Summer Job or Summer School?
Last week I revisited some of the summer jobs of my long-ago youth. (And no, helping Herr Gutenberg print Bibles was not one of them.) I was reminded of this topic when my wife and I visited our youngest son recently at his summer job at Hume Lake Christian Camps high in the cool, clean air of the Sequoia National Forest. Tough gig, right?
In my column last week, I reminisced about one particularly sweaty summer spent out in our family’s garage sorting through thousands of nuts and bolts and other zinc-plated hardware without the benefit of even a transistor radio to help me pass the time. As coincidence would have it, the rules for counselors at Hume Lake don’t allow them to have their iPods on duty either. Even more unique in this day and age is that there is absolutely zero cellphone reception up there. And no internet. Or TV.
Oh, the horror of it all.
So what does everybody do all summer? They live life. They explore. They sing songs. They talk to each other. I mean, deep, meaningful conversations. They study the Bible. They pray. They play. They play some more. They experience the beauty, wonder and joy of God’s creation without the almost overwhelming digital distractions so present in our lives today. Sounds like heaven to me.
On any given weekend, my son doesn’t know what job he’ll have the following week until a staff meeting on Sunday afternoon. Although he has worked some weeks as a cook in one of the camp’s kitchens (they feed as many as 1,200 hungry campers at each meal!), most weeks he works as a counselor to a group of boys of either elementary, middle school or high school age.
That means he spends the next six days being the boys’ confidant, mentor, security guard, pastor, nanny, activities director, trail guide and surrogate parent. He eats all three meals with his guys and sleeps in their cabins (or covered wagon in the case of the younger boys). So far this summer, he has experienced the joys, stresses and frustrations of caring for homesick kids, frightened kids, bored kids, angry kids, troubled kids, barfing kids, lonely kids, clingy kids, kids who won’t eat, kids who won’t stop eating, gassy kids, kids with acute arachnophobia and everything in between.
As camp staff, he gets a weekly salary (which works out to be slightly above $4 an hour) plus meals and a place to sleep at night. When he isn’t counseling, his living quarters are unfortunately only slightly better than sleeping in an abandoned rail car in suburban Fresno.
As I write this, he has two more weeks at camp until he comes home for several days and then leaves again for his sophomore year in college. He is exhausted beyond his ability to express it. He has caught several of the nasty colds and flu bugs that have raced through the camp this summer. He deeply misses his friends and family. He misses the internet and his music.
And he couldn’t be happier.
During our visit, my wife and I saw that our son has already earned something that won’t show up on any pay stub: namely patience, fortitude, resilience, commitment and most importantly, what it means to be there for a kid who needs comforting, advice, strength, guidance, friendship and reassurance at any hour of the day or night.
In fact, my son said something during our visit that confirmed our suspicions. During a quiet moment, and with a heavy sigh, he said, “Dad, I think I’m starting to understand what it’s like to be a parent.” (You can’t see me, but right now I’m singing the “Hallelujah Chorus” with both hands in the air.)
Please don’t tell the folks who operate Hume Lake, but I would have paid them to hire my son this summer.
I’ll see you ’round town.