T he second grader tugged on my arm, pulling me towards the auditorium where the camp talent show was about to start. “You’re going to sit with me!” she declared triumphantly.
“Okay Angelina, okay,” I replied. “Where do you want to sit?”
But while Angelina was making her decision, we ran into another second grader, Sam, who quickly became jealous of the two of us. “But Angelina, I want to sit next to Jonathan!” she complained.
“It’s okay,” I said quickly. “You can sit on my other side.” Unfortunately, Sam had hardly finished sitting down before a third child came. “I want to sit with Jonathan too!” exclaimed Stephanie.
This time, I didn't have a good solution. Stephanie asked if she could sit on my lap, but I hesitated. Neal has seen you do that before, and he didn’t say anything, I thought. But it’s still technically against camp rules. Feeling unsure, I gave Stephanie a small nod, but avoided answering with my voice.
And so it was that during the Camp Horizons talent show of 2010, I sat with Angelina to my left, Sam to my right, and Stephanie on my lap. I don’t know who enjoyed it more—the kids, or me. It felt great to have them there, asking me questions about this or that performance. I knew that when the summer ended in two days, I was going to miss them dearly.
When the show was half over, the lights turned on, and some of the older counselors began passing out ice cream. Angelina and Sam saw some of their friends, and ran to join them. Stephanie stayed next to me, licking her cherry popsicle—but I noticed that she wasn’t smiling. When the show resumed, the girl sat in silence, not pointing, or giggling, or telling me that whatever part we were currently watching was the best part yet.
Finally, she turned to me and said: “You don’t have to sit with me, if you don’t want to.”
Perhaps I’ll never fully learn how perceptive kids can be. I’d hesitated to let her sit on my lap, and she'd noticed, and come up with her own interpretation of why.
“But I want to sit with you Stephanie,” I said quickly. Her expression brightened immediately, and she returned to her normal self.
I returned to Camp Horizons every summer I was in high school. I never stopped being sad on the last day. The kids would each wave goodbye and tell me that they'd miss me, and I'm sure they did, for a few days. But I missed them all year long.