Being Part of the Staff

Columnist Kate Wolffe strikes a pose whilst working at Camp Orinda.

Columnist Kate Wolffe strikes a pose whilst working at Camp Orinda.

Kate Wolffe, Feature Editor

As I lay face down in a netted alcove, hiding deep in the heart of The Jungle, I prayed they wouldn’t find me. I had been crawling through narrow tunnels for two hours and I was slick with sweat, my knees aching. I relished my solitude with bated breath, knowing they would come across me soon. I was fully aware that once they spotted me, they would attack. I didn’t know how long I would last against their onslaught, my energy severely depleted already. Their battle cries reached me and I looked up in time to see a comrade sprinting away from their clutches, not six feet away. He stumbled, fell, and was soon lost to my sight, obscured by their little bodies, as they screamed,

“Tag! Tag! You’re It, Daniel! You’re it!”

My summer job was a little different than most.

The kids at Camp Orinda were not really my enemies, though it occasionally seemed like it was me against them; and trips to places like The Jungle and the Exploratorium were rarely battlefields, though I was always emotionally-drained when we left. It was scary sometimes; the fear you’ve misplaced a helpless child is traumatizing, but it was always an adventure, zipping off from place to place, reveling in the sight of a kid experiencing something totally new.

Every morning at 8 a.m. while my friends were sound asleep, I’d hurry down to  Moraga Way, to catch the bus to BART, to ride my bike to Wagner Ranch. The whole way I’d  curse those same friends for being able to lay, still wrapped in the quilt of dreams, as the gradual hill leading up to Wagner kicked my butt. But while my friends were doing yard work, scooping out ice cream, or interning at their parents’ offices, I was spending time with people who were always happy to see me. They’d whoop with joy when I entered the gym, beg me to play with them, and pout when it was time for me to leave.

I knew it wasn’t love, just their desperate want for attention. I was an older kid, and they needed someone to watch them color, but I didn’t mind. I’ve been a summer camp kid my whole life, so idolizing the staff is nothing new to me. I always have and always will want my counselors to be my best friends, but being on the receiving end of adoration was new. I was terrified of letting them down, and I tried my very hardest every day not to.

It was overwhelming at times, but always a blast. Being a witness to a child’s pride as they finish a drawing, or seeing their face light up when they get involved in a new game is a special experience.

Times like those counterbalanced the times when the yelling, whining, and blatant disregard for others’ feelings got the best of me. At first, I found it hard to understand why many of the children couldn’t seem to empathize with their peers. I would get frustrated when they would make flippant comments that hurt others, forgetting that they didn’t do it intentionally. After all, they’re children, still feeling their way around the world. At times, their innocence stunned me. They could be heart-achingly sweet, and on occasion, I found myself holding back tears, moved deeply by a selfless gesture or kind word. I count myself incredibly lucky to have been witness at times like those.

Now, a month into the school year, I find myself missing them. The campers, the staff, the warm mornings. I’ve always had a propensity for getting a little too close, caring a little too much, and this summer was no exception. As I get into the groove of the school year, I know that I’ll think of them often, anxiously waiting another wonderful summer.