Doing more with less

Although I thoroughly enjoy working as a camp nurse, it’s probably not something I would choose to do on my own.  At the very heart of the matter, it’s all for my daughters, Natasha and Claudia, so I can give them an amazing experience for which I could otherwise never manage to pay rack price.  For those nurses whose economic situations can endure it (and relationships that can withstand it), working at a summer camp is a unique way to offer their children the experience of a lifetime.  According to the American Camping Association’s website, there are approximately 9,500 summer camps of all types in this country, and every one of them needs a handful of medical professionals to staff their health centers.  These camps cannot possibly pay the doctors and nurses the same salaries they receive at home, so it’s a common industry standard to reduce or even waive the camp tuition for their children in exchange for professional services provided.  It’s a win-win situation.

When I was “shopping” for the perfect camp (both times), all I had to do was surf the web, find the human resources contacts, shoot emails, and watch the offers come in.  It was mind-boggling. Last year I searched in late May and thought there would be no jobs left, and I was so wrong! I sent out at least a dozen inquiries the first morning and 8 hours later I had about 5 opportunities to choose from.  Most camps emailed, but the director of my camp got back to me via phone.  I still remember when I saw her number buzzing my cell phone, and getting this strange feeling that I should pick that up, not let it go to voice mail.  Hours earlier, I had already given a “yes” to a fine arts camp and was busy with my “no thank you’s” to the other camps, but I picked that call up anyway. And it’s a good thing I did, because she sold her camp to me just with the enthusiastic love in her voice as she described it.  (I shudder to think what my girls and I would have missed out on if I hadn’t taken that call.)   I often wonder how many hundreds of camp nursing jobs remain unfilled out there each summer.

So, back to my original point… although we’re not wealthy, Steve and I do okay, but only because we’ve been creative with our finances from the start.  We purchased a small townhouse in 1997 with a price tag way below what the bank told us we could borrow. Our mortgage is under $1000 including taxes.  Because of this we are not a slave to our finances and largely avoided the woes others have faced in the Great Recession. We endured when I quit teaching and went to nursing school.  We endure in the winters when Steve gets laid off.    We have always been able to get by with one of us being a stay-at-home parent for our children (except during times when our schedules overlapped, and we resorted to professional child care only a few months at a time).   This is a lifestyle that we chose so one of us would always be with the girls, so we could raise them ourselves and be actively involved in their lives.  We don’t give our kids lots of Things. We give our kids a lot of Time.  This costs our household a lot of potential income, but it’s worth every penny we never see.  And because we live below our means, Steve and I are in the unique position to be able to provide our kids with summer camp.  I find it deliciously serendipitous that because we live frugally, it’s something we can afford to do.



Wearing lots of hats/sombreros

I’m home today.  I get a day off once a week.  Because I’m the night nurse my day off starts at 8am when I’m off duty, and ends at 8pm the following day. Coming home and briefly going back to my “real” life helps me put things in perspective, and helps me reflect about my week.  My hubby and I work it out so we both are home at the same time (he is on the road all week in the summer.) So we end up chatting about everything about our week, go out to lunch, do shopping/errands, and then hang out in the evening on the deck or if it’s raining (like last night) we catch some Netflix shows together. Last night there was a break in the rain and we walked down the street to the local bar, which was having an outdoor party with fireworks.   It feels exactly like life was before the kids, since they stay up at camp. My day at home is a nice little shot in the arm to energize me and make me feel good about returning for another week of camp.

So the 8p-8a night nurse gig is working out so far for everyone.  I love my room in the Health Center and it’s turned out to be quieter than I thought during the day. (Only once was I up late – 2am – with a camper, and although I could have slept in, I just settled for a quick afternoon nap.)  When the morning nurse(s) arrive, I grab a quick breakfast, shower, and take some personal time before 10am when I grab a clipboard at the office and do camp and cabin inspections. First, I go to all the camp areas- the shower houses, gathering areas, arts buildings, etc. and determine if the cabin assigned to that area had done a decent job of cleanup.  Then I go back up to the cabins and inspect those. Most cabins are extremely competitive and strive to get 10’s. They lose half points if certain things are not done, like if their assigned camp area not adequate, beds not made, trash or clothes on floor, trash not emptied, etc.  So that takes me about an hour. I want to get my routine down and cut my time, but so far so good.

