I’m all out of Tales from a 7-11, but I’ve had a few requests for more stories, so I’m going to reach back to another job that I once held for a new series called “Tales From a Summer Camp.”
One summer during college I worked at a day camp for kids from Cambridge. Most people know the city for Harvard and MIT, but actually a good chunk of it is projects and other low-income housing. The camp consisted mostly of minority youth from low-income backgrounds, but there were a few white kids there because they didn’t have money for camp either or because their liberal academic parents wanted them to experience brown people. I was primarily responsible for a group of twelve 7- to 9-year-olds.
I’ve done a lot of work with kids ranging in age from 8 to 18, and I’ve found that whether you want to or not, you quickly learn who knows how much about sex, drugs, etc. I’m sure to sound like an old fogey when I say this but it never ceases to amaze me just how much some 8-year-olds know. I once heard one kid in my group, “Terrence”, teasing a friend of his by describing with eyebrow-raising detail and sophistication some things that he supposedly did with his friend’s mother.
Terrence wasn’t a fundamentally angry kid, but he was certainly the most prone to disruptive behavior of anyone in my group. He sang Eminem songs at the top of his lungs, he was constantly goofing around with his friends, he didn’t like to follow instructions, etc. In short, he was constantly testing his limits, and I spent more time keeping him in line than I did with any of his peers.
Ironically, the kid on whom I spent the second-most amount of time was in many ways his polar opposite. “Kendra” was 9 years old and the oldest kid in my group, but she was also among the most immature. Both of her parents were artists, and her head was constantly in the clouds. She would stare straight at you, apparently listening intently, while you told her what she was supposed to be doing, but two seconds later she would be off doing her own thing, singing a little song to herself or hiding or whatever caught her fancy. With Kendra you got the sense that she wasn’t trying to be disobedient, she just couldn’t be bothered to focus on anything other than what she wanted to do.
One day we took a field trip to a farm where the kids had a chance to learn how crops get planted and meet farm animals and that sort of thing. There were a few friendly goats who wandered freely around the picnic tables where we were eating lunch. I had to keep a close eye on Terrence and his friends because their fascination with the animals sometimes took the form of teasing and poking at them, but at the same time they did seem genuinely interested so I wanted to teach them how to behave appropriately with the goats rather than just tell them to leave the animals alone.
I walked over to their group in time to hear Terrence shout, “The goats have boners! The goats have boners!” He was pointing at their stiff tails, but I’m pretty sure he wasn’t joking. No matter how much he seems to know about sex, an 8-year-old is still an 8-year-old.
“Terrence. Terrence!” I had to say his name a few times to get his attention. “First, those are female goats, and those are their tails. Secondly, don’t say boner, please.”
Terrence being Terrence, he had to test the limits. “Why not? Why can’t I say boner?’
As if on cue, Kendra snapped out of one of her reveries. “What’s a boner?”
At the end of the summer, we had a camp-wide talent show. This was the summer that Nelly’s “It’s Getting Hot in Here (So Take Off All Your Clothes),” came out, and I think you can see where this is going. Most of the kids chose dancing as the talent they wanted to show off (Terrence by the way did a mean Worm). They performed from youngest to oldest, and sure enough a group of 6-year-old girls danced to Nelly, complete with removing their shirts to reveal bikini tops underneath.
To be honest, though, watching 6-year-olds mock-strip was in many ways less disturbing than watching 12-year-olds do the same, because with the older girls it was clear that they understood the meaning of the song and what they were doing. Call me naive, but I’m pretty sure most of the younger girls didn’t attach much of a sexual connotation to removing their shirts. In any event, the parents in the audience were not pleased, and I consider myself lucky that no one in my group chose to perform in this way.