Book Camp

Book Camp 2020, Day 5

We had a visitor mid-day! My sister and her husband arrived in time to visit with campers and feed us lunch. Then we topped it off with a short video and cake and ice cream. A celebration!

I may have cried.

The body knows certain dates without a calendar. Tuesday was one. The 14th. The day was my grandfather’s birthday; one hundred and eleven years since his birth. He has been gone now many years. But I remember it. I feel it creep over me, a mixture of joy and sorrow.

Today is one of those kinds of days, too. The 17th of July. The date I first became an aunt. Way back in the nineteen hundreds, as my kids say. My eldest nephew–Andy–was so…much. He was funny and set the standard in our family for grandchildren. He could be very serious with his blonde hair and chocolate-brown eyes.

As a youngster, he liked brown M&Ms the best; they tasted most like chocolate. As a great big teenager, he ran the gamut of teenagerness, I suppose. But he loved his family. And he loved a special person. And he joined the army. And all was supposed to grow and grow and grow.

My sister, Andy, and me at Andy’s high school graduation, 2010

He went to boot camp, not yet 18. He turned that magical age while away. Then, he died.

Leukemia took him in three weeks’ time.

His brother was 12. His cousins, the ones book camping now were 5, 5, 3, 3, and 2.

The five-year-olds have a couple of concrete memories. I’m not sure about the three-year-olds, scraps if anything. The two-year-old remembers nothing of him, save for our family stories.

In a few weeks it will have been ten years since Andy’s death. I feel it wash over me, hot and acidic.

But days like today come. And we are intentional. And we eat birthday cake and we look at pictures of Andy and we take more pictures.

Because I promised Andy near the very end. I promised him I would stay for the hard stuff. I had no idea how hard some of that stuff would be.

And then 2020. The campers feel the weight of lost seasons, lost school, lost friend time. They bear that on their backs as they try to find some shred of normalcy. But the news isn’t getting much better. It’s just not getting too much worse for them.

Over breakfast, a discussion of Halloween arose. I can’t imagine there being a Halloween this year. “As long as it’s all over by Thanksgiving,” Wasabi said. I tempered their enthusiasm.

Now is the time to live in the now. Maybe more than any other moment in my lifetime. We cannot live for the start of a sports season or the start of school. Not for Halloween or Thanksgiving. Not for the weekend even. We have to live for right now. We have to make this moment count, whatever that means to us.

Yes, we mourn the social losses. We allow ourselves to say how much this whole Covid-19 thing sucks. And it does.

But then we remember that we are more than football and school and holidays and movie theatres. We remember that we are here with purpose. We remember we are here at all.

And we eat our cake and carry on with book camp and make tentative tangible plans for the future we hope exists in some form.

Today was also the first day of C is for Character, and the campers completed a worksheet called the tabula rasa, the clean slate, to intentionally inform their main character. Today in B is for Business, the campers learned about publishers and printers, and they put together a publication schedule.

They wrote six-sentence stories with the other parents who came to visit. They played in the morning rain. They hooted and howled as the X-Box heated up with their play. They tucked away their hurts and their worries and held onto the day. I can ask no more than that.

Book Camp Life

Book Camp 2019, Day 5

Content warning: Discussion of former suicidal ideation and plan.

Today was our last full day together, so we did things a little differently. First, no critiques! Second, no chores or curriculum like instruments, typing, or math.

Our theme today is cookbook poetry. Each kid brought a recipe from which to write a poem. Before we tackled our own odes to recipes, we worked on a group-written poem. We also traded prompts and wrote poems about such excellent topics as feet and toothbrushes.

Then a joke about a sex talk turned into an actual sex talk, which was essentially this: Sex is good not bad. It’s not a milestone but a relationship. Sex is most definitely not a bad word or embarrassing but must be approached safely and with consent. They can come to me any time about anything and find listening ears and nonjudgment, as well as care when they need it.

This morphed into a suicide talk. Because I’m just that talented and fun.

They said they all knew about my previous battle againt suicidal ideation. I told them that my foiled almost-attempt was the best thing that has happened to me, because it clarified that I want to be here, on this plane of existence, for the hard stuff. My eldest nephew died two years after that foiling. I sat in his hospital room and told him that I survived for just that moment. For all the hard moments. And the great ones. And the ordinary ones.

I have this theory that adults begin to self reject when it comes to adolescents. We tend to feel like maybe they are disinterested in us. So we back off. I’ve made that mistake, and I don’t intend to repeat it with these nieces and sons of mine. The output they demonstrate changes. The interests shift. Their individual ecosystems grow. But I intend to stay planted within those ecosystems. I will not self reject when it comes to them. So far, at 11-14, they insist they will be doing book camp until they are 80 (my intervening death from old age notwithstanding) and want to know whether future spouses marry in to the camp. I’ll keep planning them until they stop coming. And we’ll continue to have interesting, complicated, sometimes difficult conversations during book camp and other times.

Why am I sharing any of this? Because my theme this year is planting and watering. That’s what book camp is. It’s planting. Love, memories, friendship, knowledge, tradition, trust. And watering them year after year.

So, that was ten minutes they’d never get back, and they dissolved into giggles when it was over. We still had a full day of work ahead. But first, we wanted to make our own treat for the day. After much discussion, we all agreed on lemon cake balls and set out to hunt down the ingredients. Two grocery stores later and we returned home to start cake baking. While the first cake cooled, four kids took a walk and the fifth stayed home.

When we finally started our recipe poems, everyone was ready to settle in again. Poem forms included: acrostic, haiku, limerick, AABB rhyming, and free verse. They were silly and wonderful and made us hungry.

After completing our cake balls, we ate some as a reward, of course. A few of the kids still had some work to do on an opus or two, but then the kids scattered to devices until supper. We rounded out the day with mangoes, watermelon, and Captain Marvel.

Here are some of the suggestions for Book Camp 2020: character development all week; movie adaptations; publishing process simulation; group opus; picture books; adapting short stories from original screenplays; and cookbook camp. We had one valiant recommendation for a two-week book camp. And they want to make the prompt jars and group writes permanent. The fort has to be permanent, obviously. When I asked them about tours in the future, they enthusiastically affirmed their interest to visit both publishers and academicians to discuss writing across the disciplines. See? Just when I think they’re not into something, they tell my how very wrong I am.

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