After that, my day is potpourri.  If you scroll further and read my blog from last year, you’ll see that I had lamented about feeling like a fly on the wall, always on the outside looking in to all the fun and activities from the Health Center porch.  My new work schedule this year has granted me my wish while allowing me to still practice nursing.  I do a bit of everything, and I never know what they’ll have me do next.  Often I drive people into town to the doctor or to pick up stuff at Walmart for various departments.  I help out in the office making phone calls, sorting mail, various clerical duties, work the camp store when it’s open, etc. I pitch in down at Arts and Crafts, cover at the Health Center for others’ days off, and pretty much anything that comes up.  I usually have down time from 5-8pm,. At 8p I go back to the HC and the rest of the nurses retire.  Then, I see and treat a parade of boo-boos, turned ankles, sour tummies, headaches, etc. until 9-9:30 when things finally settle down. Also kids w evening meds come in.  There’s usually one or two that forget to come by (ahem… Claudia)… so I call the Rover on duty to retrieve the girl to escort her down. Often a camper who’s feeling poorly will come down with her counselor some time between lights out and midnight.  But mostly, after 10pm I pour the next day’s meds, tidy up, sweep, take out trash, enter all visits into the computer, do my own laundry, and I’m in bed (hopefully) around midnight.  If a group comes back in late, I need to do lice checks on them.

Sometimes a counselor with the night off will come by for a medical reason and then stay and chat for a while.  Or I’ll drive them into town for a doctor visit and engage in some quality talk time on the way.  This is one of my favorite things about camp, getting to know these great people.  Most of our counselors are from the UK, another European country, Latin America and Australia.  (We have some Americans too, they’re just as great!)  They are all intelligent, thoughtful, open-minded, and adventurous.  Our director really has a knack for choosing quality individuals to work at camp. I really admire anyone who can take such a leap of faith to leave their families and life as they know it to fly far away to to live and work in a foreign country for nearly three months.  I love to pick their brains, ask them questions about everything- school systems, uni (college), their healthcare system, tax system, their politics, the EU and their place in it, food, language/accents, culture, current trends, social problems, other countries they’ve visited, families, etc.  The way I see it, if I cannot go travelling myself, I can still experience the world through what they tell me.  I’ve met several amazing, articulate, interesting ladies so far and look forward to getting to know more of them. I also enjoy fielding questions about America if they ask. When I take people to the doctor, they learn a bit about our healthcare system whether they like it or not. Sometimes they comment on the ubiquitous American flags displayed in public and we talk about the culture of our patriotism.  I’ve also described the day of September 11 and how it felt to live in the moment of it, not knowing at the time how the day would play out, the fear we had not knowing what was going on and life in the weeks that followed.

Also, I’ve been able to practice my Spanish with several of the ladies.  I’ve been brushing up on my skills for my New Year’s resolution (I quit Candy Crush and replaced that wasted time with . I think the thing that’s hampering me the most is my reluctance to sound less than perfect when I speak. I don’t mind having an accent but I’m a Grammar Nazi at heart and I know I’m butchering Spanish when I speak it. (I call it my Tarzan Spanish.)  I try to remind myself that as long as I get the point across it’s all good, and they probably welcome a break from the onslaught of English in their ears all day. These ladies earn special admiration from me- they take their rudimentary high school English knowledge, immerse themselves in a foreign land, and muddle their way to fluency over the summer, smiling through it all as they go!

So that’s my camp experience so far.  I’ve committed to an extra week now, since they lost a nurse before camp began and they need someone. There’s two more weeks that I’m contemplating, but at this point, Steve and I aren’t sure it’s feasible. I know Natasha and Claudia would love to stay the whole time!  More on my girls later!

