I was fifteen years old the last time I was at summer camp… and a teensy-weensy bit suspended from going back the next year. When I was told I couldn’t go back to sleeping on a thin mattress in a cabin with no A/C and lots of creeping surprises—like ticks, spiders, roaches, and snakes—in the middle of the sweltering Florida summer, I was okay with that. Now I have my own kids, and they wanted to go to camp. I wanted to know about the camp I was sending them to. So, I asked to be a counselor, and I got my wish: one week of sleep-deprived, wilderness survival. Oh boy.
It wasn’t that bad—and I say that because it’s been two weeks since I got back from camp, and I’ve tried to block most of it out. Plus, my kids loved it. They didn’t seem to notice the filthy bathrooms and the chigger bites up their legs. There was a 75% off sale on candy bars on the last day, and what is there to complain about after that?
My daughter, Dawn, did have one complaint, though: her date for the bonfire.
Every camp session has an end-of-the-week couple event that sends the younger campers into a frenzy worrying about having to go with a boy or girl. The crisis is real; don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Those kids are sweating it, and the fear smells really, really bad.
Dawn had no idea there was any such thing as going to a bonfire with a boy. Dawn is aware of boys; that’s about it. Dawn did not want to go with a boy anywhere. Dawn wanted nothing to do with a boy, and if a boy even brought up the bonfire subject she was going to scream and run.
“I am not going to the bonfire with a boy, Mom!” she averred on the first day.
“You don’t have to,” I told her.
“Are you sure? They made it sound like I have to!”
“They’re just doing that for fun.”
She calmed down. “Okay, because I don’t want to go with a boy.”
Then one of her cabin mates decided a little matchmaking was in order. It consisted of asking the boy sitting across from Dawn at lunch in the mess hall, “Do you have a date for the bonfire?” And telling him, “Then you and Dawn should go together.”
Dawn is not a violent child. Normally. In that instance she turned on her matchmaking friend, gave her the evil eye, and said between clinched teeth, “Stop it.”
Her cabin mate, a new friend, was unaware that this was Dawn’s violent side and all manner of plans were going through Dawn’s head for disposing of this new friend pronto.
The friend pressed the subject.
Dawn drew close, and in quiet, blood-curdling tones, repeated through her teeth, “Stop it!”
The friend didn’t get the hint, and Dawn left the table mid-meal.
Heated words were spoken in the cabin during rest hour. Dawn was incensed. Her ex-friend was offended. I felt very sorry for Dawn, but, well… C’est la camp! I won’t say I never tried to match my friends up. I won’t say they never hated me for it.
Then something really tragic happened. Dawn was asked to the bonfire by a boy! She said, “No.” And she felt bad.
“Mom, I feel awful for telling him I wouldn’t go with him. I didn’t even tell him why. I just said, ‘no,’ and walked away.”
“Then go back and tell him it’s because you just don’t want to go to the bonfire with a boy.”
“I just feel so bad,” she said. “He’s very unattractive, Mom.”
So, Dawn in all her gentleness went back to the ugly boy and told him she was sorry for having to tell him no. It wasn’t him; it was her.
He responded, “That’s okay. I was just asking random girls.”
When Dawn relayed this to me, I laughed. “See? You don’t need to feel bad!”
“But, Mom! Now I feel worse! All those girls have told him ‘no.’” She shook her head. “He’s so unattractive, but… he seems nice.”
I should’ve seen where this was going and warned the tender-hearted child, but I didn’t. The next conversation we had, she looked at me intently and told me, “I’m going with that boy to the bonfire.”
“Yes. I told him, ‘If you still want me to go with you, I will.’”
I didn’t try to persuade her out of it. I could see she was determined it was the right thing to do. After all, I knew she didn’t really like him, unlike her twin sister, Pearl, who had found a way to threaten the boy she liked into going with her to the bonfire. I had my hands full keeping my eye on Pearl.
So, the day of the bonfire arrived. The young campers’ moods were tense up to the hour of the bonfire. The momentous occasion came… and went. On the way back from the bonfire, Dawn found me. She was fuming.
“Mom! That boy was soooo dumb!”
I grinned. “What did he do?”
“Oh! He—everything! First of all, he made me sit on the end of the bench, and I only had half a seat. And second of all, he started to fall asleep on me.”
“Mom, he kept trying to shine his flashlight in my eyes. He wanted me to see how long I could stare at the light. Mom, he was so dumb he blinded himself with the flashlight.”
I died laughing.
She stopped walking and said, “It’s not funny.”
“I’m not laughing at you,” I said, trying to contain my laughter. “It may not be funny to you now, but it will be.”
She wasn’t convinced. “He was so dumb! I shouldn’t have gone with him.”
“I think you’ve learned a lesson here,” I told her. “A boy who is unattractive may not have any redeeming qualities. Don’t sacrifice yourself just because you feel sorry for someone.”
“He blinded himself with his own flashlight, Mom! Who does that?”
That night, the girls in the cabin recounted what happened around the bonfire, and Dawn told her story with all of the indignation and none of the disappointment. It was followed up with stories on stupid things boys do.
“Is it funny now?” I asked her amidst the laughter.
“Yeah.” She studied the underside of the top bunk and mused, “I just can’t believe anybody can be that dumb!”
Yes, there are dumb boys out there, Dawn. I hate to tell you, but there are lots of dumb boys. Some of them are unattractive. You can feel sorry for them, but don’t let pity or misplaced guilt influence you. Some of them are attractive. Don’t let their looks fool you; they are still dumb. It’s perfectly fine to say ‘no’ and walk away.