Maddie Hughes

Happy campers surround their camp counselor, Maddie Hughes, center.

I got the job on the spot in March: I was going to be the photo counselor at a camp in Maine for a summer - eight weeks of hanging out by a lake and taking care of kids.

I had done a lot of babysitting and volunteered at a few summer day camps in high school, but I didn’t know what I had gotten myself into.

The eight weeks were filled with smiles, laughs, tears, and fears.

My friends and I laughed and smiled a lot because there was nothing else to do but go with the flow. I consoled many crying campers - some because they were mad that I had confiscated their candy, others because they had a fight with their friend.

And I faced many fears, including my fear of heights. I was the one who had to climb up a 20-foot ladder to take a group photo of the campers.

I was the bunk mom for five wonderful, hilarious eight-year-old girls. I worked with a co-counselor, but she wasn’t around a lot.

Every day we had a quiet period, and since our campers were young, we were expected to take turns in the bunk every other day to make sure our girls behaved. My co-counselor wasn’t so good about being there. So, when I went to grab my bathing suit before heading down to the lake, my girls would beg me to stay.

I would pull out my phone and we would have a mini-dance party to songs they liked. This wasn’t technically allowed - the younger girls weren’t allowed to have music devices, and I, as a counselor, wasn’t supposed to be using my phone in front of them. But I wasn’t scrolling through Facebook instead of watching them, so I figured it was okay.

Other counselors would bribe their kids with candy, which on a counselor’s stipend added up quickly. Instead, I bribed my kids with music and dancing. Because I was laughing at myself, the girls felt free to loosen up and laugh at themselves, too.

Bunk dance parties solved fights between the girls, hurt feelings when a letter from parents didn’t arrive on time, and other incidents that can hurt morale.

So, it was “Cheerleader” every day. By the end of the summer, I had the words memorized and a dance choreographed. Making fun of myself was the best tool I had.

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