Nineteen years has left me unsettled, tirelessly questioning the seriousness that each day demands and struggling to address the challenges that self-identity poses. Eleven days has left me settled, obliterating my maturity and opening my eyes to what is genuinely important in life.
It wasn’t until I returned to campus last week and became surrounded by students and professors that I realized that I’d spent most of my winter break with children under the age of 12. I worked for five days as a counselor at a vacation camp for elementary school kids, and I visited my 4-and-a-half-year-old nephew for six days.
As a rookie on the staff at the camp, I had little idea what I had gotten myself into. All I knew was that I had signed up for long hours of board games, sports and performances with children who could not even remember my name after a week together. Even though they didn’t know exactly who I was, they befriended me and shared deep secrets with me. Each morning at the camp began with a game of Jenga, Sorry, Monopoly Jr. or checkers and ended with part of another child’s life story told.
Some of the children were too shy or afraid to discuss such personal topics with strangers, though. Kindergarteners such as Sophia trusted me in a different way – she, unaware of the rules of kickball, held my hand, followed me around and mimicked my every move during the game.
Other campers admired me as a counselor, too. When a scientist came to the camp and instructed the kids to perform experiments that yielded mind-boggling results, they turned to me for direction. ‘Like this?’ they would ask after every request from the performer, and they would fixate on the experiment’s materials in my hands as if they were gold.
Yet what the children did not consider was the reasoning behind the observations’ -‘ they were easily able to ignore the scientist’s complex explanations, while I thought in-depth about them and tried to connect them to the relevant lessons in my brain and cognitive science classes.
The campers never worried about the mismatched clothes they wore, the messes they made with arts and crafts supplies, the number of calories in their chocolate-filled lunches or the validity of their answer ‘because’ to every ‘why’ question imaginable. All they cared about was playing.
Although I had played with the campers for five days straight, I did not truly understand the meaning of the word ‘play’ until I visited family members in Jacksonville, Fla. I arrived at my sister’s house at around noon on a Wednesday and waited all afternoon in excitement to pick up her son from day care. The time finally came, and when I entered his classroom, he spotted me in the corner, yelled my name, ran over to me and wrapped his arms around my legs. This hug was especially heartfelt for me – I started to cry, as my nephew who grew so much since the last time I saw him five months ago was thrilled to be with me.
This hug was the one moment that we spent together without playing. On the car ride home, we immediately created a game – the ketchup game, in which we took turns sharing funny places where ketchup could be. My nephew laughed the loudest at ‘ketchup in your eyeballs.’
At home, we jumped on the beds, organized horsy rides, wrestled one another, ran relay races and played with toys. Braeden’s favorite toys are Transformers and cars – while we were playing with them, though, he was clueless that a bit of my mentality had transformed from work to play and that I was driving on a new road to happiness.
Kravitz is a member of
the class of 2012.