This summer, I started a second job as a counselor at the local camp we have in town. Here, there is a dirty lake, a baseball field, and various other smatterings of sports courts and areas. Somehow, for 8 hours of the day, 5 days a week, 20 full-time and part-time counselors entertain a group of kids that ranges from 40 to 100+ bodies on a week-to-week basis.

In short, it’s exhausting. On my bad days, I catch myself wishing that I look or act unapproachable in my daily life so little children don’t run up to me screaming “MADDIEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!” delightedly. Sometimes I contemplate just being in charge of the arts and crafts for the 8 hours I work there so that I can draw with the kids the whole time instead of throwing them around in the lake or kayaking or playing pickle. Most of my complaints, however, come from the grumpiness that follows waking up at 7 a.m. during my senior summer, and actually has nothing to do with the kids at all. In fact, I get almost as excited to see some of the kids as they are to see me.

The reason for this isn’t totally because I can’t wait to play with them; it’s mostly because I can’t wait to see what they have to say. I don’t know what parents are feeding their kids these days, but the children that go to the camp are not only hilarious, but also more socially competent than any other group I’ve met. In the five-going-on-six weeks I’ve been at the camp, I’ve learned more about how to treat other people and about different ways to look at the world than I ever thought I would. These kids have cracked me up and made me think, and I’ve collected a few lessons that they’ve taught me that I want to share with you.

So, here goes.

Get Excited Like A Kid

Yes, we all get excited – we get giddy when we’re heading to a concert, or happy when we see someone we haven’t been with in a long time. It’s always the big things that get us most pumped up.

It’s not like that for kids. Swim time at the camp? MAYHEM. It’s like they’ve never been in water before. Before swim time begins, all of the counselors go in the lake to prepare for the rush. Then we wait. After a minute or so, we hear a soft rumbling, some faint yelling – then, suddenly, they crest the hill and sprint down the sand smashing face first into the water. They come up, beaming with a kind of happiness that I am convinced only a 6-year-old can feel. And that happens every. single. day.

It’s the same with ice cream time. Kids run up to the fridge, shout what they want for ice cream, and sort of bounce in place until we hand whatever they want to them. Every single day, ice cream time is a new treat, something that they genuinely look forward to throughout the day.

For example: whenever one of the kids, Robby* (who’s about 10) gets excited about anything, he yells “I’m so excited and nervous!!!” and runs over to hug a counselor. It’s the cutest thing I’ve ever seen.

Lesson:

When we grow up, we somehow lose track of the little things we used to love and sort of dull our lives down to a vibrancy that may seem black-and-white to children. All of the little kids have basically taught me to get unnecessarily riled up over certain things sometimes, just to keep the youthful glow. Looking forward to the little things keeps you happy and healthy, so why not treat little daily moments here and there like they’re the best thing that has ever happened to you thus far?

Imagine Like A Kid

There is this tiny 5 or 6-year-old, Cameron*, that comes to the camp every so often. He’s a maniac – I have never seen so much energy stuck inside one tiny body. He’s always running to his destination, ripping his shirt off so he can roll on the grass, pretending to be a warrior; you name it, he’s probably done it.

One day I asked him, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

He replied “A wildman. But sometimes I also wanna be a hunter, too.”

Later on that day, he was annoyed over having to organize his bag during organizational time at the camp. He was bummed out and didn’t feel like talking, so to cheer him up I asked him if he wanted to go on an adventure.

“Where?” he asked.

“Right here!” I said, as we stood in the middle of the outfield. “We’re in the Amazon, and I can’t get through the underbrush. I need you to cut through it for me, or else we can’t go anywhere.”

Cameron’s eyes widened for a second, and I could almost see it happening – as he looked around, the outfield was slowly beginning to take a new form. Beside him, trees laced with vines were bursting through the grass and shooting towards the sky; soon a giant canopy shaded us from the sun. In front of him, bushes and exotic plants and flowers popped through the ground, rustling as we tried to push through them. Suddenly, there was a bear in the distance that Cameron decided he wanted for dinner. Luckily, he had a stick (sword) and he sliced through the underbrush to get to his prey. In the next hour, we set up camp, made a huge campfire with his stick (now multipurpose sword and flamethrower), and made beds to sleep in (also with his stick, which seemed to have the ability to conjure up a mattress out of thin air).

Lesson:

The world is so much bigger through a little kid’s eyes. There are so many possibilities. As we grow, we narrow ourselves down to one path, one idea of what we want to do with the remainder of our lives after whatever educational institutions we attend. We enter the work force, we get married, we have big-minded kids who later whittle their brains down to focus on what they’re told they’re good at, and then the cycle begins again.

Whenever you can, break out of this mold. Expand your mind – travel to places that fascinate you, do things that scare you, be willing to break out a little. Embrace your imagination and create your own story. Life is a journey and everyone finishes in the same place at the end, so why not find things that brighten up the ride?

