Well I wasn't planning on posting but then an old friend got in touch (Hi Jeanne, would you like some exposure?) and that led to me Facebook friending her and then I got all started thinking about friends from that era of my life (1990-94ish) and so I friended another friend who then linked me to other friends and so on and so forth so that through the magic of Facebook I am suddenly sitting back at Valley Mill Camp in the 90s.
Whew. What a time. There I was 18+ pretending to be a grown up, acting as a counsellor to impressionable young women. My first group of campers were 11-13 and I was way more scared than they on day one. Would they think I was cool? Would they like me? It was worse than high school. Thankfully, by the magic of just being a college student I started out with a large helping of assumed coolness and things went pretty smoothly. I remember a few of those first campers, I guess like teachers remember their students, but not all of them. Genna (Jenna?) and Eileen are names I remember. Narda and Hilary stayed at camp for years after, becoming counsellors alongside me and friends of a sort. But I had no preconceived notions of their futures. They were so interestingly different all of them. I wanted the best for them and experienced my first parental feelings I think, having to wipe away tears when they would do fantastic at the horse riding show.
Funny enough though, I was certain I never wanted to have children. I liked teenagers, hated babies and just thought it would never happen that my mind would change about the subject. I knew that part of the reason was that I was terrified I'd be like my mother to any children I might have. It didn't occur to me that right there at camp I was demonstrating otherwise. I was certain it was inevitable. It wasn't until years later that my therapist put the major reason into words for me: I had already raised a child.
My mother was obviously never capable of being a mom to me. She was the most important child in our family. Her insomnia ruled the house in the mornings, her depressions and highs determined how the day went and we all adjusted our selves and our lives around her needs. Every time we were about to depart on a family trip I counseled her out of her belief that it was a mistake to go. Every time she felt a distant relative had offended her I talked her through it. Present giving was about what she wanted us to like or what she might have wanted to receive at our age, not about what we really wanted. And there was no way to say you didn't want what she had given you, the rejection might kill her.
Somehow there was an unspoken rule that her psyche was so delicate we all had to tiptoe around her. So why would I feel parented in that situation? I was the parent, dad was oblivious, and only my brother and I grew up I guess. I always was a little older than my years. The death of my brother and the total deterioration of my mother sealed that deal.
So, I look on these women today who were children back then with me and am so proud, amazed and slightly self satisfied that perhaps I had a hand in who they've become. My proudest moment that first summer was when one of my kids called the other one "gay" and the second kid parroted back what I had been saying all summer "gay is not an insult." I hope that stuck. The next summer I learned from the kids to lighten up. I had been sticking the rules so hard down their throats that they told the boss I didn't like them. How horrifying. I loved them! So I learned some of the balancing act a parent has to do between rules and loving enough to let some rules slide. From my friend Jeanne, who started out as a peer but ended up as the boss lady the last two summers, I learned the value of not giving a crap what anyone thinks of you, whether it be on the improv stage (she is the best drama teacher ever) or on the dance floor. And years later, when she was my bridesmaid, we boogied down together without a care.
A lot of these lessons were not learned immediately, rather they percolated for years. Now I can see some of them becoming part of me and I hope that means that I taught those girls a thing or two also. Now I'm faced with the reality that 4 human beings are stuck with me for years, not just a summer, and I will determine a great deal of what they believe and who they become. I hope to heck they grow up wanting to parent because they want to be like me. I can only hope that they look back on my mothering with a laugh about the mistakes I made and a positive feeling about how I made them feel about themselves. Because I think they're neat as heck and thank God I decided to become a mother after all. Lord knows the world needs a few more people with my sarcastic sense of humor around.