(NOTE: This is a continuation of a series about my week as a counselor at Royal Family Kids Camp, a camp for foster children, most of whom have been the victim of some kind of abuse. To read what has gone before, see the links at the bottom of this post.)
I woke up feeling weepy Thursday morning. Not only did my ankle hurt, but my heart also hurt, knowing that I’d be saying good-by to Jane and Sue in a little over 24 hours. If the girls shared my anxiety, they didn’t show it. The teen helpers had set up a nail salon in the common area in preparation for The Royal Tea later in the day, and before breakfast all the girls were sporting nails with rainbow colors, glitter polish, decals, and more. But Tea Party or not, we were still at camp, and we had dance class, activity centers, and Kids’ Club. Before you know it, it was time for lunch. And then it was TIME…
From Campers to Princesses
It was time to turn our campers into princesses. If you’ve ever been backstage at a beauty pageant, a fashion show, or any kind of performance involving a large number of girls, you know the one word that describes the dorm during the next hour. Chaos!
The first hurdle was swimsuits. Since swim time was immediately after the tea, and also because some of the dresses didn’t fit extremely well on top, the girls were supposed to wear their swimsuits under their dresses. The moans and cries of distress were deafening, but it’s amazing what magic can be wrought with exposed straps using safety pins, fishing line, and a little bit of creativity. The next hurdle was hair. Jane had pulled her mass of braids up into a band and let them cascade to one side, so she was all set. Sue wanted curls, but we didn’t have time to coax her long straight tresses into ringlets. She finally settled for a partial braid and a few wispy strands curling around her face. Hurdle number 3 was make-up. Again, Jane was easy, opting for the natural look, but Sue wanted the works. I tried subtlety, but she got hold of the brush and went for drama. With a little blending, the results were acceptable, and we were ready for the finishing touches.
Now for the Bling
I had brought a selection of costume jewelry from home, and we found the perfect accessories for both girls. Next came the pink satin sashes that labeled each girl as a princess, and a sparkling tiara to, literally, top things off. Jane’s tiara went on with no problem. I cupped her face in my hands and looked her in the eyes.
“You are absolutely beautiful. Now before we both start bawling, go look at yourself in the mirror.”
Of course, Sue’s tiara wasn’t that easy. The comb didn’t want to grip her fine hair, and she didn’t like the way it fit. With bobby pins and whispered prayer we managed to get it to stay on, and with my repeated assurances that she was beautiful, she decided that she was ready.
The Grand Parade
It was a good thing, because time had run out. We were 10 minutes late for the pre-parade assembly in the Chapel. The girls took off in an unprincesslike run, and I climbed into a golf cart next to my patient chauffeur. The grand parade was supposed to be a slow, elegant procession from the Chapel to the dining hall with the princesses waving like royalty and blowing kisses to their adoring subjects – the boys who were lining the route, clapping and impatiently waiting for the parade to pass so they could go swimming. By the time the girls from Dorm #1 arrived, most of the parade had passed us by and the boys had started to scatter. We managed to gather them back up, and they continued to clap as our girls rushed toward the dining hall. They were holding up their skirts instead of waving and blowing kisses, but they were also beaming at all the attention. David and his two campers were among the admiring crowd, and when he tells anyone about it, he always tears up.
“All those little girls looked so beautiful. They really looked like princesses, except for the shoes. Every once in a while you’d see a flip flop or a tennis shoe peeking out from under all the fancy dresses, just to remind you they were still just little girls.”
The Royal Tea
The men who were not involved with campers during the tea had been recruited as escorts. They were dressed in t-shirts that looked like tuxedos, and they ushered the princesses into the dining hall two at a time.
“It is my honor to present the beautiful Princess Jane and the stunning Princess Sue.”
I slipped into the back of the room with the rest of the counselors, and the tears that had been threatening all day flowed freely. For the next 30 minutes or so, these young princesses in flip flops and tennis shoes were treated like royalty. They were served, not by counselors in camp shorts and t-shirts, but by elegant ladies dressed in sequined tops who plan for this event all year. They drank lemonade from fine china cups and ate dainty cookies and other treats from china saucers in a room decorated with flowers and butterflies and all things feminine.
After the Ball
At the end of the ball, Cinderella’s coach turned back into a pumpkin, and at the end of the tea, our princesses turned back into campers who wanted to go swimming. The senior girls – those who were 11 or 12 and would not be returning to Kids’ Camp next year – received a cup and saucer to take home. After the counselors packed the treasures in bubble wrap, we made our way back to the dorm to shed dresses, tiaras, and jewelry and grab towels.
While the girls swam, the boys had their own special gathering in the Chapel. This guy thing is called True North and is rumored to involve secret rituals that must not be revealed to the girls, but David told. Each boy is given a combination compass and magnifying glass and is taught how to find true north so he will never be lost. He is then encouraged to seek Jesus as the true north of his life. The program ends with each counselor giving a blessing to each of his campers. I wouldn’t have missed the tea for anything, but I wish I could have witnessed True North as well.
The day wasn’t over though, and there was still plenty left to see. The big Camp Variety Show was coming right after dinner.
For more information, go to the Royal Family Kids website.