I was pretty sure they wouldn't survive, so I decided not to get attached. That hasn't been very hard, because these birds are ugly as can be. But some of the staff apparently have more heart than I, and they have been attempting to care for the babies. Bird accessories have started to clutter the counter - bits of boiled egg yolk, eye droppers, raisins soaking in water, canned liver. (The internet says this is good food for them. I think they would eat anything you stick close to their squawking little mouths.)
As I predicted, they've slowly been dying off, and now there's only one left alive. It's a pictoral definition of the word pitiful, and I've been trying to avoid the office because I don't want to be around when it dies. Unfortunately, I've had to go there frequently this week because there have been lots of challenges with campers.
One of those challenges is named Ashley (not really, but for this story, she is). I remember Ashley from last year as a cute, clingy camper whose life is a sad story of abuse and dysfunctional foster care. I put her in one of my best counselor's cabins and hoped for the best.
We were in the middle of supper line call yesterday when Pastor Rob's son rode up to me on a bike and told me a counselor needed me right away. I ran up to the cabin and was greeted by 11 very concerned adventure campers. "Ashley won't come out! She hit our teacher! Look, our teacher's crying! We're hungry! Can we still get honor cabin?"
I went inside the cabin and found Ashley hiding in her sleeping bag in the corner bunk. The words that began coming out of her mouth were some of the saddest I've ever heard.
"I'm a bad girl. I don't deserve a real family. My case worker is mistaken about me. I don't deserve anything good. People who say I'm not a bad girl don't know the truth."
I talked with her about the difference between bad choices and bad people. That God will forgive anyone. That we can always have a new start. That everyone deserves a family.
A few times her eyes would peak out of her cocoon, but whenever I tried to scratch her back or stroke her hair, she would recoil instantly.
"Don't call me sweetheart!" she screamed. "I'm not good! You don't even know!"
Eventually, she sat up and started shrieking and banging her camera against her hand. "I don't want these pictures. I don't want memories anymore." Then she started biting her Disney Princess sleeping bag, trying to rip the fabric. She ended this tantrum by curling back up into a ball and crying for her mommy. As she wore out, she finally let me hold her and comfort her.
She spent the majority of the next 24 hours with me - sometimes sweet as can be, holding my hand and begging for piggyback rides, other times throwing more tantrums and crying for her mom. She literally ran away from me once...that's the second camper who has tried this week.
Camp is not staffed to provide one-on-one care, which is what she seems to need, so we sadly concluded that Ashley should go home. So I took her down to the office to call her foster family. As I was looking up the phone number, Ashley discovered the box with the one remaining bird. By now, the bird stinks and it looks absolutely disgusting. If the bird flu is still around, I'm pretty sure this guy has it. But Ashley picked up his gross little body and started stroking his head.
"Does he have a family?" she asked me.
"No, they all died," I said, as the phone began to ring. "You should put him back in the box. He's sick."
"No! He is lonely! He needs a family! He needs someone to love him!" She carefully cupped the bird in her hands as she crooned little girl songs to him.
The phone call was a wreck. As I was talking to the foster mom, Ashley started screaming in the background that she didn't want to go there, she hated them, she wanted to go to her real home with her real family.
We finally worked out the details and after another emotional breakdown, Ashley was back to clinging on to me. As we left the office, she asked me if we could come see the bird tomorrow. "He's just like me...he needs a family."
Oh how my heart hurts. The world is just so broken, and little kids are paying the price. Ashley is only one of the sad stories I've met this week. And that's just one week, at one camp, during one summer.
I wholeheartedly believe in the ministry of camp, but sometimes I feel like we can barely do as much good as egg yolks and eye droppers...camp is no substitute for real parents. I poured as much love as I possibly could into Ashley, but I only spent a day with her. One day to counteract years of dysfunction and pain.
As I watched Ashley crawl into the back seat and ride away to a place where she clearly isn't loved, I felt so helpless and inadequate. I wish there was something else I could do to help, but I guess I can only trust that God cares about her more than I do.
Thank goodness He's not helpless.