I come from a family of ‘talkers’. To explain, what I mean by this is that I come from a family who enjoyed sitting down and having conversations. From a young age I can remember sitting in our cozy living room on a dark Scottish winter night chatting to each other and setting the world right! My parents were not the first generation in their family to encourage this within our family. Indeed, their own parents, my grandparents, who I was blessed to have in my life until well into my own adulthood, were also great talkers! At 16 I used to drive from my Saturday day job straight to my maternal grandparents to visit them for a couple of hours. We would sit and talk the whole time. Of course some was small talk – how was your week etc, but mostly it was meaningful talk. I’d ask them about their life, their marriage, friends and family lost, the list goes on. My grandfather had been a prisoner of war in Japan for 4 years during WWII, and as I got older he shared with me the harrowing stories of his time there. I felt privileged that he and my Nana shared these personal stories with me, and now as an adult I so cherish the memory of these moments, and most importantly I recognize that even though I didn’t realize it at the time, all these conversations and time spent connecting face to face with each other shaped me into the adult that I have become….the wife, mother, daughter, sister, camp director and friend that I am today.
It’s of no surprise that both my sister and I ended up in careers where talking, listening and connecting to others is central to professional success. My sister is a Doctor in London and adored by her patients. I am sure her diagnosis and treatment skills are exceptional – but I also know that’s not why she is so loved. The young mother who is feeling overwhelmed, or the elderly widower who is consumed by loneliness, often request her. This is not because of their hope for a prescription for a cure, but for their knowledge that she will listen and support them and that in turn feelings of healing will begin to emerge. My own career path started out as a Clinical Psychologist, where the area of expertise within which I excelled, was the ‘Talking Therapies’!! Now, as a Camp Director, although there are many areas within which I still want to improve, I feel proud of my ability to verbally connect with children, parents and staff. It is no surprise that I have a sofa in my office at camp that is available to any camper of staff member who simply wants to talk! In my time so far as a Camp Director, the most frequent line I hear from parents is “I feel better now that I have spoken to you”. This doesn’t of course necessarily mean I have resolved their issue or concern, but what it does mean is that we have engaged in a process of connecting through conversation and discussion that leaves us all feeling more confident in our partnership – working together for the success of our children.
So why do I share this? Yes, I’ve just had a baby – so definitely more emotional at present!! But as I sift through all the thoughts and emotions that come with a newborn I can find salient themes that I know are worth noting. Life has certainly changed since the generations of my grandparents. Many changes are for the better. But as I navigate through my busy life that includes children, aging parents, a demanding job, loss, love and everything in between, I take note that there are very simple, yet powerful pieces of my childhood that I MUST not neglect. I have to pass them along to my own children in the hope that they will do the same.
I have definitely been missing opportunities to continue the tradition of just talking as a family. Although we always sit at the dinner table together in our home, when we are dining out the smart phones/ipads appear and my children are lost to their electronic world. I also am the mother of boys – whoa – gaining information from them about their day at school was like pulling teeth!! But what strategies was I coming up with to help facilitate that process? Shamefully for the first school year I came up with none, and I chalked it up to – oh well this is boys for you. But then I dismissed that assumption, unsatisfied with it, as I would watch my children from afar engage in mammoth conversations with their peers – they had the ability to do it, I just couldn’t access it! So crafting ways to engage my sons in communicating with me became fun. I soon realized that we had such an untapped potential for conversation, and now that we have unleashed it, it is a joy in our house!
I am delighted that we are making progress in this realm. Of course there are still many times neither of them want to engage, however in the moments that they do I’m excited that I am borrowing meaningful experience from my own childhood and passing it along to my children. I am relieved that Oakley is developing this skill as he faces his first year in a Comanche bunk, as I believe it will be useful to him and useful to his counselors in helping them foster a meaningful relationship together.
I am grateful that Camp exists in our lives. It really has become one of the few protected spaces where face-to-face conversation HAS TO exist. I’m amazed at how our ‘millennial’ staff members are so inexperienced at authentic ‘live’ discourse. Indeed, it’s not just in relation to the quality and authenticity of the words spoken, but also in an ability to attach to them emotionally. The non-verbal discourse is also lacking – simply listening and being there, even in silence, can be full of answers if eye contact is made or a certain facial expression is offered. I love watching our young ‘twenty somethings’ evolve in this domain over the course of a summer – I can literally watch their untapped communicative wiring, which has been lying dormant for some time, finally being sparked into life!
I’m not sure what the future holds for our own children’s generation in relation to their confidence and ability to connect face to face. I’m told that the pendulum will swing back – it always does. However, in the meantime, I am committed to working hard to guide my children towards this valuable skill, and I remain so grateful that ALL our children have camp in their lives - ensuring that they will not be part of a generation to which this beautiful communication form is lost.