It's summer camp season and kids everywhere are saturated with water, buried in macaroni crafts or whatever is taking their place these days, and bolstered with all manner of self-esteem exercises.
Self-esteem barely had been invented when I was a kid. I was cut from nearly every sports team on account of I "threw like a girl." In those days, that was considered a bad thing.
"Stop your blubbering or I'll give you something to cry about!" was considered proper sympathy.
The one place that was different was camp, from two-hour Bible schools to two-week adventure treks, where counselors trucked in tons of macaroni and gallons of Elmer's glue to make crafts designed to bolster self-esteem:
"You like my macaroni rooster? But it's supposed to be a macaroni elephant! Oh, you like it because it's the best macaroni rooster/elephant it can be, and it can be anything it wants to be, and there's nothing stopping it from being an elephant? Or a rooster? Or, possibly a dump truck? Because, you say, there are no wrong answers."
Counselors loved piling the macaroni, glue and esteem on as many selves as possible.
Your bunkies were far less concerned about self-esteem than your counselors. Counselors taught me self-esteem and prepared me to face me. Bunkies taught me humiliation. They prepared me to face bosses.
Bosses never say, for example, "That's the best door frame it can be. While the roof was supposed to go there, that's OK, because if it wants to be a door, then it can be a door."
Bosses say things like, ''Idiot! You're fired!'' without tending to one whit of one's self-esteem.
At summer camp, no one wanted to be the first kid to fall asleep. The first kid who snored was the one who ended up with a whole can of shaving cream emptied onto his right palm and the end of his nose being tickled with a piece of grass. Within two or three tickles, WHAP! The kid splattered himself with enough shaving cream that he still was blowing it out his nostrils three weeks later!
That was the trick if we were feeling nice. The other one was to drip warm water into the sleeping kid's palm. Drip. Drip. Drip. Done correctly, we'd all be smelling his sleeping bag in the summer heat the rest of camp.
Or at water rec time, the bunkies would grab the fat kid who couldn't swim and heave him off the end of the pier. Then one camper would dive in, not to save him, but to snatch his swim trunks off from beneath him. Then, with his swim trunks hanging from a tree branch 20 feet away, that's when they'd tell the fat kid - me - he was flailing about in only 2 feet of water.
"You can stand if you like, or you can sit and pretend to be a rock because here comes the girls camp for a visit!" they taunted.
I sat in that lake for two hours before a counselor, apparently too busy preparing the next macaroni project, figured out I wasn't trying to be the best rock sitting in the lake that I could be.
It was a good thing the counselor finally figured it out and saved my trunks and self-esteem. I almost missed the snipe hunt my bunkies had planned for me that night.
----- Cole's a little self-conscious about, well, everything. Coddle him at email@example.com.