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Small children have no self-preservation skills

| Wednesday, March 27, 2019

I spent three years as a camp counselor at an art camp for small children. It’s an exhausting job, and the camp recently emailed me about working there again over the summer. I’m not going to, but the initial email sent me on a PTSD-infused stroll down memory lane. So now I feel the need to spread the warning to anyone who may be thinking of working with children in the future. Small children have no concept of danger or self-preservation. To be fair, I was not exactly a child with strong preservation skills either. I used to give my mother a heart attack because I would chase down packs of Canadian geese in an attempt to capture one as a pet. I was the first to volunteer to pick up dangerous animals in school programs, and I liked to pet every dog and cat I came across, regardless of whether or not I had the owner’s permission — or if they even had an owner.

However, these children at the art camp I worked at were basically small demons. A very, very small number were decent, but of my three years working at the camp — with one group each session and two sessions each summer — I had maybe five good kids. All the others placed no value on human life, least of all my own. They used to play a game they called “Drown the Counselor,” which is fun for everyone who’s not the counselor. They thought it was funny to try and run across the street in front of moving cars. One kid would hoard glitter like some kind of crazy glitter dragon, and one kid decided to eat some because she “wanted to know if it would make her insides shiny.” In case you were wondering, no, it did not make her insides shiny. Don’t ask how I know that.

The worst days were field trip days. Every Friday, we would load all the kids from camp onto a bus and take them to various museums or gardens around Chicago. If we were lucky, we’d have an even number of kids and everyone could have a bus buddy. If God decided to turn away from us and we didn’t, then fights would break out about who was going to sit where and with whom. Small children fight dirty. They fear no death, have no concept of personal dignity, or personal space and therefore are willing to use every trick in the book. They cry, they whine and they scream until you give them what they want and then they become small innocent angels. They know they cannot win physically so they use what is probably the most effective trick in the book — sheer annoyance. They literally annoy counselors into giving them what they want. And all that’s before we even get on the bus.

The only thing worse than a small child in a natural environment, is a small child in a cramped, hot environment while they’re hungry. Buses are therefore a child’s worst enemy. We had a kid literally attempt to stick his entire body out the window of a bus on the highway like a dog because he was hot. The only thing worse than trying to wrangle angry children on a bus is when you finally get them to calm down and then they ask about the billboards advertising adult clubs. That’s just a bad situation for everyone involved. Children also like to wander. They’ll go AWOL for any reason. I’ve heard everything from “I needed to go to the bathroom” to “There was a cool looking bird up there.” I honestly have no idea how people managed to gather enough children for a children’s crusade without them all wandering off on the way to Jerusalem.

Long story short, if you work with children or are planning to work with children in the future, I both fear and respect you. I could barely manage three summers with a small group of children. It exhausted me, both physically and mentally. I’m incredibly impressed with anyone who wants to deal with a bunch of tiny monsters for the rest of their life and can manage to herd them effectively.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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