The Leprechauns are getting restless. I have been waiting in a dusty parking lot with five 7-year-olds for 40 minutes now, the camp’s white GMC van nowhere in sight. (For reasons that must have made very good sense back in the 1920s, each age group is known by a sprite or tree name. The youngest girls in “Junior Alley” are Leprechauns, then Elves, Gnomes, Nymphs, and Pixies; Blue Spruces, Silver Birches, and Scotch Pines populate “Senior Alley.” This evokes covert, derisive snorts from new counselors at the beginning of the summer, but they are spouting sentences such as “Tell the Nymphs to change into their bathing suits” and “Why the hell were the Blue Spruces so noisy last night?” soon enough.) The Leps and I have spent the day hiking to a lovely cluster of waterfalls and pools called Diana’s Bath, which they all assume actually belonged to the Princess of Wales before her untimely death. After approximately one hour of walking in the woods, half an hour for lunch, three and a half hours scrambling around on exceedingly slippery rocks and swimming in exceedingly cold water, and another hour of walking, the 7-year-olds are not tired at all. After six hours of watching them do said activities and risk concussion or worse at least once each per every 15 minutes of rock-scrambling, I am exhausted. When I reach into my backpack to get this notebook and a pen, they walk right over to the log where I am perched and stand around looking expectant–arms akimbo, bellies out. Of course I must have something for them; this is their right as 7-year-olds. Origami boats for the stagnant water by the trailhead stave off crushing boredom for a good 10 minutes.
This is sufficient time to indulge in a little retrospective panic. Counselors over the age of 21 are a rare species here at camp, and on days like this I know why. For liability and sound-sleep inducement reasons, a bona fide adult must be present on every trip, so I have spent a fair portion of each month 1) packing bag lunches of PB&J pitas, carrot sticks, cheese chunks, crackers, fruit, and GORP, 2) driving vanloads of screaming/singing girls to various wilderness sites in and around the White Mountain National Forest, and 3) hustling sedentary pre-teens up and down mountains.
If a Lep had fallen off a rock, it would have been my fault because I am The 21-Year-Old (“No, Your Honor, when I was planning the trip I did not take into account the slipperiness of submerged green moss during New Hampshire’s summer months”). The Princess of Wales must have been looking out for us, for none did. All five girls spent the day ecstatic over every rock formation (they identified Diana’s Sink, Diana’s Hot Tub, and pretty much every other possible fixture in her sylvan home), so the unalloyed success of the trip is my “fault” instead. Parents must either get used to this sort of absolute accountability before their children leave the crib, or draw on deep, inexhaustible pools of denial. Perhaps I will call my mother tonight and ask her whether responsibility is more daunting when you are looking out for your own brood or for a wealthy stranger’s child. Perhaps I will do this after I sweep out the white GMC van, which is just now pulling into the parking lot.