"No way," I said. "I did that two years ago with Linde; I don't really want to do it again."
"Oh, come on, you have to!"
I told them that most of the stuff I'd been singing lately was in Dutch, trying to use that as an excuse. What happened instead was that they made me sing an excerpt of "Als alle lichten zijn gedoofd" and translate it, and that they then decided they wanted to listen to my Marco Borsato CD. So that's what we did, clustered around the headphones with the volume all the way cranked up, and me translating the words as they were sung. However, that also involved me explaining the whole concept behind the CD, that it was originally in DVD format with video clips for each song, and that the video clips combined to make a 'movie'. There's a lot of room for interpretation, but the general idea is that a husband and wife have lost a child to illness and are going through all the stages of grieving. Ultimately, they decide to work through it together rather than let it drive them apart.
As I was explaining all this, Ellen (who's very sensitive) started tearing up a little. She asked about the translation of 'Afscheid nemen bestaat niet', so I told about the video clip, about the little girl who has lost her father and calls him back to her on the playground by whispering his name. It's an emotional clip (Tristan could never watch the girl say 'Papa' without crying, thinking of Alissa) but not so emotional that Sarah should have burst into tears the way she did. I was poking fun at the two of them, crying about music they couldn't even understand, and then Sarah choked out, "No... it's my grandma... she has lung cancer, and - and there's nothing they can do." Then she really started to cry.
I hugged her and stroked her hair and tried to comfort her as best I could. She was close to her grandma, she said, and it was the first person close to her that she was going to lose. When she finally composed herself, Katie came over and asked what was going on. We explained, and she joined the discussion, and then ended up crying herself. "It just seems like everyone I know is dying," she sobbed. "My dog, my cat, my grandpa, this little girl at my church..." I thought that was all that was bothering her, but then she went on, "And I miss my friends at my other camp. I don't want to be here. I don't want to be here!" Her voice was rising in pitch. I hadn't even known she'd attended another camp. She explained that she had been attending Kanuga (also in the area) for seven years, but that she'd kissed a boy there last summer and that her parents had found out about it and forbidden her to go back to camp. "Everybody here reminds me of people there. I love you guys, but I want to go back!"
The discussion gradually morphed into how hard it is to be thirteen. They all had the usual complaints, like how their friends seemed to be changing. "I want everybody to like me," Katie said, "but some people just DON'T. I hate that!"
"Know what? It's IMPOSSIBLE to make everybody like you," I said, feeling like my mother. "Better to just hang out with the people who you can be yourself with - the rest of 'em aren't worth your time."
They forged on. "It's going to be awful when I go back to school," Katie said. "All my friends are so different than they used to be. They all want to be popular."
"Everyone assumes I'm rich, just because I go to a private school," complained Ellen tearfully.
"Do you know how awful it is to look older than you are?" demanded Sarah. "Everyone expects you to act older too, and inside I'm still just a kid!"
"Well, I have the opposite problem," asserted Katie. "Everybody looks at me and goes, 'Aw, you're so cute and little'. Nobody takes me seriously, nobody! They just pinch my cheek and laugh at me."
"It's really, really hard to be thirteen," I said. "You're not a kid anymore, but you're not grown up, either. It's the toughest age in the world." I remembered my own seventh-grade year. "And yeah, things are gonna change, and some things are really gonna suck. But there will be good things happening, too."
We talked for a while longer, and then Belinda, our head counselor, came in to tell us to turn out the lights. As the girls clicked their flashlights off one by one, I heard Katie whisper from her top bunk, "Jess?"
I went over, and stood on her trunk to see her better. "Yeah?"
"I've decided," she said earnestly, "that tomorrow I'm going to start not being so cute anymore."
"Should I be worried?" I asked teasingly.
She half-smiled. "I don't know yet."
"Well, however you decide to behave, I just hope you're happy with who you are," I said, and stroked her hair.
She smiled. "Yeah." Then she snuggled down in bed. "Good night."
"Sleep well," I said.
I don't know if any of what we talked about sank in, but I'm still glad they felt comfortable enough to come to me about those things. I always feel honored whenever kids confide in me like that; that's the ultimate reward in this job.