Earlier this year, Fenya had asked about attending a teen leadership camp. We all agreed it was a good idea, but with potential plans for a trip in Q4 afoot, and a little less income in the house through the summer months (although no June layoff notice for first time in a few years, so, yay!), I suggested she might have to give it a miss this year.
Then a surprise note came home from her sewing classes: the instructor wanted her help with the summer sewing camps, was willing to pay more than minimum wage for her, and sent the note home to make sure it was okay with us before offering her the position, which I am going to say is so old school it should arrive in a big yellow bus with gothic arch windows. Fenya then asked if she could go to the camp if she fronted the bill herself, with her own money, and the only two acceptable answers to that are 1) yes, and 2) I'm proud of you, honey.
When I told The Lads about this, one of them did some quick finger math and stated, "Your teenage daughter is making the same wage I was earning, like, three jobs ago!", which put a daunting perspective on the whole affair. Cue up the chorus of "Sunrise, Sunset", you know?
Then, shortly before leaving, we discovered that this was not a general leadership camp she would be attending, but rather a sort of tryout program for individuals who wanted to be camp counselors that very summer. "Well," said Fenya, "I guess that won't apply to me, since it looks like you have to be 15 to be a leader there anyways, according to the website."
"That's a rough break," I commiserated. "You'd even be left out next summer due to unfortunate birthday placement." Truth be told, it didn't really bother her. An opportunity to go to camp was her primary motivation, and the leadership elements were largely icing on the away-from-home cake.
It was about a two-hour drive to camp, and we talked about leadership a lot on the way out, as Fenya said she really think of herself as a a leader.
"A lot of really good leaders don't," I told her. "Some leaders grab the flag, run up where everyone can see them and yell 'Follow me!', but a lot of them find a group of people who want something, and help them to get it. That's the kind of leader I like to be, and it wouldn't surprise me to find out you are wired in a similar fashion."
We talked about my experiences in student leadership, and church leadership, and even in leadership training with my former employers. We discussed characteristics of good leaders and bad, and of values like honesty, courage and humility. All too soon, we arrived at the lakeside camp, and I helped her stow her gear in her cabin, gave her a hug and told her I loved her and was proud of her. She wrinkled her nose a little at the latter, and I explained that when I was 13, I was still a year or two away from my first paying job, and was nowhere near ready to attend any kind of leadership training, let alone at a sleepaway camp.
A week later, I went to pick her up and discovered that she had not only had the time of her life, but had been asked to come back as a leader-in-training. Only 8 of the 17 attendees had been requested to return, so this was a pretty high compliment. We arranged for Fenya to come back for the only two weeks of the summer when she was not either camping with us or helping with sewing classes, resulting in the busiest summer she has ever seen, and a higher than anticipated number of highway miles being placed on the old Taurus wagon.
On Friday, Audrey picked her up, and was told in no uncertain terms that the camp leadership group wants Fenya back next season as well. And why not? She is hard-working, compassionate, funny, and easy-going, but is not afraid to enforce (or even create) rules when needed. She spent three weeks out of the city, listening to thunderstorms and coyotes at night instead of firetruck sirens and over-revved motorcycles. She worked with young girls who thought she was the bees' knees instead of impatient customers at some coffeeshop or fast food outlet. She learned a lot about people, and even more about herself. Oh, and about two dozen new camp songs, which her younger sister was only too eager to learn.
I couldn't be happier, or more proud, and with this kind of foundation, I simply cannot wait to see where her life takes her from here.
Although a part of me wishes that future was maybe just a little further away...
"Sunrise, Sunset/ Sunrise, Sunset/ swiftly flow the years..."