Last summer, I spent two weeks volunteering at a children’s overnight Christian camp. The age group for one of these weeks was 1st and 2nd grade. I figured I wouldn’t have any problems, since I get along well with children, and I have a younger sibling of my own.
Monday night was when it started. I had sat down with my dinner, and the empty seats around me began to fill up. With little boys. Soon, I was surrounded by 6-7 year old boys, with only another counselor nearby. We were told beforehand to ask the kids questions, get to know them better. So I asked them the obvious question:
“What do you guys like to do?”
They all answered with the same thing: playing video games. I pretended to be exasperated to get them to laugh, and tried to get a different answer out of them, but to no avail. They enjoyed pestering me, like most little boys do.
“Do you like playing video games?” they eagerly asked the other couneslor. I gave him a warning look.
“Don’t encourage them,” I told him.
He gave me a slow, shy grin, then said: “I love video games.”
“Video games! Video games!” The boys began to chant. I stood, trying to leave, but they stood as well, and crowded around me in a tight circle.
I found myself unable to move, they were so close, and tried not to panic. I didn’t want to accidentally hurt them, so I stood there, frozen, not sure what to do.
“Whoa, whoa!” I looked up, and found my boss hurtling towards me. He pulled the boys away, told them to leave me alone.
“Are you okay?” He seemed genuinely worried, which was a bit of a surprise. My boss was the kind of young man I would expect to stand there and laugh for a bit before jumping in.
I nodded, and thanked him, hoping that that would be the end of it. Ha!
For the next few days, I had to avoid that group of little boys at all costs, or they would pounce again, shouting, “VIDEO GAMES!!” at the top of their lungs. The story spread quickly around camp, and the other counselors would warn me, hiding smiles, when the boys were around.
I’m not saying I was afraid, but it really wore on my patience. There was one little boy who was the ‘ringleader’. Once he would start, everyone else would join in. Without him around, nothing would happen. But he would always be around…
The counselors tried to talk to him, but it didn’t change anything. So I kept my guard up. It seemed like the safest thing to do.
When Thursday — the last full day — finally rolled around, I could hardly contain my relief. They would all be gone soon, and I could finally relax! No more little demon boys!
Thursday was also Communion Night. The camp gets together around the fire pit. A pastor comes to speak and break the bread. There are silent prayers as the sparks from the fire whirl up into the black night sky. It’s always an emotional night, even for us working there, who attend it every week.
As usual, after everyone either began leaving, or stayed there to continue talking to God to soft guitar music, we wandered around the fire pit area, seeing if people needed us, or if they just wanted to be alone with their thoughts.
I noticed that one of the few children staying behind was the little ‘ringleader’. He had his head bowed, and his thin little shoulders were shaking. I was suddenly struck with how young he really was; only seven years old.
I found myself walking towards him, ignoring the raised eyebrows from the other counselors, and sat down beside him. I was quiet for a moment.
“Are you okay?” I finally whispered. “Do you need me to stay with you?”
He raised his little tear-streaked face and looked me in the eye. Then he shook his head violently, and began crying all over again. I stayed, and scooted closer, rubbing his back.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, even more softly.
He didn’t answer for a moment, then sobbed, “I’m homesick…”
I didn’t say anything else. I just put my arm around him and pulled him closer. He resisted at first, then slumped against me, trembling as he cried even harder.
I found out later he had an older sister.
We stayed there for what seemed like forever, but couldn’t have been more than a few minutes. His counselor took him back to their cabin, and I went back to mine. Like it wasn’t a big deal. This kind of thing happened every week. Ordinary, right? Only… it wasn’t. Not for me.
I felt soft inside, as if this one little boy had broken past the brusque shell that defines me. Maybe he had. I felt… different. Older. Quieter, if that makes sense.
Friday morning came around, and one of the first people I saw was that one little boy.
“Hey,” he told me, in that trying-to-be-cool way. Then he ran off to play with his friends. Nothing was said about the night before.
Nothing was said about video games, either. Not then, and not for the rest of the day. From him or anyone else. I was left in peace.