This morning when I dropped Zoe at Preschool, one of her younger classmates decided to dump a large container of pony beads all over a table then violently scatter them everywhere with his tiny hands. I just felt wrong leaving the teacher with such an awful mess, so I stayed to help clean it up.
While I was on my hands and knees picking up tiny beads with Zoe I was reminded of church camp when I was 8 or 9. My parents made my brother and I go to church, sunday school, and of course church camp. I didn’t mind regular church where I got to sit with my family and sometimes my little friend also named Amanda. But as far as I was concerned church camp and youth groups were just another place to be outcast, misunderstood and rejected.
The church camp year I was reminded of was when they started this reward system with pony beads. Everyone had a shoelace with one bead on it, they idea was as the week went on adults would reward good behavior by handing out beads. Be helpful, be kind, Answer a question correctly, and get a bead for your necklace. Contrary wise if you were “bad” you could lose a bead. Also the pastor, had a string of “special GOLDEN beads” which only she rewarded for extra special acts of kindness, or whatever. We were required to wear the shoelace the whole time so it quickly became a status symbol.
I didn’t have any friends at church camp. And they wouldn’t let me share a tent with my brother. He had several buddies he shared a tent with and didn’t really want me tagging along anyway. So they stuck me in a tent with a group of girls who were all close friends thinking since we were all about the same age they would except me into their clique. (Clearly they didn’t have the slightest clue how cruel the nature of 8 year old girls can be)
I spent the week alone in a crowd of people. I tried to be nice, I tried to make jokes and would be met with silent stares. No one liked me, no one understood me, and no one cared. When I tried to attach myself to an older girl or adult they would ignore or shoo me away. So I decided I would make it my mission to get the most “special Golden Beads” and win their hearts with my outgoing charms and helpfulness.
I helped rush toddlers to the bathroom, I made it a point to ask if I could help clean up after activities, I volunteered to read aloud in lessons, I picked up trash and cigarette butts everywhere I went. Soon I had a shoelace full of beads, but not a single Golden one.
The day before the last day of camp I was feeling depressed, thinking I would never get my special gold bead. Two of the meanest girls in my tent had just been awarded gold beads for something trivial and were lording them over me. I was angry, and hurt and so I did what I had in the past, I turned to food for comfort. But I didn’t have any food. The mean girls however had “cool moms” that sent them with a basket of snacks. I was alone in the tent so I snatched a large bag of sun chips, and devoured the whole thing through my sobs.
Later the girls told the pastor that I had stolen and eaten ALL their snacks. I was reprimanded at length and they moved me out of the mean girl tent. The next morning, the last day of camp, I was marched to the front of the mess hall during breakfast. The pastor hushed the crowd and told the whole group what the mean girls said I did. Then she untied my bead necklace and held it by one end and pinched her fingers at the top and slowly slid them down so the beads audibly landed one by one on the floor while she gave a lecture about how one bad deed or “SIN” will wipe away anything good we do.
I hardly heard her words, the sound of my beads landing one by one on the floor seemed like boulders crashing before me. I couldn’t hold back my tears.
When was dismissed to go eat breakfast I could here the kids whispering insults about me being a fatty who eats everything in sight. When I sat on the bench the other campers cleared away immediately like my sinning was contagious.
Later that day our parents came. I was too ashamed to tell my mom, and I didn’t feel like she would believe me.
So this morning I’m thinking about my little girl, with her spunky and unique personality. I hope that childhood will be kinder to her, that she will find kindred spirits instead of foes.