Dear Boundless Families:
Two days ago, I rendezvoused with the OE gang at the head of a 1.5 km portage that was preceded by a 10km head-winded exhausting paddle. The kids were spent and the trek into the Boreal forest had not yet begun. Morale was low.
Every group faces a critical test during a journey. A pivot point that shall define the entire experience. Choose team-first, and life becomes easy peasy. Choose the self first, and the team descends into blame games and into a reverberation chamber of frustration.
I get six kids and Mary together for a chat overlooking an 80 foot waterfall. These boys hold the most sway in the group. They clearly were a team among themselves. But they were apart from the rest. This was two groups. Not one. In that moment, it did not feel like a Boundless trip.
I told them so. Without recrimination. I tried appealing to their sense of virtue.
It took a while to plow through their defensiveness. After time ticked away 20 minutes, in what was really a timeless moment, three of the six went over to the side of the Jedi. One was incapable of seeing things from a group perspective. One didn’t give a shit. And one gave a conditional buy-in.
Hardly a resounding victory.
The test would be the portage itself. Would these 6 model enough work ethic to inspire the others? Would a sense of justice prevail? Would the group feel it’s okay to devour the trail because everyone else is devouring the trail?
Mary and I walked away from the meeting feeling uneasy.
I caught up with them again 4 hours later. There was a shocking amount of levity. I paddle up to JJ and Mateus, filling jugs of water. They honour me by inviting me to help. Sure, I say. And we are sucking H20 together from a lake that is a 10 million square foot shimmering mirror.
Dom waves to me from shore. I say, “hi Picker” (my nickname for him, the lock-picking baby-faced scoundrel that he is ). He is emboldened by this moniker. I feel in with him.
I bring the group chocolate and watermelon. Mary only lets the watermelon get through. The chocolate she holds in reserve. This is not the time for a reward. The kids know it too.
That night the group had it out. Mary told me it was the best discussion they have had.
The next morning, I opt to lead the group through the Rapids. I want to give the staff a “cognitive holiday” It’s an internal term to describe how we, as a staff team, support one another. We take each other away from the moment, gossiping about anything. Or we briefly ease the burden of leadership by taking over, even for a few minutes.
My grade 7 self comes out in the morning. Picker starts teasing me, threatening to splash. I go, “Oh, Dom, your grade 8 is coming out”. Brody howls at this. The kids feel loose.
I start canoe smashing them. Paul takes issues with this, and goes right back at me. At the mouth of Red Pine Rapids, I lay it on the line. I say things like,
“If you enter left, there is death. Go right, and your day will be bright”. They’re not sure how to take this. Am I serious? I leave them hanging with a twinkle in my eye. It is this twinkle that gives comfort more than any words I would utter.
For the next three hours, the group navigates the whitewater like an elaborate choreography that was Rudolph Nureyev worthy.
At the end of rapid 5, I bring out the MALTESERS. I bellow, I start flinging the perfect chocolate spheres at them without warning. Eli proves the most adept. Olivia is positively pathetic at catching them, and this brings giggles.
I left them at lunchtime, feeling way more confident than three hours previous. They returned in more than one piece today. There has been healing. I think they have pulled it together.
But still Mary held back the chocolate. I learned after the fact that the team chose to ADD 9 kms to their day’s goals and finish the entire river. With the help of a tail-wind, heaven sent, they finish one hour early. Just before they crossed the mighty Ottawa, that’s when the Kit Kats came. Today, JJ told me he has never enjoyed a treat more and that the moment was quite powerful.
Which is why I am declaring that this group got more out of the experience than most in our history.
As to both English groups. Please forgive me. My fingers grow wary and there is a session to close. But I will sum them up this way.
Mixed English – There are a dozen kids in that group that may have actually fallen in love with learning. This is more important than anything. Many shall come home somewhat changed. Infused with academic and social confidence.
And those darn 4uers, they have been golden since the first hour. What can I say other than they are coming home tomorrow deeply fulfilled. It’s been glorious for them.
It has been an eventful and stunning session. Parents, thanks for holding back and letting us do our work.
1) Report cards are coming within two weeks, but hopefully earlier
2) Please honour our drivers and don’t be late tomorrow. If any of you fail at this, I will arrange to have the Picker come to your house
3) We have two spots left in our boarding school (I think, maybe one). If you are interested in exploring an amazing educational opportunity for this fall and/or winter, and your child struggles in regular school, please contact me ASAP.
Best wishes to you all for a wonderful rest of summer.