I’m looking for tools to fend off the two words that I have come to hate the most these past few weeks of summer camp; ‘I’m bored’ (In fact, that’s not true; ‘I’m bored’ would be a welcome use of the English language. The two words I have come to hate the most are ‘No quiero,’ Spanish for ‘I don’t want to’.) I choose six tennis balls, four bats, two softballs and four Frisbees.
Today is our first excursion to the beach and I am hopeful it will be a success.
Take your Seats
The kids arrive. The bus arrives. Excitement grows. Feet move fast. Seats on a bus can be the source of anxiety for kids. For some, it’s where you sit. Squares up the front. Cool kids at the back. And if you’re in the middle, you’re in the middle.
For others, it’s a fear of sitting on their own.
‘Can I sit next to you?’
I look down at Sofia’s worried face.
‘Of course you can.’
For the three BFFs it’s who is going to be cut loose?
‘I like the two of you the same,’ explains Enara, ‘but we can’t get three seats together.’
Enara understands the unwritten rule regarding bus seats which states; if you are a senior kid with a loud voice and a bullying streak then a backseat is a God given right.
But not everybody is schooled in the rules.
Two little lads are first to board the bus. They are all set for the beach; peak caps, shorts, bags on their backs and smiles on their faces. Their eyes widen as they see all the empty seats.
‘The back seats are free!!’
They run the length of the bus and settle in. Their classmates amble on.
‘Look. Look. It’s us! We’re back here. Come on.’
But their classmates aren’t as keen. They choose a seat near the front or middle.
Then the big boys enter. They are a little late. An absolute dick of a summer camp leader held them back because some girl was crying, or something. The five of them clamour, push and laugh all the way to the back. Three of them take seats.
The other two loom over the little lads. The little lads’ facial expressions have changed from ‘Ain’t life grand’ to ‘Oh Shit!’
Despite this they stand (or sit) their ground. By the time I arrive the big lads are shouting and baring their fists. The bus is moving. I calmly tell them to find another seat. They ignore me and continue shouting at the little lads. I get right up in their faces.
‘Did you hear me? Find another seat! How could you shout at them? They are half your age!’
They skulk off to another seat.
I am an absolute dick of a summer camp leader.
Teacher – Pupil
I take my seat next to Sofia. I’m addled after the back-seat dilemma and I’m hoping the next words out of her mouth will be;
‘Clearly this isn’t a good time for you. You gather yourself and what I wanna do can wait until later.’
Nope, instead she launches into a Spanish lesson.
She points at her hat and says ‘Gorra.’
I say ‘Gorra.’
‘No!’ she says. She shakes her head and wags a finger in my face.
‘No!’ she says and shakes her head and makes a tch, tch sound, as if I’ve been a naughty boy.
I let this pupil –teacher role reversal carry on for a bit and then I hammer her pronunciation of ‘slaughtered’, just to remind her who the grown up is.
The kids are happily occupied, for about twenty minutes. Then the bats, balls and Frisbees get tossed aside. A group approaches me. I brace myself for the dreaded words.
‘Can we do sandcastles?’
‘Yes! That’s a great idea.’
The group walks towards the shoreline. They find their spot, drop to their knees and start clawing at the sand with their hands. There is feverish work with instructions being issued back and forth. I peer over their shoulders and see a drawbridge, a moat, a high defensive wall and a dome tower taking shape.The group consists of boys and girls, a mixture they sometimes resist when I suggest it. Their aim is to build a castle that will stand up to the incoming water.
The water approaches. They watch eagerly.
A wave slides up the shore and casually destroys the castle.
Child Vs Sea
Their reaction seems muted at first. They walk back to our nest of bags and change into their swimming suits. Then, ten of them stand shoulder to shoulder and stare down the sea. On a count of ‘3,2,1 Go!’ they charge forwards shaking their fists and screaming.
A band of pebbles and broken shells, impedes their speed. They pick their way through the minefield. There is a cry of pain as one takes a tumble. I tend to the stricken soldier’s foot and notice the rest of the kids in the camp running past. But once the water wraps around their ankles they freeze. I watch on, fearing a hasty retreat, but soon they are completely engaged with the enemy. There are shrieks and howls and explosions. Their skinny bodies are knocked about by big brutes of waves. They get back up after every pummelling, or lie face down in the shallows, playing dead.
They re-emerge from the water in twos and threes, cleansed and calmed and happy with what feels like a victory.
They are too hungry to make faces. They unwrap the tinfoil and start eating. They watch the beach scenes before them. A feeling of contentedness settles over all of us.