Irina Lessne guest blogs this week, sharing with us what it means to be a counselor at camp and how sometimes, you’re not just a counselor… sometimes, you’re a princess. This article was submitted as a creative writing essay for a class and we’re so proud to share it with you.
noun \ˈprin(t)-səs, ˈprin-ˌses, (usual British) prin-ˈses\
: a female member of a royal family; especially: a daughter or granddaughter of a king or queen
: a girl or woman who is treated with special attention and kindness
Ask any little girl what she thinks of when she hears the word “Princess” and I guarantee the reaction will be universal. Her face will light up as bright as the sun and a smile will dance across her tiny face, sweet and innocent, causing those around her to feel the overwhelming happiness and admiration she feels within. Young girls often times look up to Princesses they have read about in story books and aspire to become as beautiful and wonderful as their favorite Disney Princess. To a small child, a Princess might be someone who is beautiful beyond compare or spreads kindness wherever she goes. She might have physical attributes that set her apart from the rest or have a pure heart and compassion for everything that lives. Regardless of the specific Princess a young girl might look up to, there are definitive reasons in which she admires her to such an extent. The Princess of her choice might not wear a jewel encrusted tiara, have the ability to talk to animals or even heal those she cares about. In fact, she might just be an older sister, friend or even a favorite camp counselor that she looks up to simply because they are there for her when she needs it the most.
My name is Irina and I am a Princess. No, I don’t wear a tiara and unfortunately my Prince Charming is still stuck in a tree somewhere, but trust me on this one. My title, as given to me by my rambunctious 13 and 14 year old campers is “Princess . . . Princess Irina”. I am not a Princess due to my appearance, super natural abilities or even elegance for that matter. Heck, I’ve tripped over my own two feet more times than I can count. Most days while at camp, I don’t put on make-up, wear my hair in a knotty ponytail or straggly side braid and throw on an old camp T-shirt, tie dye sofee shorts and Pepto Bismol pink crocs. Standing at 5 feet tall on good days, I am commonly mistaken as being a 13 year old camper. While I was a camper when I was younger, I have over time, transformed from being an awkward preteen into a mature and responsible college student and Counselor.
They say that home is where the heart is and I truly feel that Camp Louise is and forever will be my second home. Camp Louise is a Jewish Camp in Cascade Maryland that was established in 1922 by Uncle Aaron and Aunt Lillie Straus. The initial aim of the camp was to “give girls from Baltimore City an opportunity to experience the countryside as well as to give them a break from their factory jobs”. In the years since then, Camp Louise has provided Jewish Children with friendships, a gateway to their Jewish heritage and identity, fun filled programs and activities, once in a life time experiences, and so much more. As a child, camp provided me with a wide variety of activities as well as a group of friends, counselors and role models that I still keep in close contact with to this very day. I cherished every hour I spent during my years as a camper, embracing the magic that radiated through the crisp summer air and taking part in all the exciting activities and memorable traditions. I spent a lot of my time at the pool learning backstroke and crawl, going down the infamous waterslides and eventually becoming a certified lifeguard when I became older. I admired my counselors more than they will ever know and looked up to them as if they were goddesses. Ever since my first summer at Camp Louise, I aspired to one day become “that counselor” who could brighten up a room with her smile alone and have the ability to truly make a positive impact in the life of a child.
As a counselor, I am faced with both challenges and rewards on a daily basis. I work with middle school aged girls who have yet to understand the meaning of the word “quiet.” My days are filled with supervising the girls in the bunk, lifeguarding at the pool, planning and implementing bonding activities. In the meantime, I am expected to do all of these things and more, while maintaining endless amounts of enthusiasm and a constant rush of adrenaline pumping wildly through my veins. No two days are exactly alike and even though we follow a rigid schedule, there are new blessings to be found and mountains to be overcome every single day. Whether it is congratulating a camper on passing into the next swim level at the pool or comforting a home missing camper at night, there is never a dull moment, my mind is always racing and I am always on the go. The girls I have had the pleasure of working with over the past two summers have been absolutely incredible. Watching them grow has been as beautiful and magnificent as observing a rose blossom. Many girls, especially if it is their first summer at camp, are timid and keep to themselves. It is beyond rewarding to see them come out of their shell, take part in daily activities and traditions and form lifelong friendships.
I strive to act as a positive role model to my campers, modeling behaviors that are age appropriate and mature. I am always on my A game and am on duty virtually 24 hours a day for 8 weeks straight. Though there might be sleepless nights and days in which running away seems like the only way to escape my problems, I keep my head held high and refuse to let a smile leave my face. I’ve learned that it is critical to have a positive attitude all the time when working with children. Everything you do has a lasting impact on them and if you are happy and smiling all the time even when things aren’t going your way, they will soon catch on and their attitude and way of thinking will model yours. I’ve also learned that sometimes you really have to fake it until you make it and when I say that, I mean a smile. If you have a positive attitude and refuse to let bumps in the road bring you down or take away your smile, you will be a much happier person and will be able to better appreciate the goodness in the world.
