by Mary Jane Curran on November 28
This time of year, I love watching A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and then later A Charlie Brown Christmas. They are familiar and nostalgic. Not only do they remind me of holidays past and watching these specials with my own children, they remind me of my childhood, roaming the neighborhood with a host of neighbor kids, all ages, trying our best to stay out of trouble and seeking creative ways to keep boredom at bay.
Mine was a Minneapolis neighborhood, not suburban, but Minnehaha Creek was two blocks away, and as I got older, it became part of the territory we were allowed to explore independently. I say “we” because that included my sister and several kids from other neighborhood families. Part of the wonder of these experiences was being able to wander with friends of all ages. We made choices, negotiated them together, and in a way determined our own destiny. We also got to spend a lot of time in the woods along the creek.
As my own children grew up, we lived not far from my childhood home, but too far away from the creek for my kids’ wanderings. However, as they grew older, their boundaries grew as well. Several parks, as well as a nearby lake, fell within a safe distance. They were lucky to have plenty of green spaces in which to play, but luckier still that times hadn’t changed so much yet. Kids walked to school by themselves without worry. Sports weren’t scheduled every day. Activities were balanced by time for homework, time with family, and time to roam, seeking creative ways for fun while also staying out of trouble.
Things have changed a bit more, and I mourn a little for my grandchildren. Their activities are further from home, necessitating rides from parents or carpools. Their time is more committed. Sure, they can walk to their friends’ homes, but there is a reluctance to give them the same kind of freedom that I experienced.
What does all of this have to do with camp you might ask? I have spoken before in one of our videos about how camp is like the old neighborhood. Maybe I’m dating myself by saying this, but I really enjoy witnessing it. Kids of all ages come together, play together, learn together, take controlled risks together, and support one another in their successes and failures. They get to step out the door and find themselves surrounded by trees, friends, and endless opportunities.
When we play The Founders’ Game or Capture the Flag, everyone’s included. Built into our routines is an unspoken rule (really a practice, not a rule) that the big kids look out for the little kids. On any given day you can see the worshipful eyes of a younger camper as an older one takes them under their wing. It’s even more gratifying to witness the older ones teaching the younger, often by example. The freedom is there, but the beauty of camp is that it’s all within a safety net, and it’s also surrounded by the woods, the water, and the stars at night
I think “The Big Show” is when I am most moved by my own nostalgia, not my memories of doing anything like it, but seeing all those kids, all ages, shapes, and styles, coming together, and through the combined creativity and determination (maybe even endurance and tolerance) of our staff, they put together these creative, funny, and heartwarming productions every year. The drama kids (and these are really any of the campers) are always so proud of their accomplishments, and the staff breathes a huge sigh of relief that they pulled off another one. I can imagine the Charlie Brown gang doing the same thing.
This year I’m going to enjoy Charlie Brown and his quirky bunch of neighborhood friends, even though I’ve seen it all before. I’ll think about which camper reminds me of Lucy, Linus, Charlie, maybe even Pigpen, and of course, Snoopy. And I’ll give thanks that camp still gives kids a chance to enjoy the neighborhood.