You’ve got this


Last night was our International council fire. It’s one of my favorite council fires of the summer and I love watching all the stories and skits. We have campers from Israel, Germany, London, China, Mexico plus more than 30 states in the US. Just in our kitchen alone we have staff from China, Taiwan, Columbia, England, Mexico and Hungary. The international campfire is a chance for our international campers and staff to teach the rest of our camp community about their home country and it’s traditions. Today is International day, complete with tons of educational and fun events and handmade foods from each country. Last night our staff started to prepare the international dishes for today’s meals. They hand rolled 800 traditional dumplings, made authentic enchiladas, prepared crumpets, scones and more mouthwatering desserts that I can count.

I love the fact that our campers come from all over the world and all over the United States. Learning to make friends with people who are different from you is an incredible life long skill. What’s most amazing to me is that all of our campers, no matter where they come from become comfortable here and establish a group of friends and a routine. Birch Trail provides a safe, welcoming environment and our staff are supportive and encouraging.   All of these things help camp become a second home for our campers where they feel safe and secure.

This feeling of home and of sisterhood is captured perfectly by our next guest blogger as she starts to face the end of her oldest daughters camping career in just a few short weeks……

You’ve got this…the girls are busy talking and waving at their friends across the airstrip and don’t suspect a thing, especially the Tamarack with a full bag of flour creeping up behind them. Out of the corner of her eye one of the girls spots their attacker, who is ready to pounce. “Run, run”, but it’s too late. Within seconds their heads are covered in flour and though it’s hard to make out their faces through all of the flour, you can’t miss the sound of their laughter or smile at the hugs they give one another before running off to find a “medic” to pour whip cream on their heads, so they can get back in the game and be doused with yet, more flour.

This year marks my husband Steve’s fourth year as camp doctor at Birch Trail, our 2nd Biffer, our younger daughter Tatum’s 4th Biffer, and for our older daughter Sydney, who is a Tamarack this summer, her 9th and final Biffer. It was with a bittersweet smile that I watched the TM girls, who I have had the joy and privilege of getting to know over the past four years, prepare for their final Biffer. There was no missing the fact that they knew it was their last Biffer, were ready to go out with a bang and were going to relish every minute of it.

Watching these girls brought back so many memories. I couldn’t help but think, “where did the time go?” It seemed like only yesterday they were attending their first Biffer as nervous, but excited lower and middle maples. Watching the girls also made make me think about the choices we make and the long lasting impact those choices can have.

“You’ve got this” is what my husband Steve and I told Sydney as we said goodbye to her at the gate of her flight to Minneapolis to head to Birch Trail for the first time. While Steve and I both attended summer camp, I was not a Birch Trail alum and up until May 2010, two months before Syd would make her first trip to Minong, had never even heard of Camp Birch Trail. In fact, we had Sydney signed up and ready to go to a different sleep away camp, but I was concerned about the mix of girls her age and whether it was really the right fit for our, at the time, sweet, but very quiet, shy little girl. A good friend mentioned BT and after Steve, Syd and I talked with Gabe, we were sold and off she went. The time Syd was gone that first summer seemed to last an eternity and I won’t say there weren’t a few bumps along the way, but four weeks later we watched Sydney bound off the plane (yes, at that point she was excited to see us after being gone), with a big smile on her face, an extra spring to her step, a seemingly new found confidence and an emerging ability to speak up and advocate for herself. The following summer Sydney had her birthday at camp. I remember like it was yesterday getting a call from Erin to tell me that our shy, avoids the spotlight at all costs little girl, stood up in front of the entire camp to make her traditional birthday wish and instead of asking for tubing, or a dance party, said she didn’t need a wish. Getting to spend the summer at Birch Trail with everyone would have been her wish and it had already come true. Steve and I were ecstatic knowing we found a warm, wonderful place to send our daughter for the summer. From that summer forward, Birch Trail became Sydney’s special place, her home away from home. Little did we know, it would soon come to mean so much more, not only to Sydney, but to Tatum and Steve and I as well.

The winter following Sydney’s second year at BT we moved from the suburbs of Detroit to Ft. Collins, Colorado, where Sydney and Tatum finished second and fifth grade. Six months later we moved to Denver and three years later, back to Detroit. They say moving is one of the most stressful things you can undergo in life. Having now moved three times over a span of 4 and 1/2 years, I can one hundred percent confirm the truth of that statement. As stressful as those moves were for both Steve and I, it was nothing in comparison to the effect it had on our girls. While both girls by nature are what I would describe as overall happy and healthy girls, starting middle school in a new place, first for Sydney and later for Tatum, came with its challenges.

They say “a friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you forget the words.” For both my girls I can honestly say, without question, that it was the encouragement, love and support of their Birch Trail family, the one constant in their lives over the course of our three moves, that got them through. At a loss for how to comfort Sydney after her first day of middle school following our move to Denver, I remember suggesting that she call or text a camp friend. A few weeks later I picked up her phone to charge it for her and looked down to see text after text, all from her BT friends. In addition to an endless chain of emojis, there were pictures from the previous summer. As for the actual text of the messages, they all contained the same basic sentiment… “You’ve got this”. Looking at those texts not only brought a smile to my face, but it reminded me of my first conversation with Gabe, in which he talked about Birch Trail being geographically diverse, giving the girls an opportunity to make friends from all over. I also remember Gabe mentioning the role BT tries to play in helping the girls learn about the importance of kindness, compassion and respect in approaching their relationships with others. While I had heard what Gabe was saying and didn’t doubt the truthfulness of his words, actually seeing them at work was incredible. Though my daughter’s closest friends were spread out across the country, they rallied around her and came to her “side” when she needed them. I was blown away that eleven year old girls would have the maturity, awareness and thoughtfulness to know that one of their friends was going through a difficult time and were there for her to fill a void that neither Steve or I could. A few years later, following our most recent and hopefully last move, I watched Tatum’s BT friends support her in much the same way. “We grow healthy girls” is the message that appears on the BT website. I never thought much about it until trying to gather my thoughts to write this blog entry, but totally agree. If you asked my girls over the past four years where their home is, I think they would honestly say it’s in Northern Wisconsin at a camp called Birch Trail. To Camp BT, for giving my daughters a home when they felt they didn’t have one and for so much more, I am forever grateful. There really is no place like home.

It is the last night of our camp week and for Steve and I, not only time to say goodbye to another year as camp doctor, but time to say goodbye to TM 2015, an amazing group of girls who have come to mean so much to our daughter over the last six years. Dressed head to toe in costume, it is with happy tears in my eyes that I watch them altogether good-naturedly heckle and cheer each other on, all the while encouraging younger campers to join in the fun. As hard as it is for us to say goodbye, I can’t imagine what it will be like in three weeks when these girls must say goodbye to one another, not knowing when they will see each other again. I hope they stay in touch through the years, make plans to get together and continue to be a source of support for one another, whenever any of them should need it. As these girls move on to what I know will be bright futures, I want to thank them for all they have done for my daughter. My message to them as they move forward in whatever direction life takes them…”You’ve got this”. With the foundation they have received from their families at home and their extended family at BT, it couldn’t be any other way.

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