Groovy curtains, careless chipmunks

It’s 6:30am but I’ve been up for an hour already. The three beautiful windows in my small room in the back corner of the Health Center lets in the early summer light and wakes me up early. The curtains, which clearly date back to the 70’s, are not much help in blocking the light, but they sure make my room look groovy. After three days of greeting the dawn personally, I add “sleep mask” to my list of things to buy when I make my way into town.

I love a short commute to work, so this year I’ve hit the jackpot. Instead of a room at the lodge, I am living in the Health Center due to a change in my job description. I’m now the night nurse 6 nights a week, so it makes no sense to have a room in the Lodge that I will never sleep in. I’m perfectly okay w this; I’m a night owl anyway and the other two nurses are not. I’m on duty 8p-8a and I do get to sleep (albeit lightly) if there are no pressing concerns. Last year I had only one sleepless night with a sick kid in five weeks.

So after all the meds are distributed, boo boos cared for, floors swept, trash put out, the day’s visits entered into the computer, and tomorrow’s meds pulled, I close the HC doors, leave the porch light on, and retire at about midnight.

The memory of my 6-night a week third shift schedule that I worked during the long, cold, extremely snowy winter is effortlessly blocked out from my memory and I sit alone now at the cold fire circle listening to the birds and watching the chipmunks scurry about. Two chipmunks were just dashing around the fire circle, oblivious to my presence, until they both just crashed into my hot pink Croc.

This is day 2 with the campers. My role with the camp is still evolving; during the day I’m doing all sorts of things. Yesterday I did some office work and made some calls to parents who have not yet sent in paperwork. This year I can expect to do a bit of everything, as I’m slated to be a jack-of-all-trades during the day. The first camp bell just rang, almost time for breakfast. I have no idea what today will bring!


Old Fly on the Wall

When I first considered blogging at camp, I thought I would have a lot more things to say than I actually do. Unfortunately, The most interesting things to write about are health situations that I cannot discuss due to privacy laws. Even if I wrote about things anonymously, camp people still could guess who it is, so I don’t have any great material here. As far as the overall severity of injuries or illnesses here, things have been pretty quiet. Usually that’s a bad word to say, the “Q” word. Never should it be spoken at any medical facility, as it’s widely thought of as a surefire jinx! At this camp, though, it seems to have no power here. People will just say left and right, “Oh it’s quiet today.” And nobody responds “don’t say that word!” And everything stays fine and dandy.
Knock wood.

Sometimes I feel like a fish out of water at camp. The population is mostly girls ages 7 to 16, and then there are counselors, whose ages range mostly from 21 to 23. Anybody who is older than that is a director, a nurse, a maintenance person, or an office lady. I clearly belong to this much smaller group. I am friendly with these people but everyone’s busy in their respective jobs so I speak to them in passing and at some meals. My energy is different from my peers in the health center. I like to be friendly and build rapport when I treat a child, and that’s not the focus here- just treat ’em and street ’em. No chit-chat. Don’t encourage them to want to be at the HC. And I get that. I do. But it’s been an effort on my part to tone it down. Five weeks is a long time to not be yourself. I still do it anyway when I can afford the time and I’m not being scrutinized. I gotta be me. Kids need a soft, safe place to fall when the going gets tough. And the girls who do fall come looking for me, and I’m glad to be what they truly need at the right time.

