The teenage years can be tough. We are only just starting to explore and then express our sense of individuality at the same time wanting to fit in with our peers so as not to be considered a ‘freak’ all the while being thrown about by the maelstrom of our hormones which are apparently set to ‘random’ for the better part of a decade and a half.
Some of us weather it well, some of us not as much. Some of us come through it with fond memories and empowering experiences, some of us battle with isolation and depression and cruelty from others. Some of us truly battle with authority while others merely spar with it. However bumpy or painful the path there is always a bit of ‘acting out’ behavior as we try to find our place, to fit in, and inevitably wind up saying ‘no’ to things we don’t feel are a right fit for us.
It’s just part of growing up so those of us blessed with the opportunities to contend with youngsters going through it always need to try and bear that in mind. This doesn’t mean we give ignorant or destructive behavior a pass but it does mean there will be times when we have to resist the urge to flex our authoritative muscles and demand compliance. That being said, it doesn’t mean we can’t give a bit of it back now and again either.
My first summer at the camp I worked at up in the Muskokas run by the Canadian Institute for the Blind during the preseason we had one week of ‘kids camp’. The age range of the campers was from a youngest of seven up to sixteen all with varying degrees of visual impairment. I had up the senior boys in my cabin for the week and that summer the way things lined up we ended up with one outlier in terms of age. We’ll call him R.J.
R.J. was fully blind and was only going to be sixteen for maybe another three months. He had been to the camp in previous years and quite liked it so his parents sent him for one more visit before he aged out of the opportunity. Trouble was the next oldest camper after him was thirteen which put R.J. rather on his own in a sea of much younger feeling kids.
Thankfully R.J. was an easy-going laid-back sort of dude who truly was a decent kid at heart. He had the chin length shaggy hair, grunge band T-shirts, and was just cool enough to have all the rest of the senior boys looking up to him. And to have all the senior girls gigging and twittering about him (this was back before Twitter so it was literal twittering).
Within the first couple of days it was clear R.J. was feeling like a rather lone entity at the camp. He enjoyed the bit of idol worship from the other boys but didn’t crave it or bask in it. He was also still a heterosexual sixteen year old boy so having a dozen or so teeny-bopper girls fluttering about him wasn’t the worst thing ever. He never pushed his luck but he did hold court with them whenever the opportunity arose.
This led to his offering of sneakiness.
The second and third nights, well after everyone was supposed to be in their rooms I got a knock on my door from the two councilors running the senior girls cabin. They were returning R.J. who had somehow managed to sneak his way over there to play cards and hold court with four or so of the girls out on the screened in porch each of the cabins had (he knew better than to be in any of their rooms, like I said decent kid).
The councilors from the other cabin rolled their eyes, R.J. shrugged with a ‘what’s a guy gonna do? Fish gotta swim’ type grin. He listened dutifully to me giving him grief about sneaking out after curfew, he was even contrite and co-operative when the camp manager give him a talking to the following day. I knew in my gut we could trust him not to step over any serious lines but I also knew it was not likely to be his last visit to the senior girls’ cabin.
I did my best to try and catch him at it the following night but I also set up the agreement with the girls’ councilors that they would give the little cabal around twenty minutes of rebellious visiting time before once again ‘finding them’ and bringing the calming grinning R.J. back to my cabin. He did manage to get past me that second night and obediently went right to bed once returned.
I chatted with the camp manager the next morning and she agreed to give me one more shot at bringing him a little more in line with the rules. It took me all of three minutes to come up with my plan and I waited patiently for the rest of the day to make my offering of sneakiness.
The cabin itself was my co-conspirator. Each cabin had a central hallway which connected through a door to the main boardwalk with a half dozen rooms off either side, the first two of which were bathrooms-showers. A solid door lead out the far end to a screened in porch with plastic deck furniture then, out a screen door, down a small set of steps to the grass, and the camp grounds at large. R.J.’s route of escape had been out through the screened in porch once it sounded like the coast was properly clear.
As everything was shutting down and the boys were all in the bathrooms getting ready for bed I slipped out onto the porch and moved all of the plastic furniture into a near impassable obstacle course between the two doors. I then closed the solid inner door so no one inside the cabin would be able to notice. After going down the hallway doing ‘room-checks’ ensuring everyone was accounted for and in their rooms with their doors closed I paused just long enough to move the blue plastic recycling bin over so it sat half way across the opening side of the solid door to the porch and stood the few pop cans inside it up vertically so they would be nice and unstable. I made a somewhat obvious auditory show of going back to my room, closing my door, and turning my cd player on just loud enough to be noticeable. I then silently reopened my door and leaned in my doorway to wait.
It didn’t take very long. Time and fan clubs wait for no man, I suppose. Within about ten minutes or so, plenty of time to be sure I was in my room and not still moving around, R.J.’s door quietly swung open and he began making his way over to the solid door out to the porch. I stayed where I was and watched waiting to see when and if he would peg to the trap.
Encountering the recycling bin where it wasn’t supposed to be caught him off guard, the thump and rattle it made when his foot struck it caused him to freeze in his tracks cocking one ear to detect if the sound had raised any alarm. I made no move so after a moment or two passed he reached down and shifted the bin aside so gently not even the vertically standing cans tipped or made much further noise. Impressed with the dexterity I let him continue.
He got the solid door open without much of a sound but only made it half a step out onto the porch before encountering the first of many plastic chairs and tables in his way. I hear muttered curses of confusion over what the furniture was doing all over the place but it didn’t stop him. Still managing an admirable level of silence he continued trying to thread through the plastic barricade until he got about a third of the way in and became rather thoroughly trapped. I had moved closer to watch the show and at that point piped up.
“Shall we call it a night?”
R.J. froze for a second, chuckled and shook his head, then made his way back out of the maze and into the cabin. I was half expecting the same ‘what’s a guy gonna do?’ look but this time the grin had a different feel to it.
“Should’ve suspected something right from the recycling bin shouldn’t I?”
“Wondered if you might but figured I might as well have a second phase to make sure.”
“Okay, you got me. I’ll be good,” he said heading back into his room. I started to turn back to my room but he called after me from his door way. “Any man willin’ to boobytrap a blind guy is my kind of dude,” he chuckled flashing me a fully genuine smile. I poked my head back to his door and answered.
“I booby-trapped a sneaky dude, the blindness just gave me the tools.”
He cocked his head at me for a second and then offered me his hand. I accepted the handshake and from that moment on he was my side-kick and wing-man for the rest of the week. I had earned my sneaky stripes with him and pointed out his blindness wasn’t the first thing I saw when I looked at him. He was such a model and helpful camper the manager told his parents she was thinking of paying him for his time.
It also probably didn’t hurt that we made it okay for the girls to come visit him to play cards for a bit on our porch before final lights-out each night. He got his fan club, we knew where they were and they knew it, and having them come to him made him even more of a king. He leaned in and thanked me for that part as well during our final handshake as he was leaving.