there is something special about returning to a magical place from your childhood. as you pull into the gates, there's a spark. the memories come flooding back as you drive through, and at each corner a new dirt path emerges and a memory consumes you. there is something special about returning to these magical places, but do not be fooled. it is not the same.
for me, this place was summer camp. for years of my childhood and adolescence I idolized this place for its ability to transform me from a confused and awkward middle schooler to a confident, carefree kid. I counted down the days until I could walk those dirt paths again, holding hands with friends who I had inexplicable bonds with, wearing a wardrobe consisting of solely Nike shorts, gigantic shirts and graffitied converse high tops. I could not wait for the moment I turned in my cell phone and closed out the real world in place of my magical camp world.
as a curious, crazy, and sunburned thirteen year old, the dream was always to go back as a counselor, a job I thought was easily the best job in the world. so you can imagine as an equally as curious, only slightly less crazy, and not yet sunburned nineteen year old, the thoughts and excitement that were racing through my head as I pulled into the gates of camp again. I had a stupid grin on my face that I could not seem to shake, and absolutely no idea what to expect.
what i did not expect, however, was the sleepless nights spent writing 1 1/2 page single spaced letters home for 7 campers every two weeks, and early mornings spent saying "shhhh" to campers who couldn't quite stay asleep until 7:30. I did not expect hanging from the back of a motorboat pulling sailboats into the lake time after time and day after day, repeating "3 glasses of water please!" until my head hurt, and crying on the phone with my mom on multiple occasions because camp didn't feel magical anymore.
so nearly halfway through camp I was feeling a little hopeless and a lot exhausted. I could not imagine doing any of it for a single more day, but somewhere in there something shifted in my brain. it was almost an epiphany I had after a lot of thinking and constructive conversations. camp wasn't supposed to be magical for me anymore because I was the one creating the magic. and that was more than enough to keep me going. because what I also didn't expect was this.
sleepless nights spent with my friends on staff who became my family, laughing until we cried (or sometimes just crying because that's what we needed), and waking up in the morning seeing ten year olds quietly reading in their beds because they had learned respect. I didn't expect having secret handshakes with a handful of girls, being tapped on the head after the statement "tap someone who has impacted your life" was spoken. I did not expect the absolute joy and pride I felt for six girls who got their highest award in the sailing program or to witness my campers reminding each other to stay hydrated, and I definitely didn't expect sobbing as my girls ran back to me time after time for one more hug, not yet ready to get on their bus and say goodbye after four weeks together.
my experience this summer challenged me in every imaginable way, but I would not trade it for the world. there is something special about returning to a magical place from your childhood. it is not the same, but do not be fooled. it is better.