It’s also not my job to plan the fun or be part of the fun, that’s for the counselors. I just sit back and watch everyone else experience the active fun and sometimes that’s pretty darn lonely. I feel young at heart, and wish I was more a part of the camp community. Sometimes I get away to walk around and watch the action as a fly on the wall, especially for evening activities. There’s so much camp spirit- songs, jokes, traditions, etc. and I only experience it vicariously. Often times I feel bit wistful when the counselors go out in the evenings “for a pint”, and here I am the dowdy old nurse, staying in for the night, usually still on duty or else too tired. I have been invited out by some of the counselors, and I was entertaining the idea to go with them for something different, but my schedule was so extensive that I did not get off work in time. I have developed wonderful rapports with several of the counselors, especially my children’s cabin counselors, but I know I’m a mom-type person to them. I love my life and who am now, but sometimes I really miss expressing that youthful part of me that hasn’t really quite disappeared from my spirit. I still feel twenty-something! I remember my grandmother telling me that in her 70’s.

Don’t get me wrong, I like it here. I’m relatively happy here. I thoroughly enjoy the job. But it is a job I do six days a week and average more than 12 to 14 hours a day in a small cabin. I do it so my children could enjoy this place. I do not regret this, I really do like the camp and job. But admittedly, although I genuinely smile a lot, I am seldom inspired to give up a good belly laugh. I’m ready to go home now and recoup some summer fun while there’s still time. I hope my friends back home can help me with this!

Sugar Crash

I’m sitting on the Lodge porch admiring the sunlight streaming through the spiderwebs between the railing slats. in my hand is a large cup of my privately-brewed Starbucks Sumatra, and I’m watching straggling, sleepy, bedraggled campers come in to forage for their a la carte continental breakfast. Wednesday is always breakfast in bed day at camp. However this is a particularly lazy day. I happen to know most of these girls are struggling w sugar hangovers! Last night the entire camp got on buses and were shipped over to a minor league baseball game somewhere in New York. Each camper had $15 to spend, and the concessions were fairly priced. They got cotton candy. Popcorn. Soda. Bubble tape. Snowcones. French fries. Fried dough. Ice cream. Candy. My “Spidey-senses” as a mom AND a nurse were tingling off the charts. But this is camp and pigging out is part of the fun. I had to bite my tongue all night, especially when my own kids were coming back with their third sugary treat. Truth be told, I too got a bit caught up in the debauchery. I had ice cream and many small strips of bubble tape (each shared by Claudia and her cabin mates) and had some fun blowing bubbles. We all got back after 11:15p and THEN I and a few other people still had to do lice checks on nearly 200 people, and THEN dealt w some minor injuries and tummy aches. There were way, way less tummy aches than I anticipated. And I wasn’t awakened even once in the health center overnight. So I suppose I just wasted my time being uptight about the whole junk food thing. What happens at camp stays at camp. Also of note: I tried to explain baseball to a few international counselors. Talk about the blind leading the blind.

The silence is over

(Note: I used voice recognition to write this blog. It is easier than trying to use the tiny QWERTY keyboard on my iPhone, but it may sound a little disjointed and not so eloquent. Sorry.)

Several weeks before I came to camp, I was here for staff orientation. We had a meeting where the nurses read down a whole list of special needs campers. This was a special opportunity for me to be able to explain to everybody firsthand about selective mutism, what it is, and how it affects my daughter Claudia. I also was able to make suggestions on how to interact with her best. For example: don’t push for answers if she does not respond. Ask yes or no questions when possible. Don’t be too friendly, or make a fuss over her, don’t ask for high-fives or hugs, and if she doesn’t respond verbally, act like you really didn’t notice she was mute.

The positive reaction from the counselors was astounding. Several came up to me throughout the day and told me how excited they were to work with Claudia. They found SM fascinating and saw it as a challenge to be the one to bring her around. (Of course in my mind I was thinking “Oh good luck with that one, get in line!”) Most of the counselors were from other countries, and one girl from England said that she had worked with a little boy with selective mutism. She was very excited to tell me all the techniques she used to bring this little boy out of the shell. I was very encouraged to know that Claudia would be surrounded by caretakers all committed to try their best to make her comfortable. But deep down I felt that it was impractical to get my hopes up too much.

