The week that was so many things all at once. The week that was clarifying and encouraging and enlightening and hilarious and exhausting and rambunctious and fun.
Because, on occasion, lady luck turns her smiling face towards me I got to spend my week at Camp Sunshine with a terrific group of people. I don’t know that I have laughed so much and so often in such a short amount of time, especially when stone cold sober. To find yourself so bonded with a group of absolute strangers, especially as an adult is rarer than rare- I landed in the albino panda bear triplets level of rare with my fellow members of Culinary Corps.
Here we are first night- all excited and trying to remember everyone’s name – I kept getting Margot and Chanel confused because, French.
After Pizza, Cornhole (no, dirty mind, its a game…with bean bags…that you throw) a bottle of wine, a few beers and some shared secrets we were a team.
The next morning when we got in the van “Taking it to the Streets” started playing. For 4 years I did Street Theatre every summer weekend, and that song signaled that it was time to get my shit together because in just minutes it’s curtain’s up and SHOW TIME. The next song was Sugar Magnolia, my wedding march, clearly the music karma was right in the right place.
By 10:30 we were on campus and the adventure had begun.
It was less rural than my camp, Camp Betsey Cox, was but then again so are some parts of the Appalachian trail. It was pretty much what I expected as far as landscaping and housing and that kind thing, it was like fancy camp, the kind with A/C, and of course, the requisite tether ball.
We met the kids and their families the first night during an event we sponsored call Test Your Taste Buds- we had a collection of “exotic” ingredients that we were using throughout the week for them to taste.
I had balsamic vinegar….most people got it.
The kids were; well what can I say – they were kids. The teenagers looked like they’d rather be anywhere but where they were, the 3-5’s were berserk with excitement to be up late and at camp and surrounded by all these people, 6-8’s & 9-12’s were in various stages of over stimulation and interest. And as I interacted with every person on the line, I stopped being scared because there was nothing left to be afraid of.
There were highs and lows throughout the week, though many more highs than lows. I fell madly in love with a 3 year old named Robbie- a fabulous little Ukrainian boy, a bear cub of a boy- maybe it was our shared blood that did it- there were three Eastern European women there and we bonded, our souls akin- – born of the dark forests filled with mushrooms, souls that pick flowers and berries, Matrushka souls with layers upon layers- not to mention each and every one of us probably was dressed in velvet vests and flowered skirts by our grandmas when we were young.
One of the women had a daughter named Anna- who was terrifically articulate for someone so tiny and young, she was 4 or 5. Anna’s talent show performance will stay with me forever. She did not just get up on stage, that child took the stage, she had that thing that makes you stop talking and watch and listen. She began her performance with a bit of a sassy sermon…during which she told us all that when we were afraid God was looking out for us, and that if we died it was ok, not to be scared, we’d be ok because we’d go to God. Then she sang a hymn and encouraged us all to join. I wish I knew the words.
It was chilling- and not just because I tend to teeter strongly towards atheism and then totter over to agnosticism …but because she was so aware of her own mortality
It wasn’t just Anna, for everyone at that camp, mortality was an in-your-face reality not just a concept of a thing you realized when you almost got in an accident, not in a whew almost got me sort of way… but it is a constant presence in their lives. Some of these kids were sick, really fucking sick and the ones that weren’t had siblings that were, and the parents, the parents, are facing the real possibility of losing their child.
After Anna’s song, after watching Kayden dance his little butt off to the Nae Nae song, watching Shayla hula hoop, and Robbie stomp around to Let It Go – I broke- I needed a time out. I cried in the walk-in for a few, then got back in the kitchen to take care of business. TCB, baby, TCB.
The rest of the week- we all worked our butts off to entertain and educate. In the evenings we had the chance to sit with a family and learn about them and their experience. I’ve had a look into the cancer experience with my Dad. I knew how one day everything’s fine then there’s a bump, a pain, a cough that won’t go away and the next day it’s 7 days a week 24 hours a day CANCER.
For some of these families there were/are treatments every single day for a year, weekly overnights in the hospital for another year and it keeps going until and if, you are one of the lucky ones and 8 years pass with no more cancer and after that you start with a clean slate, just the same risks as the rest of us- maybe.
There were children there with cancers that no one has even studied yet. Children in wheel chairs, with therapy dogs, with thinning hair and poor motor skills and it didn’t matter at Camp Sunshine- they didn’t have to be special just because they had cancer- they could be special because they were Jack or Jaxson or Salem or Finn- they could just be kids, they could be individuals. Their siblings could be special too because they were Willow or Noah or Jesu or Hudson, not just the kids who’s brother or sister was sick and they could be loud and they could be rowdy and they could be the center of attention if they wanted to. And the families could just hang out and do stuff like families do.
And the volunteers…those warm, wonderful people, they all smiled, like all the time and they weren’t Disney smiles- they were real, they were the kind of smile that you don’t even notice is on your face. Whether they were holding a baby or scraping off trays in the dining hall they were smiling and kind, so very , very kind.
The air in that camp was filled with joy and light despite the 3 days of rain, and being a part of that was indescribable. The team I was with was incomparable…and the nightly visits to the fork were perfect, after all camp isn’t camp without a nighttime sneak through the woods to giggle and misbehave.
I learned a few things too.
I learned that I can be a part of team, that children and I get along just fine, and that I tend to over pack, but that that’s always not bad thing because sometimes you need to have a bathrobe picnic of snacks and sometimes someone needs an extra blanket because one didn’t fit in her garbage bag (wink).
I learned that I am definitely a crier but I can make friends fast and that I miss the camaraderie of a group. I learned that I can function without much sleep though I tend to get punchy and rowdy, that I should never again be photographed in an oversize white coat with my hair up, that being covered in jello really isn’t that bad except for the flies, one of which may have just stayed with me for the next 2 days.
And I learned that yes I did miss my husband and my kitties and Pudgie but we were all were just fine without each other for a few days, and no one starved to death or lived on hot dogs wrapped in pizza.
Thank you to Camp Sunshine.
Thank you Christine and Aimee. Thank You Shin and Matt and Jeremy and Chanel and Margot and Lauren and Janice and even you, Perri, my meshuganah maidela.
AND SO MANY HUMONGOUS TREMENDOUS THANK YOUS TO EVERYONE WHO DONATED AND HELPED ME TO GET TO CAMP SUNSHINE…..
#SHOWYOURGOLD #FUCKCANCER #CHILDHOODCANCERAWARENESS