Dream Like A Kid

The classic question to ask at the camp (like the one I asked the little wildman up there) is “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

I asked a couple of the boys I was sitting with one day that question, and they all said exactly what they wanted to do.

“A hockey player in the NHL.”

“A football player with some lacrosse on the side.”

“Probably a famous baseball player, but I also would play hockey too.”

I even got “A teacher – it would be rewarding.”

None of them even thought about the odds that were against them – they just knew what they wanted to do. It didn’t matter that being a professional athlete (or even earning a steady wage as a teacher) is near impossible. That’s just what they wanted to be.

Lesson:

It’s frustrating that as we get older we limit our options. We stop believing in ourselves, or we stop working for what we really want because it’s too hard. Talking to these kids reminded me of my priorities and what I truly can succeed if I want it badly enough and work at it hard enough.

Love Like A Kid

The amount of devotion these kids put forth is just astounding. For every person they like, they put their whole heart out.

Hands down the cutest kid at the camp, 6-year-old Cody,* is the perfect example of anything love-related. He absolutely loves one of our counselors, Abby, and has a huge goofy smile whenever he’s around her. And he’s not shy about it. One day, he kept sneaking kisses on Abby’s hand, and later ran up to me, yelling excitedly, “I kissed Abby 7 times!” It was the highlight of his day. Every day that he sees her, he grins and gives her a huge hug, say contentedly, “Abbyyyyy!” For him, every time he sees Abby feels like the very first time he met her.

Cody also loves charming the ladies. He asked Abby out on a date, and gave her the play-by-play of what their night would look like: “First, when I get home, I’ll say to my mom, ‘Mommy, me and Abby are going on a date to McDonald’s and she’s going to pick me up.’ Then, Abby, you’ll pick me up and we will go have a date at McDonald’s.”

I asked him if he was going to pay for her, seeing as it was their first date and all.

He said, “Well…..maybe we can split it.”

Cody also gives out many, free “I love you”‘s, which are all still somehow heartfelt and sweet. He’ll come up to me and say “Hey cutiepie,” or “Hey cute Maddie.” He loves giving out devotion – it’s something that just comes naturally to him.

These kids know the rules of love too. When a couple of the counselors asked the boys how they “get girls,” we had a few great responses.

My favorite kid at the camp, Timmy* said, “You have to be handsome, win things, and you definitely can’t lie to them. Oh, and you have to be with them a lot, or else they’ll get sad and lonely and say ‘I’m breaking up with you!’”

His brother, Bradley* said, “You have to listen to them and let them talk.”

Aaron* said, “You have to get them flowers and you must have abs and body hair.”

Yep, boys, that pretty much covers it.

Lesson:

I am totally guilty of having commitment problems, so it’s hypocritical of me to give this advice. But these kids willingly give their whole soul out to someone without feeling like they have to protect themselves. When we grow up, we always hear our friends warning us about a guy, or telling us how to keep ourselves from getting our hearts broken, or making sure we keep a little mystery about ourselves so our significant other wonders what we’re doing. Everything has to be sexy and calculated, especially when you start dating someone new. But for kids, saying how they feel right off the bat seems like the smartest thing to do – for them, it’s okay to be adorable and romantic, because it’s a perfect reflection of how they feel. We should be more like that.

Simplify Things Like A Kid

I’ve recently been having some personal issues on dealing with going to college and all the ties that have to be untied on the way. Trust me, I’m excited, it’s just that things are a bit complicated right now.

I was talking to Cody today again, and because I had all of these things on my mind, I asked, “Cody, what do you do when things get complicated?”

“This,” he said, and he began to dance around, flailing his arms and legs in various directions.

“You dance?” I asked him.

He laughed and then stopped dancing, looking at me seriously. “I’ll tell you what I do,” he said. “I go outside and play.”

Lesson:

For kids, nothing is complicated. If they’re confused about something, they can just ask each other “Why?” and get a straightforward answer from another kid their age. For us, everything seems to have this underlying layer of “What, Where, When, Why, and How?” We over-think, and with over-thinking, we over-complicate. Everything in life is simple, and while not everything can be answered in a straightforward manner, pretty much all of life is just a simple tying and untying of knots.

When Cody said that he goes outside and plays when things get complicated, it made me realize that things aren’t as tough as they seem sometimes. For a 6-year-old to realize that he can still go outside and smell the roses when things get over his head is amazing, and it made me wonder why I had never tried “going outside to play” when I had a lot of things crowding my mind. Basically, the lesson here is that things are only as complicated as you make them out to be. So don’t make them out to be all that complicated.

Anyway, my job at the camp is surprisingly rewarding. Working with kids is awesome; I couldn’t have asked for a better summer job.

It turns out kids are a lot smarter than we think. People need start taking what they have to say more seriously.

 

*Starred names have been changed just in case parents would feel uncomfortable for any reason to have their child’s name on the internet.