Thursday, June 30, 2011

But Camp

There will be body odor and ticks, greasy hair and flatulence, and unflattering color-coordinating t-shirts designating our ranks and unit numbers. There will be circles around the campfire with lilting choruses of “Sinner Man,” “A Woonie Koonie,” “Cannibal King,” and “Mormon Boy.” For four days Twilight Woods eau de toilette will be traded for bug spray and iPhones turned off, the better to compose with pen and paper spiritually uplifting, warm, fuzzy love notes to friends. This is what I expected from my very first Girls Camp, the elaborate LDS ritual of bonding, bonding, and more bonding for female youth ages 12-18. And I was not disappointed! Except maybe in the musical department; the camp songs were not nearly as stupid.

We set up camp in Tabiona, UT; a.k.a, somewhere on a mountain in the middle of nowhere. Except for the pavilion covering the picnic tables with their red and white checked table cloths, the kitchen from which steaming Dutch oven delicacies were served, the flushing toilets with cupboards neatly stocked with a year’s supply of toilet paper, and YW leaders who brought their spray on tans and a different pair of ginormous dangly earrings to wear every day, the camping might have been authentic. I obviously missed the “Look-Cute-at-Camp” memo because I was in the Caribbean getting a real tan, so I just wore the same shirt every day.

Here’s what happens when you deprive 16 girls of Facebook and text messaging for an extended period of time: They entertain themselves with “the cup game,” an intricate series of coordinated hand movements that involve banging a cup upside down on the table, tapping it with your palms, and flipping it over, tapping and banging some more, and passing the cup to the left in an assembly line while the series of banging, flipping, and tapping gets progressively faster until someone in the line throws the whole operation off course because she can’t keep up. They wield glue guns and pieces of scrap fabric to make cute headbands and necklaces and hairpins that look like merchandise you'd find in on an online boutique. They write camp-themed skits (the theme was “Put on the Armor of God”) and design and construct their own props. One group wrote a “musical” with a medley of parodies of popular songs rewritten to suit the theme—one of their songs was a new and improved version of Rebecca Black’s Friday song: “Sunday, Sunday, wanna go to church on Sunday…Laurels in the front seat, Mia Maids in the back seat, Beehives in the trunk…”

All the girls were united in the spirit of dispensing warm fuzzies. Each sister and YW leader was given an award. My award was for being an “Eskimo Princess named after Rosarita Refried Beans.” One of the girls made me my very own boondoggle during craft time. And, everyone also had a “secret sister” she stealthily delivered gifts and notes to daily before the appointed meeting during which we all revealed ourselves to each other. Before camp we were given information about our secret sister’s hobbies, favorite movies/books/music, etc. and during the unveiling, one girl suggested we each get up in front of everyone and say something we admired about our sister. I had my whole speech planned out—how I thought it was really cool that my 12-year-old loved 80s movies and a memoir called The Glass Castle (that I later found out was about a girl who grew up with an alcoholic father and an abusive uncle), and that her favorite hobby was gardening. My secret sister had such mature tastes for being so young! But then something went wrong during revelation process. Someone else got up and announced that they’d been giving gifts to my sister. Somebody had obviously screwed up!

I soon realized that it was me. I’d given gifts to the wrong person! Obviously, I misread the name on my paper. My sister’s name was MINDY, not MISSY. How awkward would it be to have to explain this in front of everyone, and then tell Missy that those gifts weren’t actually for her and could I please have them back and I’m really sorry? Luckily (but still embarrassingly) for me, Mindy, who came to help cook, is Missy’s mom. Ha. Ha. Ha.

There’s something about leaving mascara and deodorant at home and going for days without showering that draws the girls closer to each other. That, and the testimony meeting held just before sunset that lasts into the late hours of the night while the campfire burns down and the stars slowly blink into focus. During testimony meeting, I was the keeper of the Kleenex box, charged with the duty of passing tissue to those (including myself) whose tear ducts are directly connected to the Spirit that moves people to stand up and explain how they’ve come to know the truth of the gospel and Heavenly Father’s plan of salvation.

