It’s rare for the youngest kids in camp to reserve the waterfront view, all alone, for a sunset. But last night, the 6, 7, 8, and 9-year-olds, or low sophomores, finished a big day at an amusement park with a reflection of the past eleven days.

The boys barreled down the hill towards the sun’s drifting beams on East Pond to find a crackling campfire. “Can I throw some sticks in?” There is something about fire that instantly grabs the attention of boys. “Uhhh…. No!”

Once seated on the logs, I asked the boys to think about their time at camp so far. How it seemed so crazy that it had only been eleven days because it felt like at least a month. I asked the boys to reflect on a new experience they’d had at camp that they wouldn’t have been able to have if they were at home. At least 30 hands flew up. One by one they boys came up to the campfire, stated their name, bunk, and hometown, and shared their new experience with the group. Both boisterous and shy responses included waterskiing, riflery, College League, sailing, and many more.

It was incredible to listen to these little guys speak. Their message was simple, but they were so proud to share it.

After we heard several new experiences, we shifted to a tougher topic. I reminded the boys that I had spoken to many of them as they dealt with homesickness. When I asked for brave hands to show who’d had a few moments of missing home, almost every hand went up. Then, I asked for an even braver volunteer to come up and share how they had dealt with their homesickness. An Atlanta boy’s hand flew into the air, and I invited him to the fire to speak.

I’m going to paraphrase, but his essential message was this. “When I first got to this camp I missed my parents a lot. I was homesick, and I talked to my counselors and to Big Bird about it. Then, when I got on a College League team it started to get better. Now I love being at camp.”

I’d had some teary conversations with him about how tough it is to be away at home at such a young age, but how rewarding it can be too. It’s awesome for me to think about what a huge moment this was for him. He’d faced a huge challenge just eleven days ago; he was scared and a very long way from home. But he now felt confident enough to jump in front of all of his peers to say how happy he was.

Earlier in the week, the Philadelphia University Rams put on the play James and the Giant Peach. It’s the classic Roald Dahl story about a lonely boy who sails across the Atlantic Ocean in a giant peach with some wacky insects to get to New York City. James arrives in the city feeling safe, happy, and surrounded by people who care about him.

I can’t help but make the connection to our low sophomores. When they jumped off the bus almost two weeks ago, most were new to camp and at times felt quite lonely. They were on a 3 ½ or 7 week journey, and Manitou was their giant peach. Throughout the past week, they’ve met kids from all over the world to be companions on their journey (and most of these new friends are definitely wacky…). We’re right in the middle of first session, and the boys have formed connections that make them feel safe and happy, and I’m confident they’ll leave here knowing they were surrounded by people who cared about them. Sound familiar? Sequel?

The journey has just begun, but it’s also quickly closing in. So, after a preview of the upcoming week, the 8-year-olds’ attention spans were spent, and it was time for s’mores!

Nothing beats s’mores, a sunset, and happy campers!

(aka Big Bird)

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