We were two days in to middle school camp and I had a middle school girl who refused to shower. We’d hiked up the mountain, played various outdoor games, slept in un-insulated cabins, but she wouldn’t budge. She did not want to shower.
We all remember middle school. Those awkward days of not knowing your own body well enough to predict its needs or sometimes even its movements. Body odor is a fairly new concept.
I sat next to her in front of our main lodge during some free time. We were quiet for a moment. I’d never read the section of the manual that explained how to convince a 12-year-old girl to shower.
I tried reasoning with her. Making up rules.
“We have to shower. It’s a rule at camp,” I said. I tried good counselor. Tough counselor. Nothing seemed effective.
She nodded mildly but I could tell she wasn’t convinced. She was still wearing the same blue sweatshirt she had worn when she got off the bus three days ago.
Then I started telling them stories before bed. As we lay there in the darkness of our cabin at 10 p.m. each night, listening to the wind in the pines outside or the chatter of insects, I made up stories about princesses and coconut cake and talking parrots. The room would quiet of nervous whispers and the sound of sleeping bags turning and turning again. Eventually their breathing evened and they slept.
And one day, she showered.
Camp is about a lot of things, like learning how to fish or making a popsicle stick boat. It’s about exploring the natural world and what’s in your own head. But camp is also about growing. It’s about not showering because you’re convinced you can still smell your mom on your sweatshirt. It’s about listening to stories in bed at night until you fall dead asleep from running, singing, and laughing all day long.
Camp changes people, often in ways they don’t realize or intend. It provides experiences and opportunities no other human environment can. It allows us to grow in ways we didn’t realize we needed to grow.
Even if that’s just being able to shower three days in.