During testimony meeting I shared too much information, including a deeply private anxiety that I’ve had since coming to YW. My anxiety is that I can’t get over feeling that I will never fit in with the “cool” leaders for several reasons: a) I don’t watch TV; b) I don’t have a baby the girls clamor to coddle during the YW lesson; c) I don’t tell embarrassing stories about my husband that make everyone laugh; d) I’m not a masseuse, like the most recent addition to the YW leader group, who saw, nay, spoke to Ryan Reynolds at her Park City gym/spa one day when he walked by the front desk to ask her where the nearest exit was; e) I am not this same masseuse who has also met Reese Witherspoon; f) too many other reasons to mention.

The gist of my testimony was that I still haven’t figured out why I’m in YW. What those three days of camp reminded me of though, is I’ve been placed in a circle of exceptional girls. One of the miracles of camp was that we witnessed no petty girl drama whatsoever. I have never seen girls braver and kinder, and more considerate of their fellow human beings (given that they're teenagers). I know that if I’d had friends like them growing up, my life would have been so different. Which led to my other point: while I don’t totally know why I’ve been called to YW, I know what I’ve experienced so far is a result of our Savior’s love. Calling me to YW is one way of showing me how much I’ve missed, and how I can be part of something so vitally important as helping to strengthen the testimonies of his choice daughters.

I walked around camp in a mental fog, tired of feeling inadequate. So, without further ado, I’m going to find out who the Hemsworth brothers are. I’m going to raid the public libraries within a 20-mile radius of Murray for all the girlie movies I can find; when Jesse comes home from work and finds me watching movies like She’s the Man, I'll say, “See, the universe hasn’t imploded yet because I brought chick flicks into the house,” and “Look, I’m magnifying my calling.” I’m going to take up Ashley’s offer and let her loan me her baby on Sundays. I’ll talk a lot more about Jesse, even though I don’t have embarrassing stories to tell about him because he’s too sensible to run on the treadmill in only a jockstrap to cheer me up when I’ve had a bad day—true story, but alas, or maybe thankfully, not mine. And maybe I’ll quit teaching and seek out Taylor Swift, get her autograph, and learn the art of Brazilian honey waxing. But until then, I’ll do a lot of praying and just be grateful for what I’ve been given.

*For lack of a better tile, this post is called "But Camp" because the camp t-shirts we had to wear were supposed to say "Boot Camp." The leaders were trying for the effect Google creates when it changes its letters to little pictograms or appropriate holiday graphics. Except the Os in "Boot Camp" are two clunky little boots with socks and legs sticking out of the top. The ink on the shirts smeared the boots together so they look like one big "U," hence "But Camp," like Butt, misspelled. Ha ha ha--of course I had to point this out to everyone because I'm a middle school teacher well versed in the vagaries of potty humor... Okay, I'm stopping now. Good night.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Stupids Go On A Cruise

Remember James Marshall’s children’s book series about a family aptly named “The Stupids”? They celebrate utterly ridiculous, silly, and stupid things—like sleeping with their feet on their pillows, bathing without any water because an empty bathtub won’t ruin their clothes, and celebrating Stanley and Petunia’s bad report cards by inviting all their relatives to a costume party.

Here’s my version of a Stupid adventure:

One day Mr. and Mrs. Stupid booked an exotic seven-day cruise. They had never been on a cruise before. Stupidly, they chose Carnival cruise lines because Norwegian and Royal Caribbean were not cruising during the only week the Stupids could go on vacation (and because they had miniature golf on the top deck). But Mr. Stupid was determined to do something different for once. They flew to Tampa and then sailed to Cozumel, Mexico; Belize City; Mahogany Bay, Honduras; and Grand Cayman.

