A Chance to Recapture Their Inner Wildness

Shanntanee, 11, and her brother, Lamont, 8, are attending camp this summer. They like the activities, the people  --  and the mischief.
Shanntanee, 11, and her brother, Lamont, 8, are attending camp this summer. They like the activities, the people -- and the mischief. (By Julia Feldmeier -- The Washington Post)
By John Kelly
Monday, July 16, 2007

One of the pleasures of working with Send a Kid to Camp is watching the youngsters grow. My assistant, Julia Feldmeier, checked in with a brother and sister who wowed us last year with their positive attitude s.

Last summer, I met Shanntanee and her brother, Lamont-- two children who sparkle despite hard circumstances. Their father was sent to jail five years ago, and their mom isn't much of a presence in their lives, so Shanntanee, now 11, and Lamont, now 8, live with their grandmother, Brenda Carpenter. Their Southeast Washington house is full of pets, including a cat, a dog, a ferret and a 15-foot-long snake.

When I visited Shanntanee and Lamont again last week, I asked them what -- or who -- was the wildest animal in their home.

Lamont, who appears bashful next to his gregarious sister, looked at Shanntanee as if deferring to her, his lips curving into a shy (or was it mischievous?) smile. Neither said anything for a moment, and instead they looked at each other with twin grins, seemingly deciding their answer by some unspoken secret sibling language.

Shanntanee decided that the dog, Poppy, merited the wildest animal title, though it could be argued that years ago, when Shanntanee first moved in with Brenda, that title would have gone to her. But if Shanntanee was once a little unruly and "off the hook," according to her grandmother, she's since straightened up.

"If somebody tells me to do something and I know it's wrong, I'm not going to do it," she said. "That's being wise."

I asked if she's behaving well these days, now that she's older and wiser. Her brown eyes widened (fearfully? mischievously?) as she looked at Lamont, whose eyes opened even wider.

Ah, well. Okay. So we turned the conversation to summer camp, from which they'd just come back and to which they're scheduled to return this morning. This is Shanntanee's third year as a camper at Moss Hollow and Lamont's first. They love it there. "I wish I could live there because it's so much fun," Shanntanee said.

It's fun, they said, because of the activities and the people and, alas, the mischief. In Lamont's cabin, the boys threw balled-up socks at their slumbering bunkmates, and in Shanntanee's cabin, the girls stayed up all night (okay, till 1 a.m.) and "toothpasted" each other -- you know, when you put toothpaste on the pillow next to your friend's face while she sleeps, so that when she turns over she rolls right into gobs of minty goo.

She knows the boundaries of these pranks -- it's not cool when girls get carried away and put paste all over people's possessions, she said -- but she also knows that these are moments that bond people, that make camp the kind of place she wants to come back to year after year. She attends camp for two sessions each summer, so it's not hard to say goodbye at the end of the first week because she knows she'll be back soon.

But at the close of the second week, she said, "I really cry because that's the last week I'm going to be there this summer."

I figure that those tears are a good thing -- that together with the mischievous glint, they keep the eyes glistening and gleaming. They help keep the sparkle going, year in and year out.

No Time for Tears

"Better late than never," a reader wrote on the note accompanying her $50 donation to Send a Kid to Camp. Our campaign to raise $475,000 for Camp Moss Hollow ends July 26. Our total so far: $309,833.13

Thirty dollars of that came from Arianna Scott, Talia Scott, Lindsey Grymes and Cameryn Grymes, youngsters from North Bethesda. "We had a lemonade and popsicle stand in our neighborhood," the girls wrote. "We hope this helps in your Send a Kid to Camp."

It does. Thank you. To make your tax-deductible donation:

Make a check or money order payable to "Send a Kid to Camp" and mail it to P.O. Box 96237, Washington, D.C. 20090-6237. To contribute online, go to http://www.washingtonpost.com/johnkelly. To donate by MasterCard or Visa by phone, call 202-334-5100 and follow the instructions.

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