Her name was Audrey.
But if she hadn’t had it scrawled on every single item of luggage she brought to camp, I could have sworn she was the real life reincarnation of Chicken Little. Her lithe, three-foot frame gave the impression she was the type of kid who skips lunches at school to chase frogs around the playground.
On that first day of camp, Chicken Little flew off the bus with the zeal and determination of an Olympic hurdler. The combined weight of her Hello Kitty backpack, the world’s largest snack bag and 10 different allergy medications made her the inevitable over-packer of the crew.
I decided to return to the Jewish overnight camp about a week before the start of this special session for fourth graders. Cheese curds, adorable Australian lifeguards, crude sunburns, frantic runs to the local Walmart and the world’s best French toast sticks were on the line, and I had serious FOMO. That’s camp speak for “Fear of Missing Out.”
Listening to Hannah Montana’s “Hoedown Throwdown” on loop with fourth graders for a week was merely icing on the kosher cake.
During the four days we spent together, I don’t think Audrey spent more than a three-hour stretch without getting in trouble. Whether it was sneaking toads into the cabin, climbing on tables, climbing on other campers or simply not listening, Audrey was one hot mess of a camper. One night, I walked into the cabin as Audrey was giving a performance. The dirty broom lying around the cabin burst to life as her debonair, dashing boyfriend who was taking her to the senior prom. As the self-appointed prom queen, she donned one of my old ice skating outfits – a sparkly neon orange sequined disaster with a matching beret. She danced wildly around the cabin to Katy Perry’s “Firework,” combining classic ballroom dancing with Afro-Cuban hip-hop.
The next day, as I organized the campers’ bus notes to each other, I noticed that Audrey had the most notes with “I’ll miss you” and “Can’t wait to see you.” Over a short period, those girls fell in love with the sound of laughter jumping off the cabin walls, disgusting camp showers and most importantly, the absolute absurdity of this new genre of “broom dancing.” All 10 of my campers got closer because of her, and their experience would not have been the same without her.
I see a lot of myself in Audrey. She flip-flopped back and forth between troublemaker and comedian, but at the end of the day, she was never afraid to be her good ol’ broom dancin’ self.
Driving home that afternoon, as I passed I-94 Wisconsin landmarks as familiar to me as Kogan, U-Yard and Cone E. Island sundaes, I was pretty sure I’m still that girl. As a senior, looking back on my last three years at GW, I feel like I’ve grown up entirely too fast. Taking too many classes with names like U.S. national security threats and modern Iran will do that to you.
I managed to fit a lifetime in three years at GW. In my quarter-life crisis, I wanted to know that I was still the same camper I once was. I needed to know that I wasn’t too old to inhale five grilled cheeses in one sitting and stash the Lays potato chips for rest hour.
I needed to know that I still have a bit of Chicken Little in me. As we start classes this week, I’m hoping we can all stay in touch with that part of ourselves.