Before summer, we asked the ‘Dactyl what she wanted to be when she grew up. She said, after marrying her brother—which alarmed us slightly—that she wanted to “stay home and do nothing like Mummy.” Crikey. Nothing? That worried me more than wanting to marry Bob.
“Best you get a job,” said the Dimple. “Inspire your daughter.”
Best he shut up about it, I said.
When we first came here I was outraged that we had shifted to a sporty, outdoorsy place. I was a city girl who loved cocktails and was as coordinated as a koala bear. It seemed incongruous, unfair.
Three years on and I landed a job this summer that required me to be physical and outdoorsy. No desk or computer in sight. I was a ropes specialist, which involved taking camp kids through team-building games, encouraging them up a high climbing wall and mastering a confidence course 30 feet up in the trees with a zip-line over our river.
I know about knots, belaying, how to look poised dangling in the air, and that a carabiner—which sounds like the kind of cocktail you’d have on a cruise—is actually quite remarkable.
Saying to Bob and the ‘Dactyl “I’m off to work,” was extremely satisfying, as was skipping out the back door to get there. What was more satisfying was seeing how being sporty and outdoorsy is so brilliant for kids. Especially the bad ones. 11 and 12-year-old bother boys would turn up cussing but after sitting at the bottom of the climbing wall, watching the scrawny, quiet guy race to the top, they would be silenced by fear.
The cool girls would climb to a platform on the high ropes course and declare, “Oh this is hecka scary. I’m not going out there” – there’s a mix of wires, ropes and wobbly logs to climb out on. So I’d get them to sit down on the safe platform and watch. They would see that shy Mexican girl, who had the wrong skin colour, skip across a wobbly log. Or that tomboy they had teased for being gay, swinging on the Tarzan ropes. The trees don’t care about cool. After watching, most of them would have to try something. I saw them go from tuff on the outside to strong on the inside. It took one girl 30 minutes to push off from the zip-line but she did it.
Those mysterious things called teenagers, full of attitude and lip, are incredibly transparent. I discovered they’re not frightening, they’re fascinating.
Fuelling my new-found interest in teens, I gave talks to 12 and 13-year-old girls about the dangers of comparing their bodies and faces to what they see in the media, and the pressure to be perfect. Initially I was terrified. Would they see right through me and figure out I used to have terrible body image issues? Would they snigger and gossip about me?
I was being far too egotistical; I am not that interesting! Those teen girls didn’t care about me, they cared about what I was saying and if it related to them. I made sure they all left knowing it’s more important to be pretty fucken smart, funny and creative than just boring old pretty.
Then, later I would see those girls on the ropes course and it all fell into place.
“You’re the lady that told us to be pretty confident,” they would say.
“Yes!” I said, before sending them flying through the trees.
On the way home from school this week I asked the children what they wanted to become. Bob said he wanted to be a space pilot. Good. That’s inspiring. And then he asked whether he could marry a girl and a boy, which, I guess, is better than his sister. The ‘Dactyl reiterated she wanted to be a Mummy. Trying to hide my disappointment I suggested other things a girl could be and Bob chimed in: doctor, galactic ruler, gymnast, unicorn, explorer, artist, architect, death star princess…
“A sewer,” was her reply.
“Erm, do you mean a fashion designer darling?”
Nope. Just a sewer.
Oh well. That’s way better than nothing.
We’re all becoming things we weren’t. The Dimple has gone from film guy to off-the-grid, solar dude. Somehow I became a sporty, public speaker. Bob is a brilliant tree fort maker, the ‘Dactyl has finally taken the training wheels off her bike, and they are the youngest kids to climb our climbing wall.
I used to resent summer camp for interrupting my otherwise blissful existence in the forest. Now I love it. The big question remains, how on earth will we ever leave?