“Am I rich?” That was the question posed to me by the young child standing in the creek with a pie tin full of gold rocks. A question with no easy answer.
I work with foster children. For the past several years I’ve had the opportunity to work at camps. This particular camp is tailored to provide abused and neglected foster children a summer camp experience. It is structured just for them. The camps are a part of a national organization called Royal Family Kids Camp (RFKC) and Teen Reach Adventure Camp (TRAC). The purpose of the Royal Family camp is to make these kids feel like, well, royalty. This is something most of these kids, if not all, have never experienced. We only have two rules for the kids; “have fun” and “be safe.” It takes them a day or two to realize that we really mean that.
One afternoon I was down by the creek helping 8-11 year old campers “pan for gold.” Before camp we had painted enough gravel to fill a 5 gallon bucket with “gold nuggets.” While the kids were finishing lunch I had disbursed the “gold” up and down the creek. Many of the campers had a great time wading and finding the gold. But soon another activity would grab their attention and they would be off to something else. But not Joel. Joel was really into it. Joel showed enthusiasm for gold panning like none of the other kids. He was relentless in his pursuit of the gold nuggets. Because of his enthusiasm I helped him as much as I could between helping the other campers that were coming and going. I grinned, each time Joel was overcome with excitement at the discovery of yet another cache of gold nuggets. With each discovery he would ask me again where all the gold came from. Not wanting to ruin his fun I made up a story about how there must have been a big mud slide during the night that released all the gold. Each time Joel would burst out with childhood excitement “that must have been the Mother-of-All-Mud-Slides to leave so much gold!!!”
The afternoon was speeding by as Joel and I chatted for well over an hour. Suddenly, holding a Marie Calendar’s pie tin full of gold rocks, he stood up and looked up at me. In a calm and thoughtful tone he asked, “am I rich?” I started to respond and paused. I tried again; no words came out. My mind raced and I didn’t know what to say. I knew I couldn’t lead Joel to think he was suddenly wealthy, only to find out later he had been betrayed with a bagful of painted rocks. By the same token I didn’t want to ruin the moment by telling him that they were, well, painted rocks. With my mind racing and Joel’s eyes looking up at me for what seemed an eternity, I fell back on pre-camp training. I chose to follow the process called “redirect.” Redirect, another way to say “distract and change the subject.” I said “Joel, this sure is fun hanging out and enjoying such a nice day with you.” He nodded. “It is really fun down here at the creek isn’t it.” He nodded again. I added, “Do you think you are rich?” He thought for a few seconds and then confidently replied with a grin “yeah, I think so.” With that we smiled at each other and went back to looking for more gold nuggets.
Sometimes we don’t give kids enough credit. Joel knew, that I knew, that he knew, he wasn’t wealthy. But we also knew at that moment we were both rich. We were enjoying the moment together and nothing else really mattered.
A nice day, a cool stream, a couple Marie Calendar’s pie tins and time with a new friend; rich indeed.