There's a word at camp you're not likely to hear very often.
It's not a long word, or an archaic French word, or even a word your 90 year old grand-mother would frown upon hearing.
That word is 'cute'.
This comes from about ten years ago: it was opening day, and the bus had just arrived, supervised by the ever vigilant CITs (counsellors in training).
As the littlest Dekopis were coming out of the bus, their huge backpacks reaching over their shoulders, the nearest CITs started to exclaim at "how cute ARE THEY!" "Would you look at that! She is SO cute".
Their CIT director, a tall redheaded Australian named Rihanna, gathered them all a little bit later and told them what follows.
"You know, these 7 and 8 year old tiny campers, they're coming to camp for the same reasons as you are. To test their limits, to try something new and to figure out who it is they want to be. Coming to camp, regardless of your age, takes courage and strength, and... calling them 'cute' kind of takes away from how strong and independent they're being."
The term spread quickly.
Staff used it when talking about the 9 year old who'd taken charge of gathering the firewood during their overnight, CITs used it when they learned of two campers courageously accompanying each other to the washroom in the middle of the night and, last year, I even heard an older Dekopi whisper to her cabin mate, as our junior campers came back from a hike up Lookout: "can you believe how strong and independent they look!".
I love that campers have chosen to adopt the term. As we all know, they really only adopt thing that they believe in (ie. WHERE is your hat..????) They've embraced it, and I think that means something.
Maybe the reason it resonates with them is that, although the terms cute, adorable and precious are all in themselves positive, they have everything to do with someone else's perception of you, and nothing to do with who you are or what you are trying to achieve.
And I get it!
As someone who always looked two grades younger than I was in school, I got my shares of 'cute'. But it wasn't until I overheard Rihanna speaking to her CITs that I realized being called cute, and being treated as such, often undermined my efforts to be recognized for MORE than that. Even when I was being strong and fast and courageous, I was still 'cute'. Cute is a rather insufficient word do describe someone, whatever their age, who is trying to be their best self.
As I myself have gotten older, it has gotten more and more difficult to stay away from 'cute'. When I see staff members untangling the hair of their campers, or teaching someone how to clear plates, or even just hashing out ideas for our next evening program, I can't help but look at them and think... "They are SO cute".
I can't help it! They are!
But they're also so much more. Their capacities to care for campers is incredible. Their creative ability to create and run programs for the whole camp is amazing. I am touched and impressed by their growth, their independence and their confidence.
Either way, I won't be using the word cute around a Ouareau girl this summer.
Not out loud anyways. ;)