I think that if you ask anyone who has worked at a summer camp, they will all tell you that the hardest part of the camp is the last day. The day the kids go home. The day you have to say goodbye. The day that the tears fall and there is that hole in your heart that seems like that it will never heal.
I have been doing summer camps and working with young people for over 30 years. It never gets any easier. From experience, I know I will get to feel better. But, the process is not always a fun one. Today was no exception. Today was the last day of camp for my kids.
We began the day with a final show. A talent show. The kids have been practicing their songs and their skits for three weeks. And, it was great. The pictures above are from the show. The singing was horrible. The acting was lame. But, I think I now know how a parent feels when they go to a recital their child is in. It does not matter how bad they are, they sound like angels. I spent the two hours going around hugging the kids and cheering them on.
After the show, it was time for lunch. I had my final meal with them. I always ate with the kids. I never sat and ate with the other teachers. I just felt like I should be with the kids. I had gotten in the habit of taking a roll ad using bits of it to throw at the kids. Today was no different.
After lunch, the kids went to their rooms and packed their bags, said goodbye to various friends and staff, and cleaned their rooms. Some tears fell and lots of loving hugs. with bags packed, they headed outside to line in formation to be counted and then a short walk to the buses. More tears and hugs. And then the buses leave. Young, teary eyed kids faces plastered to the bus windows waving back at us as we have tear filled eyes. A group of the staff walk back to the dormitory wiping away the years and not saying a word. Just walking trying to compose ourselves.
The rest of the day is busy cleaning and gathering the camp equipment for moving day tomorrow. It is good to be distracted with busy work. I was cleaning the boy’s rooms today. It is amazing how much dirtier boys are than girls. For 15 rooms, we took 4 trash cans of garbage out of the rooms. Clothes that were left behind, food stuffs, toiletries, papers, and things you could not recognize any more. The girls 15 rooms were so clean that it only took about three dustpans of dirty to make them clean.
Tonight is very quiet. The rooms are empty. The classrooms are empty too. Most traces of the kids are gone. There are two picture boards remaining in the hallways with some of their pictures. It is painful to look at. But, it is good too.
They are on a train now heading back to their family and friends. I can only imagine that they are all sleeping. For three weeks, many stayed up late at night and got up early in the morning. Just as I have We are all very tired. Not just physically tired. But mentally as well. I think that is why the last day of camp is always so hard. We are all just mentally drained. Our emotions are frayed. And, we need rest to heal.
I have about six days for the healing process to happen. Then, I begin the camp process all over again. My kids from Inner Mongolia are coming to summer camp then. I get to see my kids for two weeks. And, at the end of that time, I will have a broken heart again. But, I would not have it any other way. After all, that is all part of camp. That is all about loving young people. And, that is my life as a teacher in China.