Welcome to yet another episode of Brat Camp where troubled teens camping in the wilderness learn to deal with their anger and emotions, while learning discipline and self esteem.
5 Minutes in Hell
The day in Brat Camp always starts the same way…the campers have no more than 5 minutes to get from their bed roll to the campfire. If everyone doesn’t complete their morning routine in 5 minutes or less, the whole group must start over and do it again ad nauseum. It’s already day 20, and the brats have yet to get the morning ritual in a single try. You’d think after who knows how many tries at this daily routine, they’d have it down pat. Yet someone is always holding up the process. Will today be any different? Would I be writing about it if it weren’t? The campers finally get it right, as everyone helps each other out, and they are all sitting around the campfire in just 4 minutes and 30 seconds. The brats are all exuberant with their accomplishment. This is an important step toward graduation, as it teaches discipline and builds character.
Cold and Muddy, Sad and Cruddy
The victorious mood doesn’t last long, since the weather is not cooperating. It is still snowing, and looks colder than Siberia in wintertime. The snow is wet and heavy, and melts quickly around the campfire or any source of heat, such as a camper’s warm body. The mud that forms around the camp looks dismal, and it is hard to avoid it. Lexie, for example, takes her usual role of “the victim” and just accepts the mud, without trying to improve her situation. Lexie, as you might recall, was the victim of sexual abuse by a family friend several years ago. She always feels helpless, regardless of the situation. Her self esteem took a crushing blow from that fiend, and it will take a lot to restore her faith in others.
Climbing Down Will Build You Up
Since every single camper has self esteem issues, the counselors must take drastic measures to build them up. This day, they are taking them to a secret location for a fun activity. Everyone is blindfolded and driven through the desert, and then “trust walked” down to the location….a 300 foot rock face overlooking a beautiful river valley. The campers are going to rappel the 300 feet down to the valley floor, and hopefully overcome their fears and build up their self esteem at the same time. Jada, the attention seeking drama queen, volunteers to step over the ledge first. She slowly makes her way to the bottom, “Oh my God”-ing the entire way down. Towards the bottom, it almost seems like she is not actually in control of her rate of descent, as she is just dangling there, and the safety rope operator seems in control. Most of the other campers embrace this challenge with gusto, making their way to the bottom with glee in their voices. Derek, however, paces back and forth before his turn. I can understand his worry, since he looks so lightweight that when they attach the rope to his harness, a good strong wind might turn that boy into a kite! He walks to the edge of the cliff, looks over the edge, and decides he just doesn’t want to tackle this task. The counselors try their darndest to get Derek to give rappelling a try, but they aren’t allowed to force him to do it. Derek finally admits that he is just plain scared of rappelling, and that in itself is a step forward….admitting your fears. Lexie is the last camper to get a chance at rappelling. Can she overcome her fears and get down the face? She gets to the edge of the cliff, and is frozen with fear. She is crying her eyes out, and doubled over with fear. But, with the encouragement of the counselors and more importantly her peers at the bottom of the face, she gets started down the face, crying the entire way. As she approaches the bottom, her tears turn to laughter as she finally realizes she can do this. After this huge emotional leap forward for Lexie, not only is her self esteem improving, but her chances of graduating before Christmas are too.
Lexie isn’t the only girl with a huge emotional issue to overcome. Lauren is still dealing with her father’s sudden death when she was 11. Her mother gives us a little background on the situation, explaining how close Lauren was with her father, and how the pain for her is still as strong as it was when he passed. The morning after the rappel, Mother Raven has a one on one session with Lauren, and tries to delve deeper into her issues, seeing as the anniversary of her father’s death is approaching. Lauren always feels worse around this time of year, as would anyone facing this emotional time. She doesn’t want any special treatment from her peers or the counselors. Mother Raven suggests that Lauren write a letter to her father, pouring her emotions out through written word. As she attempts to write away from the group, the tears start flowing, as do the emotions. Boulder comes over to check on Lauren, and we are treated to a very sweet scene of Lauren relating her memories and thoughts on how much she misses her father. She can still hear his voice ringing in her ears as if he were there with her. She admits to Boulder that she uses drugs and alcohol to wash away the pain, a big step in dealing with her problems. Lauren sits by herself and talks out loud to her father, asking for his help to make her strong. He can hear you Lauren. He is with you. Lexie does exactly what I am wanting to do...she comes over and gives Lauren a great big hug.
