Several years ago, before COVID temporarily wrecked summer camp for kids, I was the Snack Shack Lady at junior camp in the woods of western Oregon. In case you’ve never been in contention for that job, it is a highly coveted position, especially if your husband is the camp R.N. and you get to sleep in the fancy nurse’s quarters with him instead of on a creaky bunk bed in a cabin with nine thousand kids. Stay back, ladies–he’s mine.
The person in this role has control of the goods. The candy goods. And she monitors the flow of them through the little Window of Gloriousness at yes, The Snack Shack which, in reality, is just a sliding glass opening cut into one end of the storage closet next to the dining hall, but glorious nonetheless.
There are not many settings aside from school where large groups of children gather under the supervision of a limited number of adults. Camp is one of those. Spending a week with the little buggers in a morning, noon, and night situation really allows for some significant interactions and opportunities to see children for who they are in their forest/semi-wild/”I’m-a-little-bit-homesick” element, rather than in their family environment or their church sanctuary or their elementary classroom. I remember a friend of mine once equating the aroma of a child returning from a week at camp to a stale bag of Fritos. It’s weirdly true. I’ve never gotten that smell out of my memory. Anyway . . .
How the Snack Shack works is by spending points. Each camper gets a limited number of points good for one drink and one snack twice a day. (Don’t worry, they have unlimited access to water at all times.) They line up at the window according to whichever activity group they’re assigned and are usually coming from the swimming pool, thus boasting dripping hair, wet swimsuit, and soggy towel, combined with a gentle, calm, soft-spoken demeanor, which of course is a natural offshoot of swimming in the sun with 40 other kids.
Ha. That’s a JOKE. They’re actually a little berserk at that point. But still darling of course.
The troops line up at the Window of Gloriousness in their puddles of swimming pool water and wait their turn to say their name and cabin name so Snack Shack Lady can check them off the list and fulfill their heart’s desire from the display rack of Varying Degrees of Sugar behind her.
One hot afternoon toward the end of the week during this particular camp when supplies of the most popular candies were running dangerously thin, the line from my window was deep and wide with tired wet kids who just wanted to get their goodies and go. Sadly, it was not to be.
It reminded me of that type of lady in the WalMart checkout line who doesn’t care how long it takes to peruse over her tab with the clerk to make sure one coupon for 6 cents got counted in her two cartloads of 15,000 items even though the line behind her stretches back to the lingerie section. Well here came that kid in line at the Snack Shack.
He was not gonna spend his points on just anything. No sirree.
It went something like this:
“I’ll have a Butterfinger.”
“Sorry. We’re out.”
“Peanut M & Ms.”
“Sorry. We have plain. Want those?”
“Regular Skittles then.”
“Nope. They’re gone too. But I’ve got the tropical ones.”
. . . Long pause. . .
“What makes them tropical?”
Now at this point there was audible groaning coming from the back of the line and I was faced with a choice. I could choose between postponing the entire group’s candy satisfaction in order to present this dripping wet kid with a full-fledged lesson on world geography as it pertains to tropical botany and the growth patterns of papaya, banana and mango trees, along with the manufacturing process that includes red dye #40, yellow #5 and hydrogenated palm kernel oil.
Or I could come back with, “They just are.”
I opted for something sort of middle-of-the-road out of respect for his chutzpah.
We bantered back and forth about the fact that he’d never actually eaten a real papaya so couldn’t say with any degree of certainty whether he’d like tropical Skittles or not. I told him he most certainly would and to have a wonderful day. He muttered a little, took the tropical mysteries and sloshed in his flip flops down the sidewalk.
I love camp. And kids.
You may know this child or one like him. Or maybe your little darling is just the opposite and would never utter a word or dare to detain a line of kids for fear of being noticed. Or ridiculed. Or groaned at. This shy one would be the type to take the tropical Skittles without a second glance and never look back, like ’em or not.
