I guess you can say I have attachment issues.
Ask my girlfriend. She’ll tell you all of it.
The first week of summer, I applied for a camp counselor position. One of my major education advisors had sent out an email a few weeks prior, describing the camp’s need for an educational counselor and the position’s description. At the time, I wasn’t entirely sure whether I wanted to be an educator, so I thought, hey, maybe this experience will help me decide. After several days of mulling my cover letter layout over and over in my head, I finally sat down to draft my application. I submitted my resume with little to no confidence, believing that I stood no chance against the pool of applicants due to my lack of educator background.
Two interviews, a swim assessment, and a few weeks later, I received a letter of acceptance in the mail. I wondered, truthfully, if they had made a mistake – and if I had, too. I sat there, rereading the letter over and over, feeling the heavy weight of reality settle in. I was so sure I wouldn’t get the job that I didn’t think to thoroughly study the responsibilities that came with it. Could I really work with kids for five whole weeks?
The first week came and went smoothly. I went home each day with not many stories worth telling my girlfriend (my number one confidant). It wasn’t too bad, but it wasn’t too great either. I figured it was just me having to adjust significantly – not just to camp counselor life, but to camp life in general, as I had never attended any form of camp myself. I didn’t know whether I liked it or not.
Turns out I was right. After spending a few weeks outdoors, I learned to embrace camp life and my experiences as a counselor.
But little did I know that my attachment issues would come into play.
The second week of the camp session with little kids, a little girl named Angela came up to me and said, “You remind me a lot of my older sister.” She then introduced me to her older brother, Vincent, and told me that it was their first time joining a summer camp. I told her it was mine too.
As the days went by, I found myself looking forward to seeing Angela and Vincent. Oddly (for me, as I have never done this with kids before), I took on the “mother hen” attitude and began to pay closer attention to their needs. Did they pack lunch? Did they want a change of clothes? Did they want to play in the sun or did they prefer the shade? I stopped eating lunch with my coworkers and started eating lunch with them, listening to their stories about where they went over the weekend, learning about Angela’s love for stuffed animals and Vincent’s love for superheroes. I enjoyed teaching them what I know, telling them about my passions. Encouraging them to find their own.
I started to feel like the camp was way too short. I hated how I was only allowed five days with these kids, and as Friday drew closer, the uneasy feeling in my stomach grew and grew. I didn’t want to see them part from me; it wasn’t enough time.
Like all last days of camp sessions, the last day of this session was held at the Visitor’s Center, which was connected to a gift shop. Angela and Vincent came early that day, and as I was walking around the gift shop with them, Angela turned to me and said, “I really don’t want this to end. I want to remember you by something, even though I won’t forget you.”
I told myself I wouldn’t cry.
“How about this?” I asked, taking a stuffed shark off the racks and handing it to her. “You can name this shark after me.”
“I only have six dollars.”
“That’s okay. I can get it for you.”
“No, it’s okay. I will ask my momma to get it when she picks me up.”
I put the stuffed shark back on the racks and escorted the two of them into the room.
The rest of the day flew by quickly. I knew, without a doubt, that Angela would win the Rockin’ Ranger award, which was only awarded to the “best” member. I admit it: I cried, watching her walk on stage to receive her gifts. She won a stuffed crab – something to add to her stuffed animal collection. Her mom and Vincent looked so proud. I was, too.
During pick-up, Angela and Vincent’s mom approached me. She told me that they had told her a lot about me, and she was taking this moment (as she was away from them) to tell me how much it meant to her, the way I looked out for her kids. She then went on to tell me that they weren’t hers biologically – that she had adopted them several years back and saved them from a home of alcoholics – something that I had a hunch about.
“You don’t know,” she said, with tears in her eyes, “how good it feels when they tell me they’ve had a good day. They deserve good days, all the rest of their days. Thank you for contributing to that. They said they learned so much from you.”
And she brought out a stuffed shark from her gift bag and told me that she had gotten it for Angela without her knowing.
Angela and Vincent came up to us, then, as if on cue – right on time.
“I’ll be back next year,” Angela said, and gave me a long, tight hug. I told her I didn’t know if I’d be here next year, but she and Vincent made me hope so.
“I got you this!” their mom said, handing Angela the stuffed shark. The look on her face was one of complete, genuine joy. I’ll never forget it. “Do you want to name it?”
“I got you this, too,” Vincent said, handing me a necklace. It was a metal one, with the Marine Corps eagle, globe, and anchor. As if he knew my girlfriend was a Marine. I slung the necklace over my heart as a double reminder – of them and of my lover. It was perfect.
“You have made a huge impact on them,” their mom said, smiling. “Thank you, Christen. It means a lot.” And then they were gone.
Today, I woke up and decided that to be an educator in this world would mean having opportunities like these left and right – to change a child’s life and to have them change yours, to inspire and to be inspired. I’ve always been on the receiving end – having my life changed by my educators, such as Cristina Mantanona and Meta Sarmiento – but these past few weeks have given me the chance to be on the other end.
So here I am. I think I’m finally decided. This is a start.
Angela and Vincent, I will carry you both with me on my journey always. If I ever, ever forget the blessings that come with being an educator – I’ll look down and remember the way you both made me feel.
And thank you for getting me so attached. I’ll never forget you.