The Beach and the Blob

by Conor Grennan, Author & Camp Dad

 

When Finn, now 10, was a toddler, our family moved from Connecticut to LA for a single year. I’m not much of a beach person but when you live in LA you sort of have to go to the beach. Otherwise when your friends back east will say “I bet the beaches are amazing, huh?” and you’ll have to admit that you don’t really love the beach and then they’ll look at you like you’re some kind of mole-person.

I don’t want to go to the beach. The beach is where sand gets in your swimsuit and your shoes and on your tuna fish sandwich. You feel like it will never come off and you will never be clean again. So it was a relief when Finn, age 3 at the time, didn’t want to go to the beach either. Liz tried to put his feet in the sand and he just cocked his little legs higher and higher, like she was trying to lower a cat into a bathtub.

But last year, when he was 9, Finn was going to Camp Brookwoods for the first time, and everyone talked about the beach.

“The beach is amazing!” our friends told him. There was swimming and playing and something called the Blob which people couldn’t quite describe physically but only emotionally – the Blob made you feel like you were some kind of magical beast flying through the air. The Blob sounded glorious, Finn admitted. But it also meant going to the beach. And the beach meant the sand – the sand that would stick to you and never come off. When we dropped Finn off, I assured him that he, in time, would learn to love the beach. He pointed out that I still didn’t like beaches and I was, like, a million years old. (I had no rebuttal.)

Arriving at Brookwoods, we quickly realized that there was way more to Camp than the beach. Finn met his counselors, who were welcoming , excited and friendly. Then he realized he was going to be living in the woods. Lemme tell you something: You give a 9 year old kid a cabin in the woods and a teenager who is genuinely interested in him – you have given him a dream he didn’t even know he had. So who cares about the beach? How often would they even need to go down there? Get outta here, sand!

Liz and I were back home just over twenty-four hours when we got an excited text message from our friend Nicole, who also had kids at Brookwoods and Deer Run. Nicole had checked the live webcam of Brookwoods that afternoon to see none other than our boy Finn, playing on the beach. And getting sandy. And heading out to the lake to do whatever campers do on the Blob. It was glorious.

When we picked up Finn at the end of camp, he was, quite literally, like a different boy. He was tanned and grown up. He seemed more adventurous. He spoke differently.

It took a minute to realize why he was so different: He had created his own world. The way a child makes a blanket fort in the living room, Finn had carved out a place just for him – his blanket fort was 500 acres of wilderness in New Hampshire. Brookwoods helped him own his faith, own his community, own his independence.

As for the sand, Finn found that it washes off. The lake at Brookwoods, as it turns out, is more than just the Blob. Lake Winnipesaukee like the camp itself, could rinse him clean. In that lake the sand fell away like the pressures of school and the expectations of family and the stresses of whether he was smart enough or athletic enough. In that lake nothing could stick to him.

That’s what changed Finn. That’s what makes Brookwoods different. For one week, two weeks or four weeks, Brookwoods, Deer Run and MRO washes you clean and allows you to live in the moment. Kids find that moment is filled with faith and friends and mentors. They are filled with the kind of joy that can only come from the truth – that you are a part of God’s Kingdom, and in the Kingdom things can’t stick to you like sand to wet feet. Instead they are washed away, and there’s nothing left but the safety of your brothers and the comfort of your community and the joy of bouncing impossibly high off an oversized inflatable.

Conor Grennan is a NY Times bestselling author and the Dean of Students for the MBA program at NYU’s Stern School of Business. You can get a glimpse of the Grennan family’s life and last summer’s trip to camp on their YouTube channel. Conor has spent a lot of time thinking about exactly what it might be like to fly through the air, check out his new book, The Hadley Academy for the Improbably Gifted. You may contact Conor through his website.