Photo by: Choice Camps

Caretaking: Who Knew It Was a Summer Camp Choice?

by Rahna Reiko Rizzuto
Photo by: Choice Camps

This is the first summer that my boys are going to camp. It’s a New York thing, and I am not originally a New Yorker. Where I grew up, summer was about hanging around, making yourself useful and finding a way to entertain yourself with a paper cup and a stick. But in Brooklyn, early teenagers attend camp. Soccer camp, tech camp, baseball, math, music camp: each one offers a focused specialty, a set of skills that will give your child an edge in the competition to come.

I confess that, when camp finally seemed inevitable, I, too, was eyeing the summer as an opportunity to introduce my younger son to a new and notable talent – digital storytelling? film? – that he might become passionate about just in time for seventh grade, when every New York child must find some way to stand out from the tens of thousands of other smart, wonderful kids who are applying to the same high schools.

Instead, my sons are attending an all-purpose “summer experience” day camp in Brooklyn, where my fourteen year old is a Counselor in Training. Which means, far from distinguishing himself as a prodigy, the bulk of his days are spent taking care of seven year olds. “It’s awesome,” he says. Why? I ask him. Why on earth? What person, especially a teenage boy, would look forward to spending his free time with a large group of little kids? It just is, he says. It’s fun. They have a lot of energy. They like to hang on him, and pull on his arms, and cling to his legs so he can’t go anywhere without them. The CITs, as they are called, do get time to play dodge ball and other games (my son tells me proudly that his group won yesterday) and they also have time off – during Arts and Crafts and Swim for example – when they can go to their own counselors and do something supervised for a half hour or so. Their counselors, I am told, are also awesome. But my son usually chooses to hang out with the kids.

There is a boy who can’t swim because of an ear infection so he and my son shoot hoops and hit baseballs. A young man who is taller than his mother and a kid half his size: “You’d never believe it, Mom. He can hit the ball up to the ceiling. He’s amazing!” Or he hangs out in art class to see what they are drawing. “That’s great. That’s a beautiful picture,” he says mimicking himself as he wanders among them. This is his choice. This is not Facebook, or texting, or any of the things he usually likes to do. He tells me, as if it just occurred to him, that he hasn’t logged onto Facebook in the past three days. Who knew that my son would find his best summer experience, not in soccer or tech, but in caretaking?

In New York City, we are conditioned to focus on self-improvement, every child for himself, with self being the center. We are transient, high-tech; we are busy. By the time school and guitar lessons and homework are done every evening, there is not a lot of time for service, or for taking care of others, or for anything except going to sleep. But this summer, in this camp, my son is practicing love. We didn’t plan it that way, but I am so grateful. He is finding new priorities. He is celebrating others. And he is enjoying every minute of what he discovers. And it is awesome.

Rahna Reiko Rizzuto is the author of the memoir, Hiroshima in the Morning (which will be released on September 11, 2010), and the award-winning novel, Why She Left Us. Her work appears in the Mothers Who Think anthologies, among others and she blogs for The Huffington Post. She teaches creative writing at Goddard College.

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25 Comments

KUDOS to your son and to you for raising caring young person!!
As a summer camp director,I can only hope to have counselors as excited as your son! There have been summers, where I have been more of a 'babysitter' to the counselors than to the campers!!
Finding young adults that like to work with younger children is not an easy task. But when that one comes along, you really have to cherish the time that they give to the kids and to the camp...

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Thank you for reading and for your comment. I hope your summer camp is going well this year. My sons have a wide variety of family members around them, from adults to small children to elders with dementia and other disabilities, and they have grown up to appreciate every person as an individual. I feel very lucky.

What a lovely lovely testimony to your son. It moves me to tears. Thank you for sharing.

What a wonderful glimpse into life. Thank you for sharing!

Thank you both for your comments. So often we look at our children and are amazed at how fast they have grown. This is one case in which it is more sweet than bittersweet to see him claim himself. All best to you.

Your letter brought tears to my eyes. The importance of human connection and to think, he found it himself. Thanks for sharing.

Reading your post made my day. In my opinion, we can all use a little less focus on self and much more focus on community. Many thanks for sharing.

I think it's commendable that your son is enjoying being a CIT. My children both volunteer for a week at a camp for mentally disabled children. It's a long tough week, but they both always come home saying that they want to go back the next year. They tell everyone that they can't imagine a summer without those kids. They adore them.
I believe that kids ought to spend time volunteering and helping others. It's through service to others that you really understand and value what you have.
LBC

While summer camps do help kids improve upon a single skill set to set them apart from the competition later in life, they also give kids a chance to delve into different activities that they might not otherwise try. This helps them learn about themselves; what they find fun and have a desire to know more about.

Your son may have inadvertently learned that he would be an excellent teacher or minister/priest/rabbi or social worker...

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Thank you for sharing. My daughter also is a CIT this summer, her 2nd summer, and also is with 7 year olds and absolutely loves it. LOVES IT. She loves being a role model and helping her kids...

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I usually don't comment on here, but I LOVED this. My eyes actually teared up because *I'M* so proud of your son.
There is a huge trend to move away from the "human element." I'm so glad that your son isn't following this trend, and that he's actually out there connecting with other LIVE people, making a positive difference in their lives, and most importantly, LOVING it. This in itself is an amazing way of distinguisting oneself...

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What a great story - it made me smile and gave me goosebumps all at the same time. Your son sounds like a wonderful human being. I hope my little guy turns out to be just as caring!

This was heartwarming and much appreciated. Thank you.

My heart is deeply touched by people like your son. I love stories of genuine love. Thank you for your post.

Camp is a Texas thing, too! I grew up going to camp all summer, every summer, and there is nothing like it. Kids like your son love it because they are adored and needed, and because human interaction (as you point out) requires so much more heart and warmth than digital communications. The fact that your son is taking responsibility for others is huge for his resume! All the best <3

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