Camp Counsellor Chronicles: The Parabola Parable

Already I’m starting to feel it: the stress of looming deadlines, the growing fear of unknown known as the future, the mental, physical and emotional tolls of being busy all the time — the pains of being a student. As assignments and expenses start to pile up, I can’t help but wish I was back at camp.

My friend from Hands on Exotics.
My friend from Hands on Exotics.

I was a camp counsellor with the City for the second summer in a row and it was brilliant.

Being a camp counsellor puts you in an interesting position because one on hand you’re responsible for the safety and well-being as well as the social, physical, and behavioural development of about 30 children for eight-and-a-half-hours a day and on the other hand you’re being paid to make funny voices and lead games. And that’s your life for two months.
Some kids come to our camp come for just a week or two while others are veterans who’re at camp week in week out and have grown up with us.  Either way, you can learn a lot about the tiny humans, as I like to call ’em, in just a week: some of them are uber-competitive, some super talkative, some of them are spacey, others, smart-asses (one kid said to my coworker, who is half Filipino half Japanese, “you must be from North Korea because you’re mean”) and some of them are kinda just… there.
And then there’s the trouble makers. The poop disturbers. The one’s who make people think and say “I am never going to have children.” The ones who have to be talked to every 10 minutes and cause problems for the sake of causing problems and seem to take pleasure in bothering or abusing other people. Lamilton Taeshawn comes to mind.

I remember one week when I ran into one of these trouble-makers. He misbehaved all damn day long and did it with a big ol’ smile on his face too. Thankfully, I can’t remember the specifics of this little boys outbursts but I remember one day coming away from the situation thinking “you’re going to be such a shit disturber when you grow up.”

It wasn’t until that night that I started to regret having had the thought. I regretted having the thought not because it was directed at a kid (kids can be evil as hell) but because I had mentally written-off that kid as a fundamentally bad kid destined to grow up and remain a bad kid. I was ready to give up on him without giving him a real chance just because he was misbehaving a little at a specific time in both of our lives; there was no reason to believe change is impossible.

My dear friend Nebyu who passed away two summer’s ago taught me that change is never impossible. Since passing away, Nebyu is remembered as a funny, wise, well-liked,respectable and considerate young man. But that wasn’t always the case. Back in elementary school, before he went to Winnipeg, Nebyu was a menace, a four-foot-terror, a grand disturber of shit. And if you don’t believe me, ask anyone who went to Our Lady of Fatima between 2000-2006.

Although I can’t recall the specific details of what happened to cause the transformation, I know it had to do with his dad and I know that it didn’t happen overnight. Nebyu was in Winnipeg for at least three years before we were re-introduced during high school and let me tell you, I almost couldn’t recognize the guy. A kid who had once head-butted me in the face and tripped in me the playground was now greeting me on the TTC and wishing me well for the school year.

This is summer I learned that people are like parabolas (the graph of a quadratic equation, y=mx+b and what not). They all start somewhere and end somewhere and the points the where the coordinates end up has to do with the’s individual function and also what is input into it. This means that multiple functions can end up on a particular coordinate without being the same equation (consider this; two girls can go through a Tomboy phase but have different reasons for it or be in it for varying duration even though they end up in the phase). This also means that a point along a parabola is fixed but not permanent (just because you were once a Tomboy doesn’t mean you will always be). You can have a coordinate at (-6,5) but that doesn’t mean that the coordinate will always land on (-6,5). A coordinate on a parabola may be (-6,5) and the next coordinate could be a (5,6) or a (10,12) while both coordinates belong on the same parabola from the same quadratic function. It depends on the input. Or in this case, the specific stage of someones life.

In Nebyu’s example, I met Nebyu when he was at (-6,5) and we became friends in high school he was at (5,6). In both instances it’s the same Nebyu (function) I’m dealing with but under a new set of circumstances and in a new place in our lives (parabola).

More times than not, you can’t determine where the coordinates of a quadratic equation just by looking at it. It takes time and things need to be factored and worked out. People are multi-dimensional, ever-evolving, dynamic creatures. The way someone is doesn’t necessarily determine the way they are, just the way they are at a particular intersection of time.

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