So Camp Day finally arrived. I helped them unpack and settle in, bid them farewell, and then moved my own things into the Lodge. The first day or two, I was getting reports from Claudia’s counselors that she was doing well, but being very, very shy. No surprise there. They told me that they were just ignoring the fact that she wasn’t talking too much, and just asking her basic yes or no questions that she could respond to easily without words. By the second day one of the counselors was saying that she muttered some words very quietly only when it was absolutely necessary. However she was talking just fine with some of the girls and did not seem to mind that she was speaking in front of adults in a normal voice. She did not introduce introduce herself at the campfire, but the counselor did it for her. When I saw a Claudia around camp, she seemed happy and calm. She was really enjoying herself and I was content with that. Several counselors came up to me to tell me that they had introduced themselves to Claudia, And described their exchange using the techniques I had suggested. I was so impressed with their kindness and their consideration.

At about the third day, a counselor from the waterfront told me that Claudia had spoken quietly to her. “I don’t have a swimming buddy.” A whole sentence. To an adult. And to my surprise, I started to cry. In the next day or so, more reports of Claudia speaking started to trickle in. A few days after that, the reports started to pour in! Finally one cabin counselor came to me and said “does this girl have an ‘off’ switch?”

At Camp Netimus, my daughter Claudia does not have selective mutism. Last night at the campfire with the new girls that arrived earlier that day, Claudia introduced herself when it was her turn. There were about 175 people in attendance. And it’s all because the tailored attention and genuine caring that the these lovely mature young women have shown my daughter. People who did not even know us a month ago have been just as excited about Claudia’s emergence from her silence as my family, friends and I have been. I am overwhelmed by the magic that the staff here has created.

Claudia has found her voice, finally. Whenever I see her, she is so, so happy. I love this place.

How did I get here?

From December until May I had a contract with a different camp. It was signed sealed and delivered. Unfortunately, for some reason I did not understand the fine print, but there was a problem w a major detail in the contract that I did not discover until May. It was slipped in so quietly, and not what we had discussed at all. I had to quickly disengage myself from the agreement to work for them. I felt terrible about it and didn’t want to leave them high and dry so close to the season but I truly had no choice.

Desperately, I started googling different camps. I sent in inquiries by email or phone to perhaps close to two dozen camps. I promised kids camp. I wanted to deliver that promise. Within two hours of my initial search I had landed a verbal agreement with a camp way up close to the New York border. It was a lovely fine arts camp. However once I agreed to go to this camp, all of the other offers started rolling in within hours. I got emails and phone calls and I was starting to realize that a camp nurse in late May really has a wide selection of options for their summer experience.

After writing about five no-thank-you emails, and returning phone calls saying no thank you, one number popped up on my iPhone. It rang and rang. I was going to let it go to voicemail and call back later to say no thank you, but I felt a last-minute gut feeling that I should pick that call up.

It was the director of Camp Netimus. She sounded like such a lovely person that she won me over within the first five minutes of our conversation. She was kind, friendly, and just had a way about her that was irresistible not to love. I had to meet this woman. I have spoken to at least 20 different directors of camps in the last several years, and nobody, I mean nobody, exuded the enthusiasm and love for their camp as much as she did.

So I had a difficult decision. The director didn’t want to steal me from the other camp, but she was very enthusiastic about having me and hoped I’d choose Netimus. In the end the kids made the decision for me. In a side to side comparison, a fine arts Camp was no comparison for a camp with zip lining, a rock climbing wall, gaga courts, basketball, and exciting outdoor activities like that. So I sheepishly told the fine arts camp that I really appreciated the offer but my children did not think they would be happy there and I regretted not checking with them first.

Coming to Camp Netimus was one of the best decisions we ever made. I don’t truly believe in magic or miracles, but I have seen and felt things that came close to such in my two weeks here. The real “magic” of this place comes from the people whose love and regard for each other make great things happen. If I didn’t have to report to the health center to work in 15 minutes, I would tell you about them right now. But that will have to wait. Sorry!

Previous Older Entries

Blog on Selective Mutism

Life lessons and tips for those searching for information on selective mutism.

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