Julie Murphy

Myelin, diapers, campers, brain dysfunction

Time off. It's always bittersweet. Camp is never far from my mind. The days at camp go by pretty quickly, but that doesn't mean we counselors are spared any of the hard parts of the job.

Here's one of several things I find challenging about my job:

My kids are at camp 'cause they've broken the law in some way, shape or form. But they act incredibly entitled, demanding the utmost in accommodation, food and freedom. They do not realize yet that their actions have consequences. Nor do they realize how little they deserve luxurious accommodations after some of the things they've done to people, property or themselves.

This problem rears its head in countless situations. The campers want more, they want better, they want it now. More food, better boots, fewer chores, more games, fewer classes, fewer rules, and whatever they ask for exactly when they ask for it.

I try not to tell them no all the time. In fact, here's what I'm gonna do. I'll start saying yes to many of their requests, following up immediately with the steps to getting what they want.

For example:

Chief John, call in and get me some new boots.

("call in" means they want me to use my walkie talkie and submit their demand to the warehouse staff)

Chief John:
Sure. As soon as we fill out a PPI (personal property inventory), you can write a business letter to your family worker expressing your need. Once that's done, we'll submit both those documents. After they've been received and processed, I'll be more than glad to call the warehouse for you.

Expected camper response:
(lip smack/tooth suck) Damn, Chief John, call the fxck in! You holding' me from my NEEDS! My boots is messed up!

(usually this means they're showing wear and don't really need to be replaced yet)

Another situation:

Chief John! Call in and get us a lifeguard.

Chief John:
Sure. I'll check with the MC and see when Chiefs X or Y can step away from their groups and come life guard for us. I'll also check and see when the pond might be available for us to use. When were you thinking of going to the pond?

Today. Now.

Chief John:
But it's class time. You've got a Shakespeare paper due.

Expected camper response:
(lip smack/tooth suck) Damn, Chief John, you won't let us do shxt at this fxckin' camp!

Another situation:
Chief John! Call in and get me some fishing hooks.

Chief John:
I'd be glad to do that once you determine how much buyer's day money you have in your account, and whether you can afford fishing hooks. Once you've done that, you can submit a buyer's day form to request fishing hooks, and when buyer's day comes around, they'll be here for you. At that time, I will be more than glad to call the warehouse and ask if your hooks are in.

Expected camper response:
(lip smack/tooth suck) Damn, Chief John, I need 'em today!

Standard chief response:
In the future, you'll anticipate your needs and make the necessary plans.

Here's me as a brain doctor with my assistant Ian
Anyway. During training, I read a load of information on the developmental psychology of teenagers. I realize that these kids are reasonably incapable of seeing or perceiving or understanding anything besides their immediate desires. Something to do with "myelin," a substance in our brains that sheaths nerve fibers, causing quicker conduction of impulses. A recent NPR article explains it better, as does this article from neuranthropology.net. Essentially, teenagers don't have enough myelin yet, so their brains process things more slowly, especially the logic of cause and effect / action and consequence. I also understand that several of my kids have IQ scores that are close to special needs levels.

So basically, much of what I deal with is kids who don't follow directions, break things, hurt people, and demand carefree situations of constant pleasure and ease (and to be spoken to in a respectful tone). Without knowing too much about Alzheimer's Disease, I often tease my campers and compare them to Alzheimer's patients, ambling around, bumping into trees, failing to respond to the sound of their own names or prompts delivered in their primary spoken language. Sometimes I wish I could just diaper the lot of them. But then I'd have to be elbow deep in camp shxt nine hundred times a day (my kids have very frequent needs for the toilet).

Many campers want to just do their time, "chill," (which means to do as little as possible, cause no trouble, and do nothing to stop any trouble that might be occurring around them) and get out so they can resume their lives of petty gang banging or whatever else they were doing, before getting caught again and sent away to institutions less kind than camp.

I'll keep trying. I'm really grateful to have met most of my kids. They've all got a lot of potential, even though they don't realize it. They've got promising futures even if all they care about is "now." Maybe there are myelin pills or injections the campers can take. It might just be easier to slip estrogen into their food. Hmm. I'll fill out a buyer's day form and call the warehouse!

Until that day, I've got an appointment with my sister Julie to visit the newly renovated North Carolina Museum of Art. I'm very excited to spend some time with family, and one in particular who loves art and design. More news soon. Thanks for reading!