Somewhere after learning cursive on fat-lined green paper but before our first tubes of Bonne Belle lip gloss, my 10-year-old girlfriends and I discovered that boys had mystically changed into something called BOYS.
Realizing that our frog-chasing, tree-climbing counterparts were interested in more than making us scream at amphibians made us curious to know how these creatures fit into our lives between Barbie dolls and bicycles.
Problem was, most of my friends were the oldest girls in their families or had only older brothers who would torture us if we asked them our questions. What were we to do?
That summer, the camp gods aligned me with the first of three incredible 4-H camp counselors to help me navigate those early choppy waters.
Still a camp greenhorn (I was a Girl Scout camp veteran, but the obvious absence of boys posed limitations on my ability to learn through interaction), I was nervous about being in such a large, unfamiliar place.
With half the camp consisting of boys, I was doubly nervous that I would do something stupid and memorable enough to earn me a nickname, like Diana the Ditz, that would haunt me years into the future.
My counselor Elena was smart, funny, had beautiful brown eyes and a perfect Farrah Fawcett flip. A high school junior working to earn college scholarships, she had a boyfriend and taught us all the secrets our 10- and 11-year-old minds could handle.
Boys were good for some things (having a car, buying flowers for Homecoming, goofing off in class to get a teacher off-topic during a boring lecture) and great for others (kissing in the corner of the dance hall, fixing flat tires and watching them play football), but they were not so great at being the main reason for happiness in our lives.
It wasn’t fair for us to expect them to make us happy all the time. Only we could do that.
The next year, I lucked into being in a cabin staffed by Meg, a girl who taught us more through actions than words. She was blonde, energetic and a friend to every person she met. With Meg, accepting people as they were was the key to living life.
Watching her bat homeruns on the softball field and high-five the other team as she rounded the bases was an introduction to making friends of people who might otherwise become enemies.
Through her patience, we learned to help our cabin mate, whose gnarled, arthritic joints made walking the uneven campgrounds slow and dangerous for her; that boys might be important, but so too was taking care of the sisterhood.
With Meg, it wasn’t how great you showed her you were, but how well you treated others.
In my final year before becoming a counselor, I thought I knew all there was to know about boys. Until I was a part of Lisa’s cabin.
She wasn’t much taller than the campers in my cabin of oldest girls, but what she lacked in height, she made up for in ability.
As high school neared, it had become commonplace for girls to downplay their strengths in the presence of boys. Whether in the name of modesty or avoiding competition--who knew?--Lisa and her supreme athletic expertise at most every sport tossed that out the window.
She didn’t gloat when she beat the boys at basketball, swimming and flag football; she simply let her talent speak for itself.
Like Meg, she was forever gracious in her wins, but never apologetic. Boys who couldn’t deal with her ability weeded themselves off her radar, and she didn’t blink twice. She inspired us to be true to ourselves, and if the boys didn’t come along for the ride, so be it.
To say these girls of summer--these three counselors and their lessons from nearly 25 years ago-- were some of the most important of my life might sound simplistic.
But by not turning me into something I wasn’t (all for the sake of a boy!) and instead teaching through excellent counseling skills how to become a strong, independent, caring person, they showed that creating the best version of myself was far more important than waiting on a boy for validation—which hasn’t been as bad as my 10-year-old self imagined.
Beth Morrow is an educator and Senior Week program director for Camp Hamwi. Reach her at email@example.com.