This past summer, there were multiple times in which I had to fake a smile even when I felt defeated and wanted nothing more than to cry in my bed and sleep for days. I remember one day in particular in which nothing was going my way, yet I had to keep my smile and maintain a positive attitude if not for myself, but for my kids. As a lifeguard in addition to being a regular bunk counselor, I teach a variety of swim classes to the campers each day. It was the first day of swim instruction during second session and I was preparing to help my group of “babies” learn how to preform and practice front crawl. I lined my “Green Turtles” at the edge of the pool and had them jump in and warm up with a few lengths of their favorite stroke. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see one of the girls in my group sitting with her head buried in her knees making sniffling sounds and trembling slightly.
“Ariana, what’s wrong honey,” I asked, picking my youngest girl up in my arms while wiping the tears from her hazel eyes.
“I’m scared, Irina. I’m not a very good swimmer and don’t like the way my nose feels when I put my head under the water,” she said while uttering a hiccup and a shaky little sigh.
“It’s okay to be a little scared. I remember feeling the same way before my first swim lesson here at camp,” I reassured her while rocking her gently.
“I don’t want to go in. Please don’t make me,” Ariana pleaded with me.
“I won’t make you do anything you don’t want to do, but if I went in with you, do you think you could maybe give it shot,” I suggested calmly.
Ariana looked at me and nodded making an attempt at a smile. I jumped in and the water was freezing, but I didn’t care. I bobbed up and down in the arctic cold water a few times and held my arms out, waiting for Ariana to slide in or jump to me, depending on how comfortable she felt.
“I uhh can’t do it,” whimpered Ariana softly, staring down at the water with a look of panic in her eyes.
“Yes you can! I believe in you. The water is great,” I told her, even though I was shivering and Goosebumps crept up on my arms and legs, refusing to leave.
Finally after a few minutes of my gentle encouragement, Ariana made a splashy debut, jumping right into my arms and resurfacing with a huge grin on her face.
“That was wonderful! I am so proud of you,” I told her, with a radiant smile on my face as well.
After she got in the water, Ariana was fine and was able to join the rest of the group without so much as a grimace.
After the swim lesson came to an end, the girls got their towels and left to go to their next activity. While I was checking the girls off on the skills they had accomplished that day, I felt a small tap on my back. It was Ariana.
“Miss Irina,” she said in her high pitched mouse like voice.
I turned around and looked at the little girl wrapped in her Rapunzel towel.
“Thank you for helping me overcome my fear today. You helped me see how much fun the pool really is and I am so excited to come back tomorrow,” said Ariana.
It’s moments like this that make cleaning up vomit in the middle of the night bearable and the petty fights and middle school drama worth it. Seeing the angelic smile of a child after you help them do what they never thought imaginable is indescribable and makes my heart feel full and fit to burst. Being a camp counselor has taught me to appreciate and celebrate the little victories in life. Helping a camper overcome a fear for example is rewarding beyond compare. When they look at you and tell you they will not or cannot do something and then you are able to find a way to encourage them to at least try it, is breathtaking.
So no, I am by no means royalty and do not sit on a throne or order people around. I don’t wear dresses every day or prance around in glass slippers. I can’t talk to birds or whistle as I work, but nevertheless I’m a role model to campers, and that’s what I feel makes me as much of a princess as Cinderella or Belle.
I am a princess because I am always there to provide a shoulder to lean on or a hand to hold. I give pep talks to campers who are feeling down and have the ability to lift their spirits and make them smile.
I am a princess because of my determination and willingness to never give up and do whatever it takes to reach my goals.
I am a princess because I help others feel good about them and celebrate what makes them unique.
I am a princess because my girls look up to me and come to me when they are feeling down or just need someone to talk to.
I am a princess because sometimes there is no other option and it’s either you smile and make the best of a situation or let it consume you and drag you down.
Being a princess is not always pretty. There are always challenges to be faced and metaphorical dragons to be slayed.
Being a counselor has opened my eyes in so many ways. I have learned that all I need to do to have girls look up to me, is to simply be myself. I’ve learned that I have the power to make someone’s entire summer wonderful and make a positive impact in a child’s life. I’ve learned to smile and be happy even when I might not be feeling wonderful on the inside. I’ve learned to be patient and kind and not let minor problems bring my spirits down. But most importantly, I’ve made it my goal to live the good I learned at camp.
I am Irina.
I am a Counselor with an imaginary crown.
A Princess if at only while at camp
But a Princess with a full heart
Determination in my eyes
And a smile always present on my face.