The little princess play tent in the corner of the Elfin cabin completely freaked me out.
I was dropping my seven year-old — my firstborn — off for her first summer away from me. The tent — impossibly tiny, unassuming, and very, very pink — was carefully erected near a shelf of books under a huge open window.
First, I thought, “Isn’t she a little old for that?”
Then I thought, “And if she isn’t …. isn’t she too little to be here?”
The pink tent in the bare-wood cabin chimed with the same cognitive dissonance I experienced reading the camper equipment list that called for wool socks, hiking boots, water bottle and: “Any spare dress-up costumes you would like to donate to the camp supply.”
I had no idea what to do with that, so I tucked a leotard and discrete pair of Bloch ballet slippers into her trunk.
You know, in case there was a talent show or something and she wanted to crank out a few grand jetés.
She came home to me ten days later, breathless and giddy and full of stories of hiking and adventuring … and costume balls! And princess teas! But the best, she whispered to me conspiratorially, was the surprise sleepover and camp fire set out for the Elfins by the Kanaka fairies!
“Huh?” I said.
“The forest at Hive is filled with Kanaka fairies!” my almost-eight-year old breathed. “One night they surprised us by setting out a fire for us in Fernsworth! It was so beautiful!”
“Interesting, Boo,” I said. “Now these fairies … how do you suppose they lighted the matches and stuff?”
“Mooooom,” she said. “They’re fairies.”
Of course. What was I thinking?
The irony was that one of my biggest fears about sending her to camp was that she would grow up too fast, lose her sweetness among the herd of girls — most of them older, all of them she would be desperate to impress. I had seriously underestimated what Hive was really all about.
After she came home from that first summer, my daughter had a playdate with a girl she had not seen for several months. She met the girl at the door with a stack of costumes she had dug from a deep corner of the play closet.
Our guest looked askance, tossed a much-practiced pre-adolescent scowl at the fluffy dresses and said, “Seriously?”
“YES!” my daughter said, grabbing her hand and dragging in. Soon, they were seated on the floor in boas and gowns, giggling helplessly. The girl wore the dress home.
My daughter’s second summer at Hive she discovered that Kanaka fairies will communicate with Hivers who write a note in birch-bark and leave it in the secret spot in the moss at the base of a tree. Kanakas also occasionally leave presents — to encourage or congratulate a girl facing a particular challenge or goal.
“How do you think those Kanakas know what’s going on with you?” I asked.
“Well,” she said. “I think. You know. The counselors are probably in on it.”
That was as close as she was ever willing to get to suggesting the Kanakas were not the winking manifestation of pure forest magic.
But to me, that’s exactly what they are. The Kanaka fairies that inhabit my daughter’s summers are giving her the gift of remaining a little girl as long as she possibly can, among a tribe of girls daring to do the same. They are led by young women demonstrating that it is okay to be joyful, to reject cynicism — to tie a camp knot, build a fire and paddle a canoe with the very same hands you use to make flower skirts to leave as gifts to the fairies.
At Hive, growing up does not have to mean growing sarcastic or jaded. It means embracing the world with the same enthusiasm you’ve always had, and learning to make it grow as part of a community.
Elizabeth has been a Hive mom for two years, and was a Hiver herself in the 1980s. Her first post for The Aloha Foundation blog answered the question, “Who Sends a Seven Year-Old to Camp?”