Summer Camp

That time I made a 14 year old boy cry…

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While writing my last post inspired by the Idea Bank, I remembered one story that I just have to share with the world. It was the time that shy, quiet, tiny little me scared the hell out of a jerky, arrogant 14 year old boy.

I was working at a summer camp. My primary job was Ropes and Bungee Counselor and was one of 3 bunk counselors for 11 year old girls. This camp, for an abhorrent price tag offered 2, 4-week full immersion sleep-away camp experiences  (I believe it was $5000/kid or $1000/kid depending on the session). Pretty much, it was the camp from The Parent Trap or any of the great camp movies you can think of. This is technically 2 camps: a boys camp and a girls camp. The only time they mixed was for certain activity periods for the oldest campers and for socials. There were uniforms. There were dozens of activities. There was Color War which concluded with burying the hatchet.

Anyway. This happened during second session which was a good 3rd of the size of 1st session. This session had a camper who was notorious for being a pain in the butt. One of his bunk counselors was one of my ropes coworkers, so we heard how he was an ass towards his bunkmates. Well, on this particular day I was working on the bungee (which is in a different part of the camp than the ropes course, so the department head wasn’t there). This was one of the times when we had both girls and boys. The boy in question ended up on my trampoline.

I recited all the rules (it was something like “keep your hands on the straps at all times, if you want to do flips let me know, and don’t start jumping until I tell you you can”) and everything started out smoothly enough. I’d anticipated him giving me problems, so I’d been a little extra firm during instruction time. While he was bouncing, he started leaning too far forward on the way down so that he’d land on his chest. I reprimanded him the first time he did this and warned him that if he did it again I’d yank him off. Well, it’s a good thing I paid a whole lot of attention to my jumpers because I heard him say something about a “swan dive” as he jumped up and as soon as it looked like he was going to flip so he’d land head first, I jammed my thumb on the up button to keep him from landing on his head.

The operator uses the up and down buttons to wind the cables in and out to allow the person to jump higher (when the cable is up, it pulls them upwards). The motor isn’t strong enough to lift a person’s dead weight, but the little oomph mid-jump will make them jump higher and you have to lower the cable as they come down so that they’ll actually touch the trampoline because the cables can hold a person’s weight and if they aren’t long enough, the person gets trapped up in the air, though it does put a strain on the cables which isn’t good. It’s a delicate balance to be a good bungee operator.

Anyway, it was about 5 seconds between when I heard him say something about doing a swan dive and when I had him shanghaied by my quick reaction. Obviously, I was scared shitless by the fact that he’d been so close to paralyzing or killing himself and my verbal reaction was proportional. I used my newly acquired grown up voice as I very sternly and loudly told him that that was the stupidest thing I’d ever seen, that he could have seriously hurt himself, and to get the heck off of my trampoline NOW and that he was banned from being on my trampoline ever again! Actually, I have no idea what I really said to him, but it was something along these lines. I definitely banned him from my trampoline, that’s for sure. I didn’t curse him out because I didn’t curse back then. I had him un-hooked and frog-marched down the platform stairs easily within 30 seconds of him coming to a stop.

I took a deep breath to calm myself down and tried to smile at my next jumper, a girl who looked terrified of me. I do remember what I said to her as I apologized for my outburst, explained that he’d just done something incredibly stupid, and that so long as she followed all the rules we’d be friends (yes–the kids are allowed to and encouraged to do flips though they were asked to give us warning that they wanted to so that we could make sure that they got high enough for it to be safe). She was definitely nervous to start with, but by the end of her jump she’d relaxed plenty because I kept my word. The rest of the activity period went well, though I don’t know what the boy did and/or said to his friends after I kicked him off the trampoline. All I know is that he was very much “Ma’am, yes ma’am” as soon as I started yelling at him and he didn’t fight me when I made him get off the trampoline.

Like I said above, my boss wasn’t there when the incident occurred, though I told him about it when I went back to the ropes course. I think he’d heard about it from one or more of my coworkers before I got to him though. Not that I cared. I’m still proud of how I handled the situation because I knew that I did the right thing. He agreed as did my coworkers 100%. Before camp started we were told that since this is camp and it’s supposed to be fun we were discouraged from saying “no” when the kids wanted to do something that either we didn’t want to do or that was unsafe for them. We were supposed to say something to say no to them without actually using the word “No”. I still think this relatively stupid.

On one of my performance reviews second session I was actually told that the girls thought I was being too mean to them because I expected them to go to bed at bed time. I was told that I would yell at them. Grrr. I had girls constantly getting out of bed for up to 2 hours after lights out to be loud and obnoxious while other girls just wanted to sleep. My 1st session girls were wonderful at bedtime–I guess they spoiled me. What still pisses me off is that at the end of the session we counselors had to nominate a girl for being “best of the bunk”. Our choice was obvious because she was always the first to help with chores, first out of the bunk, etc, but because this girl’s mother had requested that she write home everyday (instead of the required letter twice a week) and apparently some other issues that made her seem to get more attention from the counselors (not us, by the way–it was the higher up’s complaining), we had to choose someone else and it was a girl who I’d had to on one occasion practically drag out of the bed of her friend in the adjoining bunk after lights out.

I guess I should have let the girls run wild all night so long as they stayed inside the bunk, but you know what? I was grumpy from not getting enough sleep. By the second half of 2nd session I was taking a regular afternoon nap, something I never did and haven’t done since!

Hmm…I guess this was the birth of the “Hitler Face“, haha.