By Women’s Adventure intern Molly, who is an adventuress because of her days at summer camp
LESSON 1: You Can Still Be a Mature in a Chicken Suit
The best dance parties in the world happen inside a small, wooden lodge in the north Minnesota woods. There are no strobe lights, no subwoofers; it’s usually mid-afternoon, and we are under the influence of nothing but the spell of a 90s boy band. At Camp Thunderbird for Girls in Bemidji, Minnesota, dance parties are as important to us as sleeping and eating. There is no energy like that of 150 girls, ages 6 to 76, jumping up and down, singing at the tops of their lungs to Backstreet Boys. Not even the newest Lady Gaga blaring at a New York City club can top the excitement.
At these parties, a girl becomes a hero when she teases her hair and rubs dirt on her face to look like a cavewoman, when she wears mismatched sequined clothes and adds a sombrero to accent the sparkle. I have never felt more like a supermodel than the night I spent running around camp in a chicken suit. Never have more people envied me.
At camp, crazy is cool. Laughter makes anyone beautiful, and the crazier we dance together, the closer we become. Whether you’re a sixteen-year-old Counselor In Training or the 65-year-old activities director, camp keeps everyone in this limbo between childhood and adulthood, forcing us to grow in independence and responsibility while also promoting the silly fun that keeps us young.
Growing Up Without Growing Old
I was 17 in the summer of 2008, the summer of that chicken suit and the summer of many memorable dance parties. It was the summer of shiny blue spandex and car wash photo shoots, of tie-dye boas and sunglasses shaped like cups of lemonade, the summer of an 80s beach party in space and of a stuffed pig named Francis who joined my friends and I on our adventures. It was also the summer I sat my 11-year-old campers in a circle to teach them about respect, the summer I earned a lifeguard certification, the summer I realized that camp isn’t perfect, the summer I sang my campers to sleep every night, and the summer I led kids on hiking trips for the first time.
As a camper, I watched my counselors sport bright blue tutus and bunny ears as we headed off to Independence Day festivities at the boys camp. There were days I watched them dance louder and crazier than the eight-year-old girls and a few hours later, I listened to them teach me to light a Whisperlite stove and the best ways to problem solve with friends.
By watching my counselors and spending three years as one myself, I saw that there is a big difference between being youthful and being immature. Camp helped me realize that sometimes, one of the most mature things you can do is act like a child. I do it for myself—to feel happy and carefree—and I do it for my campers, so they can see how good it feels to just be themselves. Most importantly, the challenges I faced at camp taught me to know the right times to slip on those grown-up gloves.
I felt close enough to most of my counselors to trust them as pals and far enough that I respected them as superiors. I listened to them, envied them, hoped that one day I would grow up to be them. As my friends and I transitioned from campers to counselors, I think we all grew to be our own versions of what we admired in them.
In reality, though, I was petrified to grow up at camp, scared that I would grow out of camp. I was excited to get older everywhere else, but I was terrified that one day would stop feeling the fervor I always felt when that lodge floor shook below 300 jumping feet. I may not go back every summer anymore but, when I think about seeing the grown-up directors grooving to Jonas Brothers, my fears disappear. You never grow out of Thunderbird.
Camp taught me responsibility, respect, and self-sufficiency but also helped me cling to youth. I learned to take care of myself, the meaning of real friendship, and began appreciating what I have. But I don’t have to stop dressing crazy or start brushing my hair to be responsible, and I don’t have to be immature to be youthful.
I’m still always the first one belting out Disney songs at the top of my lungs, but I also always remember to make my bed first.
Women’s Adventure intern, Molly Sprayregen, will share more Lessons From Camp in this summer’s blog series. She is a nineteen-year-old adventure-seeker who loves puddle jumping and dancing to 90s music. A student at the University of Pennsylvania, she’s pumped to be interning for WAM. She hopes to be a travel writer someday and can’t seem to stop writing about her ten amazing summers at Camp Thunderbird in Bemidji, Minnesota, a place that introduced her to her first love: backpacking. Sometimes, she jumps out of planes into fields and other times she slides down waterfalls in Ecuadorian rainforests. If she isn’t doing any of that, she’s probably eating pretzels and drinking a caffeinated beverage.