Camp is set, our climbing gear is ready, and we hear the roar of a bus engine. Forty-six 6th grade girls pour down the stairs, giggling, screaming, laughing. Apples roll from lunch boxes, sleeping bags are piled unceremoniously on the side of the road, and we call them into a giant circle. I scan the crowd, soaking in the advertisements. Abercrombie jacket. Heavy mascara. Authentic Ray Bans. $200 skinny jeans. Brand new Keds sneakers. Booty shorts with the word PINK scrawled across the butt.
I have been an instructor on this GirlVentures rock climbing retreat for four years now. Every year I watch transformation happen, and every year I am transformed. Quite honestly, I came into this retreat a bit of a mess. I always do.
This year, given the opportunity to pursue my wildest dreams, I have taken the pace of my life to an extreme. I prepare for my project for hours on end. Research! Emails! Finnish gold miners! Finnish journalists! Finnish friends! Finnish experts! Dutch experts! Walking! Hiking! Biking! Running! Grant writing! (usually in vain) Sponsors! Learning Finnish! (harder than it sounds) Writing conferences! Writing class! In the last week, I have been added to Finnish Wikipedia, and my story has been published in the Finnish newspaper and the tabloids. Things are pretty much out of my control, and I am working on being ok with that.
When I am not obsessing over my project, I am obsessing over the current flashmob I am planning, or taxes, or managing my bank account, or the tiny details of my life. And when I’m not doing that, I am dancing skiing moving playing sailing singing. I am stuck in motion, in the minutia of everyday life, and I can’t find my off button.
And then, at the hands of my 6th grade girls, comes the breakdown and the breakthrough.
By the end of the first day, their Keds will be dirty. Their hands will be rough from holding rope, and their sweat will make their straightened hair curl a little on the underside. They will check their reflections in someone else’s Ray Bans, and they will fuss. When night falls, they will hop around nervously because they cannot see. When a raccoon ventures by looking for macaroni droppings from dinner, they will scream.
By the end of the second day, their skinny jeans will be packed at the bottom of their bag. Their hair will be tied up with bandanas of every color, and there may be a scraped knee or three from falling against a rock wall. They will refer to each other by nicknames they have invented, and have at least 15 inside jokes between them. They will balk on the rock wall, and I will push them to look past their limits. They will cry tears of fear, and tears of pride. Their eyelashes will be a shade lighter, and there will be tiny black circles underneath their eyes. They’ll have seen a baby rattlesnake, and won’t be able to stop talking about it.
By the end of the third day, they will look down to find they are covered in dust, and calmly brush it off. They’ll have learned how to chop vegetables, and dinner will be ready 15 minutes faster. They will sing. They will dance and make up a skit, and they will argue so loudly over who gets to be what character that the people at the next campsite over will tell them to stop. I will lead a discussion, and they will think hard. They will explain the difference between the self they show to the world and the self they don’t, and it will be the first time they are hearing of it. They will not be afraid of the dark.
On the morning of the fourth day, the bus will roar back into camp. There will be a flurry of packing, and talk of showers. They will speak about ordering pizza when they get home, and how excited they are to sleep in their own bed. They will complain that time is too short. They will hug me goodbye and say “thank you,” and they will mean it. I will know they have made it to the top of a rock wall and looked out over lakes and treetops, and I know they will remember. They will walk to the bus a little taller.
And I will walk taller, too. Because why wouldn’t I? What gives me the right to shrink before the future I have chosen for myself? It is time to trust myself the same way that everyone else trusts me. It is time for me to slow down and step up into these challenging roles I have created for myself. It is time to own it.