Fire is Life
The next morning, the kids are faced with another, and their most difficult, challenge. They will learn bow drilling, a primitive and extremely difficult method of creating fire. Bow drilling is when you use a bow to spin a wood spindle and create friction, eventually getting a hot enough coal to spark a bark nest into fire. Not only is it an important skill to learn, it is an extremely frustrating task that will teach patience and persistence. Little Big Bear demonstrates how to bow drill, and he makes it look easy. Of course, he’s probably been doing it for years. After LBB gets the fire going in the fire pit, Fire Shaper designates Isaiah as the keeper of the fire for the day. Isaiah declines the chore, which is a big surprise considering everything we know about Isaiah point to him being a pyromaniac. So that’s it…when the fire goes out, that’s it for the day. Isaiah finally gives in and tends to the fire so the group can stay warm.
With the fire raging in the pit, the students now get to the task of trying to bow drill and start a fire on their own. No one is successful at first, and everyone is frustrated and cursing the bow. I know I would be cursing a blue streak if I were trying to get this done. Pyro Isaiah is the first camper to get a spark going, and he gets it into his nest, blows on it gently, and soon has fire in the palm of his hands. He is filled with the sense of accomplishment that was exactly what this task was designed to do. Everyone warms their feet and bodies around the fire that Isaiah has created.
Nick’s Not Quick
The following morning, Nick and Jada are on breakfast duty with LBB. It is up to them to get enough oatmeal cooked for the entire group. As Nick is getting the ingredients, he is obviously confused with how much water to use for the 15 servings of oatmeal. LBB challenges him with some simple math to figure out the recipe. 15 divided by 3 Nick, it’s an easy one, even for a 10 year old. He can’t figure it out, blaming it on his sucky-ness at math. The other campers laugh at his ineptness, which doesn’t help the situation. In an aside, Nick admits his insecurity with his brain power, and his mom tells us about his dyslexia. He thinks he is stupid, and pretty much just falls back on that belief.
Later in the morning, the counselors call a group circle, so Nick can read his impact letter to the group. He stumbles through the letter, making his dyslexia clear to the entire group. I can’t imagine being cursed with this difficult problem. Luckily for everyone reading this recap, I can read and type pretty well. Nick tells the group about his dyslexia, and the fact that he can’t read well. When Lauren tells him he did a pretty good job of reading the letter, he admits that he practiced reading it 4 or 5 times so he wouldn’t look as dumb if he had to read it to the group. Then Nick tells some more about his home life, where his twin brother is always insulting him about his lack of reading ability, calling him stupid all the time. You can tell how frustrated Nick is with himself and his brother, only wanting to be able to read and succeed.
Back to the Bow Drill
That night, everyone is back on their bow drills, trying to make fire. The campers have made this into a competition to see who can get fire first. One by one, each camper is making fire. Everyone, that is, except for Nick. You can see it in Nick’s eyes how badly he wants to get a fire going. LBB takes Nick aside and tells him how proud he is that he opened up to the entire group about his dyslexia, but that he needs to continue to open up to people, instead of bottling up his hard emotions which will lead to anger. Nick takes the talk to heart, and dives back into bow drilling for fire. After a few more tries, he finally has some smoke emanating from his spindle, and gets the spark into his sagebark nest. Soon, that nest is engulfed in flames, and Nick’s face is lighting up like a Christmas tree. He realizes that you can do anything if you put your mind to it! And then he gives everyone a nice impression of Tom Hanks in “Castaway”.
Beads of Honor
Since the group has passed the halfway point in the program, the counselors want to recognize those campers that have made the most progress. To honor those kids, the counselors present them with a bead on a string that can be worn as a necklace or a bracelet. Nick is the first honoree, as Mountain Wind presents him with his bead. He thinks it’s “pretty.” Next, Lexie is given a bead, since she really overcame a lot in the past few days. Giving these “trophys” in front of the rest of the group acts not only as a reward for those that received them, but also as motivation to the others to get moving forward.
Next Week on Brat Camp
The campers are going out on solo, perhaps the most terrifying experience of their lives.
If you think you can bow drill a fire faster than I can make one with matches, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org