One girl walks around the cabin in undies that say "YOU'RE SO HOT RIGHT NOW." Who are those for? I ask. She shrugs. I hate you, Abercrombie. Another asks me earnestly, "What do you think about push-up bras?" while her cabinmate clips one together in the background. I have to appease and paddle through honesty: "Well. I don't own one. And, well, ideally we don't see our worth or beauty as measured by...that. But, if it makes you feel more attractive, then, that can bring confidence, and, so..."
The girl in the Wonder answers, "It doesn't make me feel attractive. It's just what boys want."
You know, I think a lot of people think we've mastered certain aspects of feminism, but then a child says something that breaks your heart, or your camper cries because she has too much acne, or another asks, "How can I feel like I am equal to boys when we've never had a president?"
Last night I crept into the cabin after the staff meeting to find all my kiddos huddled in the corner, one flashlight on, sweating out the hot night in sports bras and gym shorts. It had been Lights Out for a while. "Can we talk for just thirty more minutes?" they pleaded, and I said yes. They can go to war in three years, I think they can stay up past ten.
"We're talking about PMS," the mop-top one said. And we laughed about emotive yelling and sitting down all the time and one was like, "Yeah, and then whenever you tell a boy something he doesn't want to hear, he says it's your period!" And I did not laugh anymore. And we whispered in the dark, just over the wild Lake Michigan winds, about culture and shame and confidence and they were like, "Oh, really?!" And I was like, "Yes, really!" And being in high school is amazing! These kids remind me what enzymes are and know about Marie Antoinette but also Burma but ALSO misuse the word "ironic" and when you ask if they've seen Chicago they say, "That's the one with 'STELLA!' right?" And you shake your head and they say, "Oh, yeah, I just saw that on Modern Family." Their minds are so open and they're so eager and so confused and truly beautiful despite/because it all. I want so badly for them to see themselves how I do, and I wonder if this is how the women in my life have always viewed me. If it pains them when I accept the pain I think is my burden.
"Okay, now it's really time for bed," I say. They nod and hug. I hop up onto my bunk. Their flashlights click off. One by one. Waves crash from the beach below. "Innocence is never lost": my last thought. Before sleep pulls me into the undertow.