Kidhood is often challenging in ways we adults have forgotten. And we often fail to remember that the world they are growing up in is possibly vastly different from what our little selves knew. Likewise it’s important to take into account that they come in an infinite number of combinations of personalities, family histories, natural abilities, environmental influences, and physical makeups. And even the seemingly set-in-stone young individuals can change quickly due to natural maturing or situations they have been either privileged to encounter or terrified to endure. The possibilities are far too many to list. No two children are alike. We take them as they come.
And kids will have things to say. Even the quiet ones if we listen closely. Their words are not always deeply soul reflective, but we would do well to listen just in case. It’s easy to miss things. How about this as a starting point for some categories of utterances that can come from a child. They can be:
and Too Soon Mature
Now, in this season, we/you are expected to teach them. Quite daunting, yes?
This responsibility that is thrust upon millions of households where children’s education is suddenly falling primarily or completely on the shoulders of parents is mind boggling. And if I’m hearing correctly, it is overwhelming to so many of you who are up against it. May I take a moment to encourage you? While I am not currently involved in the education community, I have a rough idea of how it functions, and trust me, public districts and private schools alike are scrambling to put together a schematic that will be workable for the entire gamut of children out there and it is Not Easy. Nor will it nearly cover all the bases completely. Take heart, friend. You’ve got what it takes to fill in the gaps, you know your own children, and there are resources out there to help you do it.
Tap into every outlet that is offered to you by school districts, churches, online resources and friends until you find a good rhythm for your family and your children. Take it at a speed that you can handle as long as it meets with criteria set for you by whatever district or school plan you are following. Just like individual kids, every household is different. Working parents face schedule challenges that home-based parents do not. It’s that simple. It’s harder for you. Reach out for help where it’s offered and face the obstacles head on because you don’t have a choice where your children are concerned. This season will indeed pass and you’ll be able to look back knowing you did your absolute best on behalf of your kids. One day at a time. With at least some semblance of a smile each day.
I have a bit of experience with groups of children because of a background in Elementary Education and the title of “mother” to four, but rest assured, not a day went by during interactions with either classroom students or my own children that I wasn’t utterly bewildered by something that faced me. And if teachers and mothers out there are being real, they’ll say the same. You can do it. I’ll put a link at the end of this post to the Christian homeschool curriculum that my oldest daughter uses for her kids whom she taught at home before COVID entered the scene. She loves it and she’s a tough sell. It was well vetted, trust me.
How can you be assured of your success in leading your children through this school year? The primary way is to place them, yourself, and your instruction in the hands of the Lord. Sometimes I enjoy memorizing the beginnings of prayers just to get me launched into a conversation with Him over the goings on of my day. Here’s one you might like to use that I lifted from one of Jan Karon’s Mitford novels, “These High Green Hills.” It starts like this and you can fill in the words following:
God of all comfort, our only help in time of need,
be present in your goodness with . . .
And, as is often the case, a song hit my thoughts as I was reaching out to all of you wrestling with this upcoming school year. It’s a song that might not seem like it makes sense in this situation, but to me it does. It’s a song about being watched over called, “All Night, All Day.” It’s an oldie but a goodie. It can be found in gospel or lullaby form and my mother sang it to me countless times. Here it is in a performance that I hope conveys the sweetness and breathtaking potential of childhood. And whether or not you and I have ever met, please know that in a general and very heartfelt way, I will be praying for you this year as you school your children or as you administer or teach in a school where the norm is as upside down as it’s ever been. Take this song to heart.
All you can do is your best. But be sure it’s your best. Your kids deserve it. And one day you’ll have memories of these days that you’re storing up now. Be on the lookout for teachable moments. Help your kids notice their world and embrace their questions about what makes it tick. Questions are good.
That dripping wet boy at the Snack Shack had a pretty good idea with, “What makes them tropical?”
Wise men and women are always learning, always listening for fresh insights.
Proverbs 18:15 The Message