A Pint-Sized Mentor MAG

August 10, 2011
By Jaime Koniak BRONZE, New City, New York
Jaime Koniak BRONZE, New City, New York
1 article 0 photos 0 comments

This summer I was a mentor. I had the enormous responsibility of leading a group of puzzled six-year-old girls around a strange and awesome environment – day camp. I knew the task ahead would not be easy, but promised myself I would be a fearless leader, stick it out and show these little women the best summer of their lives.

There is always one child in a group who stands out and serves as entertaining carpool or dinner conversation. Because of her crooked smile, her earnest hands that always caressed my face in order to gain my full attention, and the way those crystal blue eyes became flying saucers as her voice dropped to just above a whisper when she let me in on her big secrets, Claire became that child.

It was not unusual for Claire to come scampering across the shoddy field when I arrived in camp, like a caged animal set free to inform me of the latest group news (a.k.a. the other girls' problems) or her own epiphanies. One Monday morning, Claire was not the normal galloping gossiper for which she had come to be known. When we were in the musty, cramped, wet and wooden rectangle known as the freshman girls bunk, I engaged in the procedures that had become as routine as brushing my teeth. I was engrossed in the art of successfully covering every crevice of Claire's stark white skin with SPF 35 when the blue saucers glared up at my own half-closed, hazel eyes. Expecting a cheery piece of news, I listened to little Claire as she solemnly declared, "Jaime, my poppy died." Having skimmed through the counselor manual, listened to endless lectures on how to become the deity of day camp, and common sense, I knew that little girls' statements are often imagined episodes, exaggerations of the truth, or retold tales of the past. As I slowly questioned Claire about when this occurred and how she felt about the tragedy, I saw that my favorite, quirky camper was indeed speaking the truth and letting me in on her most important news of the summer.

Startled and caught off-guard, I quickly searched for the right words to comfort a grief-stricken child. I proceeded to ask Claire if she was sad, if her daddy (whose father had passed away) was sad, and if she had given him a big “Claire hug.” I can feel those small, earnest hands wrapped around my own shoulders and knew, at that moment, that a “Claire hug” would be the best remedy for even the world's worst afflictions.

I did what I thought was a decent job of comforting my camper and quickly shared the urgent information with my co-counselor. Having thought that the incident was basically under control, the "Toothless Fairies" (my motley group) and I trekked down the hill that led to the morning's fun-filled activities. Beginning to daydream about my plans for the evening, I was jerked back to my present role as adult when I felt Claire's eyes focus themselves on the equivalent of six-year-old height: my waist. I slowly turned to the skinny girl whose hand I was clutching. Claire quietly cooed, "But he's still in my heart." The feeling of that moment cannot possibly be recreated. I felt a mix of sorrow, amazement and respect for Claire. Not knowing what more I could do, I did the only thing I saw fit. I stopped trotting to first-period music with the "Toothless Fairies" and squatted down. I reached out and enveloped the pale, serious, little person before me not only for her comfort, but for my own.

On that particular sunny, Monday morning, I, the mentor, was in no way the teacher or the fearless leader. Claire had introduced me to innocence in its sweetest form. Although she had no idea, she possessed valuable knowledge and honesty that enabled her to teach a lesson to someone who had lost her sixish simplicity. As I marveled at Claire's latest epiphany, I took in every aspect of her unselfish nature. This fragile girl, while inexperienced and new to the world, had more understanding of death than I did. So, in a sense, I was a student this summer. While in shape and form I may have been the fearless leader and counselor, Claire was the true mentor.

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