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Sunday, August 5, 2012

Camp Ends Part II Begins

Last summer when writing about our first Great American Road Trip I wrote about Camp Birchwood (link here for that blog) and why our girls are in camp in Minnesota.

Last evening the decision to send our girls was validated and for any parent with a daughter at Birchwood I can only say: keep sending them.

Sunday was get-away day at camp, the daily routine of activities broken up by packing bags for home, loading bags onto trucks and buses to be carted off to Minneapolis airport before the camp is awake and saying good-bye.  Sunday was end of session for the campers who were finishing a four week session, as our youngest Jenna was, and those finishing a two week session, as was older daughter Blaire.

The camp tradition for the final night of the session is the senior campers prepare a banquet for the camp and decorate the dining hall.  Last night's theme was Dr. Seuss and remembering how great it is to be a kid.  The seniors were very clever in their decorations and the night was a huge success culminating in awards being presented to campers for their reaching the highest awards in various disciplines, from sailing to archery to wilderness to riflery to riding.

Following the banquet is the final campfire.  For some of the girls, young ladies, it will be their last campfire at Birchwood as their lives take them onto college, jobs, sports team commitments or other pursuits.  The evening is filled with traditional campfire songs, more awards and presentation of honors for those girls who have attended Birchwood for five or ten years.

At the end of the evening Rachel Bredemus, who with husband Terry are the camp directors, lights a candle and invites those senior campers and junior counselors who wish to address the camp to come down and say a few words.  Before relinquishing the candle Rachel addresses the assembly that runs in age from eight year old campers to counselors in their early twenties.  Rachel asks them to reflect on the accomplishments they achieved during the summer at Birchwood, how they have set goals and achieved them, she tells them that life will have disappointments, that their hearts will be broken and there will be challenges but that no one will ever take away their accomplishments so keep striving to build their accomplishments.  She reminded them of the tools they gathered over the summer that will serve them well as they grow in life and become leaders of other young women. The cliche ending to the summer would be a "rah-rah, we love you!" speech, Rachel is not cliche and gave them the truth that life is not all rah-rah and rosy but the knowledge that everyone present has the skills and ability to overcome and continue to achieve no matter what life brings.

Listening to Rachel speak directly to this gathering running from girls to women in age and maturity I thought how fortunate they, and every other girl who has come through Birchwood, were to spend part of their summer, part of their childhood, with Rachel Bredemus and the other staff and campers assembled at Birchwood.  I was so very thankful my own two daughters have been able to be in this environment gaining confidence, learning how to cope with others without mom and/or dad to rescue them or to hide behind, being able to be themselves and just experience great joy throughout their summer.

After Rachel spoke the candle was passed from one speaker to the next, many of them very tearful as they end their time as campers after six, seven, eight years.  Some had some great advice for my daughters and others, one young lady learned how to sail at Birchwood, made her high school team and traveled the world because of sailing, she encouraged the campers to take the skills they learn and see how they can apply them back home; another young women who has been a camper and counselor at other camps told the gathering that Birchwood is a special place where everyone is held to a very high standard and everyone meets it; another speaker who was a camper for several years and has been a counselor for a few more encouraged them to continue to return to Camp Birchwood so they can continue to grow in an environment they cannot find at home.

Rachel Bredemus' ability to teach and nurture leadership, confidence, team work and team building to multiple generations of females all at the same time in the same setting year after year is tremendous.  Her talent shows in the speeches and words of her mentees as they address the next generation of girls to follow.  Every dad should be as fortunate to have someone like Rachel and her staff to be in his daughters' lives as I have been.

After a late bedtime and early wake up Leslie and I walked over to camp this morning to get the girls and begin our trip home.  After watching the first of two large coaches leave the camp filled with sleepy and weepy kids headed home to mom and dad, we piled into the van and started heading south.  It was time for the Smith's to officially begin Part II of the Great American Road Trip 2012.

The ride in the Odyssey was very different than the first 2600 miles--it was filled with chatter, retelling of stories, impromptu songs and an energy of two girls bursting with excitement waiting to tell their parents everything.  As we played 20 questions, learned about their adventures at camp and filled them in on some events they missed while at camp we drove out of the woods of Minnesota and through the cornfields. We got on our first major interstate (US 94) for the first time since we left the 405 in Southern California eight days ago, crossed onto the 35 south and saw the corn fields of Minnesota become the corn fields of Iowa.

Almost ten hours after leaving Camp Birchwood we pulled into our stop for the evening at the Hilton Garden Inn in West Des Moines.  Exhausted, excited and looking forward to our trip home and what we will see on the way.

Our next stop is a big one for me, the girls we be in Oklahoma for the first time, where their dad, uncle, aunt, grandfather, great grandfather and great-great-grandmother were all born.  We will spend the next two nights in Tulsa at the home of my godmother, Ann Lake Wilson and look forward to seeing family and friends--despite the well over 100 degree heat.

Jenna gives me her #1 Dad mug she made!

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