Mrs. Stupid was too busy working for the Central Utah Writing Project to read any of the fine print on the travel itinerary whatsoever. If it weren’t for Mr. Stupid, she wouldn’t have packed any formal wear at all—which came in handy, especially since there were two formal evenings of dining on her cruise, instead of one, like her friends told her to expect. Once on the boat, Mrs. Stupid was glad to see that she had overdressed for the cruise because she brought a one-piece bathing suit. Everybody else was wearing bikinis—whether they weighed 30 pounds, or 300.

On the first day at sea, the Stupids met the couples they’d be forced to dine with for the next six nights: Freddie and Ashley were celebrating a successful long-distance relationship (they made it through one year of living 2,375 miles apart in Boston and Las Vegas). Freddie played rugby and did something with computers and Ashley graduated from MIT, did something for the military, and was so physically fit that she could bench press Freddie with one arm. Walter and Angela were on their honeymoon, hours after getting married in a pirate ship, dressed as a Disneyfied Jack Sparrow and a cross between Moll Flanders and the Mad Hatter (they wore their pirate garb on formal evening). Freddie and Ashley and Walter and Angela’s favorite conversation topics revolved around everything they could remember about their respective drunken escapades, and regularly included their token phrase, "f@$% yeah!" The Stupids were thrilled to have so little in common with their new friends!

Mrs. Stupid ate too many cheeseburgers on the second day at sea and got seasick.

In Mexico, the Stupids hiked all 128 steps up Nohoch Mul, the only Mayan structure fully accessible to tourists. Mr. Stupid took lots of pictures and was proud of Mrs. Stupid for not falling down the pyramid—because there were no handrails or safety features to protect uncoordinated climbers like her. One misplaced step would have sent her tumbling, the first in a trail of Dominoes, into the line of people carefully descending the pyramid in front of her.

In Belize, the Stupids went snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef. This was a stupid idea, since Mrs. Stupid hates salt water and can’t swim (even stupider, the Stupids signed up for scuba diving in Grand Cayman). Mrs. Stupid thought she would die when she took her first breath through her nose in Belize. But Mr. Stupid was patient and waited for her to get the hang of it. She got so good at breathing through her mouth that snorkeling became her new favorite thing to do. The Stupids saw fish with neon-pink stripes and managed to avoid crushing any coral with their flippers. Mr. Stupid was delighted however, to find a nasty sunburn on his back—in all the places where Mrs. Stupid supposedly rubbed in sunscreen.

In Honduras, the Stupids took a boat ride to a private island with 50 bazillion parrots. It rained the whole time and blew some kind of unidentifiable hard fruit out of the palm trees that hit Mr. Stupid in the head while he was watching leopards from the island’s animal rehabilitation program cough up ten-pound hairballs. Mrs. Stupid learned that the Mayans regularly used hallucinogenic drugs absorbed through enemas.

The Stupids went scuba diving in Grand Cayman. Mrs. Stupid thought she was going to die because she wasn’t sure if she had agoraphobia, one of the things the scuba instructor asks you about in the pre-scuba training session, and which requires you to refrain from scuba diving if indeed you have it. But the Stupids found that neither of them suffered from agoraphobia, and they commemorated a successful scuba session with unlimited ice cream on the lido deck.

Stupidly, Mrs. Stupid brought these two books to read on the cruise: 101 Places Not to See Before You Die, and The Help. The former is a travelogue of things to avoid seeing and doing in life because they are unhealthy, death-defyingly risky, a total rip off, or stupidly anticlimactic. The Help is about the unfair working conditions of black maids who worked for white families in the 60s in Jackson, Mississippi. All the bad vibes made Mrs. Stupid feel guilty for being an American capitalist on a boat with a crew of 900, the majority of which were Indonesian, Filipino, Indian, and Croatian who apparently could not be happier to clean other people’s messes for $70 + tips each month.

The Stupids’ favorite part of the cruise was waiting to see what towel animal would appear on their bed after dinner.