of her group, she has stormed after Shaggy a number of times, warning him to "leave my friend alone." The other girls follow her closely, and have to scramble out of the way whenever she turns around too quickly. Elf is ushered away, but always looks back to Shaggy. Ah, the drama of the 'tween.

10:15 pm – Breakthrough! Shaggy has done the unthinkable. He has asked Elf to "go out with him." I suspect he doesn't realize what this means, but it is evident they are now, to some degree, boyfriend and girlfriend. This upsets Freckles to no end. "How can they go out?" she asks another friend. "He can't even drive. Where are they going to go, the water fountain?" Freckles seems to be pleased with this line, because I hear it repeated all over the field throughout the game, despite my urging to "get back on defense and make sure the other team doesn't steal our flag."

11:00 pm – Lights out. After showers, brushed teeth, and threats of "no snacks tomorrow," the two groups have retired to their sleeping quarters for the night. Not too surprisingly, the groups stay up, giggling and whispering. Some of my fellow observers and I find a few members of the male group sneaking out of their room. Our unexpected appearance causes them to flee back to their beds. We stay up until they're all asleep.

1:00 am – I should launch another expedition to observe the communication styles of fathers and mothers of young campers. But that's for another day. I'm going to bed.

Day 2, 11:30 pm – Water games. Despite their constant closeness, there does not appear to be any thawing of feelings between the two groups. In fact, it may have been heightened during these games, which pits boys against girls. I wonder if the separation of the sexes creates this animosity, or does the animosity feed their sense of competition. I am startled out of my reverie by several squirt guns of cold water to the face.

3:00 pm – Swim time. An amazing discovery: swimwear induces shyness! Neither group seems to draw attention to the swimming attire of the other group. Both groups pointedly ignore each other, except for Elf and Shaggy, who are swim buddies.

5:00 pm – Bad news. Apparently, sometime during swim time, Elf and Shaggy broke up. I suspect Freckles played a large part in this. However, I am only an observer, so I cannot interfere. That, and Shaggy's parents are friends of mine.

The rest of the weekend continues uneventfully. Other than Shaggy and Elf's brief relationship, the battle lines are unbroken. I may return to visit these young charges – these campers in the mist – in the coming years to determine their progress. And to keep the boys away from my Oldest Daughter.


  1. Erik,
    Thanks for sharing your observations. I experienced a couple loud chuckles...mainly because this kind of drama cracks me up and I get to see it at our neighborhood pool frequently. Write on.
    Jennifer Naylor

  2. Hard to believe we all were that young once. I applaud your bravery for agreeing to chaperone.

  3. Uh-oh, boy do I remember those church camp days. And not for the "church" part either - ha! Good luck as those babies of yours get older, you're gonna need all the chaperoning gigs you can get ;-)


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