When I was a kid, my social skills weren't very developed, I had trouble making friends in pre-school and whenever I tried to approach someone, I would get looked at in weird ways, because what I had to say didn't exactly match what the other person was expecting me to say (although that seems to be a problem that I haven't got rid of to this very day).
As elementary school was around the corner and I was still having endless conversations with my imaginary friend and building fortresses on the balcony with my best friend (Hello Sara!), my parents came to the conclusion it would be a good idea to consider sending me to a Summer Camp.
For three years in a row, I had the amazing opportunity to visit wild and beautiful places all over my wonderful Italy. At the time, my way of perceiving nature was way better than it is now, since years and years of metropolitan fights with Naples subway and crazy traffic managed to manipulate my mind so much that now I miss that subway and I miss that traffic.
To make it clearer: As a child, driving up a mountain to camp, surrounded by a million trees of a million different shades of green, didn't nausate me or make me feel overwhelmed; it was a way to escape from the city and to get enriched by something that wouldn't be the coast with the same old sea I could see every day from the window of my room. I wasn't a "city bug" yet and I didn't hate the idea of running into a bear, if possible (are there even bears in Italy?).
My first summer at camp amazed me. First off, my mother wasn't there to tell me how ridiculous I looked if I wore fleshy pink spandex and an electric blue sweater. Secondly, I could wear lip gloss and third, nobody there knew how much of an outcast I was in the real world. I had created a wild character, made of funny jokes and self-confidence. Summer Camp taught me that you can really be whoever you want to be and that context really makes 80% of what we actually show to others.
The energy it gave me didn't come without a price, though. Soon enough, after four or five days, Summer Camp was getting back at me, with a pile of little gossips and big disappointments, because the kid I had a crush on was holding hands with the blonde girl with braces (oh, what I would have given to have braces and blonde hair as a kid!) and a few mean actions coming from that or the other young fella.
Some memories still stick to my mind and I can remember the big embarrassment I felt when, walking down the dining hall with a tray full of food, someone decided it would be a very funny idea to make me stumble in front of 100 little devils. With my face and my pride on the floor like in a cheap '80s movie, all I could do was get back on my feet and pretend nothing happened. Or that one time I was in the bathroom and a girl made me almost pee my pants because of the big "BOO" she yelled at me from behind. I had a panic attack that went on for three hours. A panic attack, as an 8-year-old. The nurses took me to the local hospital, where an impatient doctor gave me a few drops of a very famous tranquilizer. I spent the rest of the day sleeping like an angel (do not try this at home, in case your kid has a panic attack, I was lucky not to have any side effects, but I'm pretty sure it could have ended badly).
It doesn't matter how cool or ridiculous I ended up being when Summer Camp was over, the following year nobody would remember me, aside from the couple literate kids whom I wrote long, erratic letters back and forth with. The following year, I had a brand new character to build, plenty of new stories to tell and tons of new adventures to live.
What I learned during those years became part of the way I survived for the rest of junior high and high school. But at that point, I wasn't interested in wild animals anymore, unless they were described in some obscure book that only I and my closest friends knew of.
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