What is this obsession with camps in America?
When I was a kid, the sports teacher at my school. He was a great guy—unless he made you run cross country in the rain. (I used to run with the smokers. I could count on them to stop for a cigarette, and honestly, I needed the break even if I didn’t inhale.)
At the end of the school year, he’d go off to a summer job in America. People would ask him what he did in America in the summers and he’d say, “I’m a camp counselor.”
I didn’t have a clue what that was, having never been to camp anywhere, much less in America.
Now I do. My two little girls have had a summer full of camps. First they did Vacation Bible School together. Then separately one went to swim camp and the other to dance camp. Ava was the star, of course, the best of the two dozen girls on stage. You can trust me on that. I am telling you the truth. You know I wouldn’t exaggerate on such a matter.
Later Ava went to Frozen camp. Just when I got those songs out of my mind, she made sure they were wound up for another round, turning our house into a constant karaoke zone. Meanwhile Ellie was doing mud camp. You read that right. Mud camp. Who knew? Every day’s outdoor activity ended in a pool of mud—and various lost articles of clothing. People pay money to send their kids to camp to get filthy, and apparently I am one of those people.
The camps are popular, and they help kids learn all sorts of skills. In addition to the variety of camps, I’m taken with everything else Memphis has to offer. The library has all sorts of free summer activities. So many organizations have so much going on. It’s great, really.
I had none of that as a child. So what did I do in the summer? I played the World Cup in a little alley next to our house. It was narrow enough for me to play on my own. I could kick the ball up against a house on either side of the alley, representing the competing teams. Because I was England, I would always get knocked out early from the World Cup. But then there was Brazil and their star player Pele. While I was Pele, I was also the crowd chanting, “Pe-le! Pe-le!”
Because my dad was ill, he was home a lot during that season of my life. My most shameful moment happened in that alley. My dad was outside watching me for a few minutes, and a boy came down the street and said, “What are you doing?”
My dad said, “Oh, he’s playing football again and he’s Brazil.”
Then he went in the house, and the boy said, “Who was that?”
“My granddad,” I said.
I was only eight or nine, but as a consequence of being ill, my father looked old enough to be my grandfather.
I don’t know why I said that. I don’t torture myself over it, but the fact that I denied my father in that way still echoes in my mind more than forty years later.
Although no one else has known, until the first person to read this post, I feel the shame of it. I have had a hard and fast rule since that day that I would never deny someone like that again.
I saw Pele play once. He came to England for an exhibition game, and my older brother took me. I could hardly see, but there he was, dressed in gleaming white and looking stellar. Everybody wanted the Brazilians to get a free kick outside the penalty area to see what Pele would do. He did get a free kick—and missed. Harry Potter hadn’t come along yet at the time, but if it happened now, the crowd would be hoping for a Harry Potter style of moving the ball back to the net when obviously even Pele had missed the target.
We all miss the target. It’s part of our human condition. But what do we learn from it? How do even our failures help shape us into the people we would like to be? Whether in summer camps or playing the World Cup singlehandedly, we make slips during childhood, and we must learn our lessons. My swimming, dancing, singing, muddy daughters are both in the general age range I was that day in the alley. I’m sure they made some slips, and not just in the mud, but I hope they also had insights at camp this summer that they will carry with them as they grow into the amazing women I know they will be.