Thursday, October 28, 2010
Every Fall since 2004 I have taken my class for an overnight trip to Camp Hazen in Chester, CT. In spite of the demands this trip places on my time, my noise tolerance, and my sleep needs, I look forward to it every year. There are generally somewhere around 15 students—all of them eleven or twelve years old—and two adult chaperones. The kids look forward to the trip for months.
And why wouldn’t they? They get to have a giant sleepover with friends they have known well for seven years—more than half their lives. Also, the excellent staff of this YMCA camp leads my kids through some fun and challenging group-building activities, plays new and entertaining games, and belays as my kids attempt to scale a 50-foot wooden tower with all sorts of interesting and challenging elements.
I look forward to the trip each year for reasons that are somewhat different from the reasons my kids like going. I get to spend some time with my students where I am not the only adult responsible for them, I get to spend two days in a beautiful autumn setting by a lake with many trails through the woods, there is a full-time supply of coffee, and I get to see my kids in a setting that shuffles their well-established social deck in a way that gives some kids who don’t usually stand out a chance to shine.
I just returned from this year’s trip and I am happy to say it was just as good as it always is. My students did amazingly well. They treated each other with respect, they were committed to working their way through challenges together, they pushed themselves to go past their points of comfort on the climbing tower, and they had a lot of fun. When we got back to school after the trip the kids all spiraled away with their parents, dazed, tired, satisfied, and happy.
As I drove away yesterday I had a special reason to feel that this was my best trip yet to Camp Hazen. And in the end it wasn’t the kids that pushed this one over the top to make it the best. Of course, they were a big part of my happiness over the trip. As I said, they treated each other well and worked hard to stretch themselves, and these things always make me happy. But what really made this particular trip stand out for me was the final attainment of a private goal I have had for seven years.
I don’t know how common this is, but have you ever had a goal that to the outside observer looks entirely stupid, but to you means something for reasons probably opaque even to you? This has been the case with me for seven years now. I’ll just explain, since no amount of contextualizing will make this goal sound anything other than pointless. For seven years I have been trying to kick a football through a rectangular opening 30 feet up a wooden climbing wall at Camp Hazen. As with any good pointless goal, there are ground rules that have developed over the many years of trying:
I must use a football,
I cannot punt the football,
I must use my heel to make a small indentation in the grass and then stand the football up on its end and kick it from that position,
Someone else must be there to witness it,
I must let other people try if they ask, and
I must NOT let on how important it has become to me.
So, after approximately 40 attempts on my first day at Camp Hazen this week, I put the ball through the opening. It was a football, kicked cleanly from the tee I had made with my heel, and witnessed by a student. The only thing is, before I kicked it through I let on to this particular student how important this stinkin’ goal had become to me. He didn’t question this at all—he just watched, collected errant tries, and cheered me on. He seemed more excited when it finally went through than I did. Though I will admit to jumping up and down with my fists in the air once or twice, maybe…
We had an hour to kill after lunch and before we drove back to school, so I went down to the soccer field with some of the students. The boy who witnessed my kick sidled over and said, “Think you can get a ball to go from inside this soccer goal all the way to the other goal?” Without even considering the question I said, “Of course.” Thus began the next quest, but this time everyone knew what I was up to when I collected a tennis racket, baseball bat, soccer ball, tennis ball, and football and started kicking and throwing and swinging away.