Learning As I Go
“Miss Sara! I can’t go upstairs!”
Class is over, and Jonah has tied his shoes together. He is a boy scout, he proudly declares, and he likes to practice his knots. Unfortunately for me, he’s really good at them.
After fighting the monster knot with fingernails, pencils, bobby pins and scissors, I free Jonah from his own entanglement and he bolts up the stairs after the rest of his group.
It’s only 10:15 a.m. It’s going to be a long day.
Children have always made me a little nervous.
I don’t have much experience with them. I don’t have any siblings, and I never babysat when I was younger. I never knew how to act around kids, and I thought I never would.
Because of this, I was a little surprised when I found myself accepting a job as a counselor at a summer theater day camp for kids ages 5 to 18.
What was I thinking? What was I getting myself into? How long would I last before they realized I was clueless?
No, I wasn’t nervous. I was terrified.
I’ve been a theater dork since I could walk. I started ballet classes at age three, spent my summers at month-long training programs and missed plenty of teenage milestones for the sake of performances and auditions.
Once college came around and the real world started looming, the theatre dork in me moved aside to make more room for the academic dork, but she never really left.
Last spring I needed to find a summer job, and some little rebel in me decided I wasn’t going to do anything remotely related to my journalism major. I was going to do something new, something different, something I might not get a chance to do again.
That’s what college is about, right?
I loved theater camp as a kid. So when I found a counselor job at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, I told myself that I could totally handle it.
Before I had time to rethink that idea, the application was sent and the interview scheduled.
I’ve always been a quiet person, which is part of why journalism and writing appeal to me. I like to hear and tell other people’s stories, but not necessarily getting involved. I like to plan, to organize and to be in at least some control of the situation.
Being a camp counselor is the exact opposite. It’s active. It’s loud. It’s crowded, and it’s messy. It’s unexpected, and it’s chaotic. You never know what’s coming next or if you’re in control at all. It’s nothing I’d ever done before, but I had to try.
Jonah is happily munching away at his pretzels, leaving more on the floor and table than he’s actually eating.
His eyes are bright as he buzzes about some video game or movie I’ve never heard of and probably won’t understand, but he’s happy and his shoes aren’t tied together, so I’m happy.
It’s 2:30 p.m., snack time. One more class till the day is done. I can make it.
I’ll sweep the lunchroom when they’re gone. There’s something peaceful about taking care of the chaos. It makes me feel like maybe I do know what I’m doing.
When I started this job, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I have never had to clean up so many spills, apply so many Band-Aids, wipe so many tears or give so many “don’t you dare do that, I can see you” glares in my life.
I’ve also never felt so proud at seeing the shy kid in the class get up on stage and blow everyone away or been so grateful for a pipe cleaner bracelet made just for me.
“Miss Sara, take a picture with me!!”
It’s 5:00 p.m. on our last day.
Tearful parents brimming with pride from the final performance mingle with bored siblings who couldn’t care less. They wander the wide, marble lobby as the kids run around getting last minute phone numbers and hugs from friends.
It’s over. I actually did this.
If you asked me a year ago if I’d ever work with kids, I would have laughed at you. I would have said, “No way! Me?! I can’t do that,” but being a camp counselor has taught me to never let “I can’t,” “I never have,” or “I don’t know how” stop me.
Do it. You’ll learn.
It might take a few tries, a few scraped knees and a few spilled juice boxes, but if I can lose my fear of kids, then I’m pretty sure anything is possible.