This is the longest post EVER. I apologize for this. Get sucked in at your own risk.
This past weekend, for the 8th year in a row, Jim and I hosted Cousin Camp for our nieces and nephews. Cousin Camp began in 2003 as a solution to the quandary of what to give our ever increasing number of nieces and nephews for their birthdays. We wanted to give an event rather than toys and we wanted to make it cool and exciting. So, in lieu of gifts we decided to host a once a year ‘camp’ for all of our nieces and nephews ages 5 and up. Back in 2003 this was a little pack of 4 kids, ages 5 through 6. But each year a new kid has reached the sacred age of 5 (my siblings seemed to produce a new grandkid every year from 1996 through the present) and this year we had 12 kids attending camp spanning in age from 5 to 14.
The planning for camp typically starts in January. Each year we have a different theme to ease the planning of activities and crafts and the like. We have had Space Camp, Diggin’ in the Dirt (an archeology camp), Survivor Camp, Around the World (where they had to ‘visit’ different countries to figure out where their globe trotting Uncle P was), “Unplugged” (where they couldn’t use any electricity) and Small Edition (where everything was, well, small). This year our theme was Make 1 and each cousin was asked to submit a proposal for one thing they wanted to make at camp. The only limitation was that it had to be smaller than a kitchen chair.
I, perhaps crazily, believe that when a kid wants to make something they should be given the green light and aided by an adult to help make it happen. This is why homemade scooters and propeller hats and the like are common in my life. I think making things empowers kids, stretches their creativity, gives them new skills and teaches them respect for the workers who make the toys and games and clothes and all the other material things that litter their everyday lives. And beyond all that I just think it is fun to dream something up and make it, so we wanted to give the cousins a chance to do the same.
Their proposals started out so sweet and nice. One nephew wanted to make a model of the Capitol. A niece wanted to make a robotic lion that could play soccer. Another robot-dreamer wanted a robot to make him breakfast. Another nephew wanted to whittle a picture frame. My oldest nieces wanted to sew pants and a purse. Materials were collected. Kits were assembled for each cousin. We were prepared to make their dreams come true.
But then, somehow the weekend turned into weapon camp. Did I mention the majority of the cousins are boys? It started innocently. Cousin #7 wanted to make a viking shield because he is very into learning about viking history. Then Cousin #1 decided he wanted to make a bow. Cousin #3 and Cousin #6 didn’t want to miss out on the fun and they decided they wanted to make shields as well. Cousin #9 went off and made nunchucks on his own. All my waxing poetic about enabling kids to make whatever they dreamed of had boiled down to a bunch of tween boys in the garage hammering metal and screwing together boards. We drew the line at pointed objects, but they went ahead and made tennis ball-tipped bamboo ‘spears’.
I am a pacifist. I am a vegetarian. I’m anti-violence of any sort. But I gotta say, seeing the enthusiasm ooze out of these boys as they worked doggedly all weekend on their projects, learning how to saw and drill and plan and measure and shape metal … well, it was pretty cool, even if the end result was play weapons. After all, I am a girl and I only have a daughter, so perhaps I can’t quite understand boys’ fascination with weaponry.
As Jim was stuck out in the garage outfitting a little army, I got to hang out in the cool basement and work with the girls and one nephew who had chosen sewing projects. Cousin #4 made pajama pants and learned how to use a serger:
Cousin #10 made a quilt out of all the squares she had sewn buttons on to at her montessori preschool. She thought machine sewing was fabulous, but hand sewing a bit tedious:
Cousin #8 originally wanted to make a robotic lion that could play soccer, but ended up making a lion marionette:
The one major disappointment in the project department was for my littlest nephew (well, the littlest one at camp, my actual littlest nephew is four years away from attending). He is 5 years old and wanted to make an old-time Raiders uniform. He is very into costumes and details of said costumes. I thought we could stencil numbers on a black t-shirt and glue some black leather over an old hat to make a leather helmet and call it a day. But he was fixated on certain details, like how the swords cross in the Raiders logo and which eye the eye patch was on. And the helmet was SO not was he envisioned (we used hot glue. this was a poor choice, but I didn’t want his first sewing project ever to be through leather). The disappointment was clear in his eyes and it is very sad to let down my godson. Alas, perhaps we can revisit the project at another time.
Of course, camp is always about other things besides the theme, so we did plenty of other things. Every year we kick off camp by signing in the newest camper who has to put his handprint on the Cousin Camp sign and write his name and date under the print. There is much excitement around this event as the older kids like looking at how small their hands used to be and how bad their handwriting was. And the new kid gets to feel extra special. After the initiation the cousins go on a treasure hunt around the yard to find their shirts. And we quickly round up the kids after they put on their new shirts and snap lots of pictures before everyone gets dirty and wet and covered in paint. There are many heated games of four-square, many climbs on the climbing wall in the garage, and many rides on our long skateboard. This year the cousins decided to do running races against the skateboard in the parking lot across the street. Despite at least two dozen races the skateboarders never won:
It takes a while to trust the longboard, as you can see Cousin #11 is hanging on for dear life onto Cousin #4:
We always go on nature hikes with a purpose. One year we made a distance-between-planets scale on the bike path. Another year we searched for bugs. On our around the world trip we pretended the woods was the Black Forest in Germany. This year we had the cousins bring their cameras and we searched for letters in nature to take pictures of:
Snow White was very helpful in pulling along some of the tired cousins:
Typically we spend much of our camp time down at the river trying to catch river critters like crayfish. But this year we couldn’t because of the bad storms we have had recently and the resulting flooding. But we were able to do our traditional evening game-a-thon at the school playground down the street where we play whatever the kids want. This year it was Fish Out of Water, Red Light Green Light, and Sharks and Minnows. After our game-a-thon we head back to our house for a campfire and s’mores and then off to bed in tents. Well, the “in tents” part is in theory. Almost every year some subset of the cousins decide they are too scared to sleep outside. This year, with the aging population of cousins, was the first year that four cousins decided not to sleep in the tents so they could stay up late and play poker. Sigh.
Ok. This is officially the longest post I have ever written and I applaud you if you have gotten this far. If I feel I have left out important Cousin Camp details I will pick up where I left off at a later date. But right now I have to go catch up on the sleep I was deprived of this weekend 🙂