I put my son on bus for sleepaway camp. After that I had absolutely no idea if he was alive. I didn’t know if he was eating or homesick or suffering from 1,000 bee stings. I. KNEW. NOTHING. The reason I was agonizingly ignorant of my son’s whereabouts was because his camp doesn’t post daily pictures of the campers. In fact, they don’t post any camp pictures.
It’s a curse and a blessing.
There is a sadistic-yet-unavoidable ritual that takes place every summer. Parents send their beloved children off to have the time of their lives at sleepaway camp. But now, before that bus even enters the gates of camp, parents are glued to their computers and cell phones to look for news from camp.
An embarrassingly accurate and funny cartoon video perfectly sums up the practice of obsessively checking the camp’s website with three words: Refresh, refresh, refresh. Many parents refresh their browser 30 times (more like 100 times if I’m honest) an hour as pictures are loaded sporadically throughout the day. The pictures (or lack thereof) become the car accident we can’t turn away from, and the infection we run toward. It’s a sickness, and it’s ruining our summers.
Parents nowadays are used to knowing what their children are doing every minute. We know who they are with, what they are eating and where they are going. There’s some comfort in that. If we know everything, we can ensure safety and ultimate happiness. Although those who choose to send their kids off to overnight camp do so willingly, cutting the cord is hard. I’m guessing to minimize the constant calls from concerned parents, the camps started posting pictures. Then when one parent didn’t see a picture of their child, the camps decided to post more pictures, finally adding up to hundreds and hundreds of pictures a day.
Now, imagine (well, if your kids are at sleepaway you don’t have to imagine) closely examining 400 pictures every day that come in dribs and drabs. Imagine a painfully slow internet connection. Imagine trying to find your sweet pea in a sea of children who are wearing the exact same uniform. Then imagine finding your sweet pea only to see him or her look less than thrilled at any given moment. I once saw a picture with every camper in the bunk eating except my child. The worrying began instantly. Why wasn’t she eating? Did she have the stomach flu? Or worse, is she depressed?
Sifting through those pictures is like finding the concealed object in Highlights magazine’s Hidden Pictures, except a lot less fun. I’ve become an expert in finding my child’s rope bracelet or pink rain boots or dragon socks. And after that extensive effort all I learn from those pictures is that my child is alive.
This is my third summer sending a child to sleepaway camp, but it’s my first time without the daily rollercoaster of the picture fix. Over the years I’ve learned a thing or two. The first summer I sent my daughter to overnight camp, it didn’t go well. I got the letter every parent dreads within three days of departure. To summarize it said, “Pick me up now. I am going to DIE here.” From that point on I became fixated on every picture. The trouble was that I could learn very little by scrutinizing those photos. There is no way to ascertain from this snapshot of one fleeting moment if she was really happy or unsettled, well or sick, lonely or full of friendship. And furthermore, there was nothing I could do in that moment to help her resolve those issues.
Parents want to see happy faces painting pottery in ceramics. They need to see new and old friends with their arms swung casually around their child’s shoulder. They must be kept appraised of camp trips, daily activities and updates on color war. But those pictures are doing more damage than good.
The camp industry is creating monsters. Their administrators are like demons that know your weakness and put it right in front of your face.
Hey little girl, would you like some candy?
It must be stopped and thankfully my son’s new camp put me in an involuntary time out.
This year instead of suffering and spending every moment away from my son refreshing my browser, I am repeated the following phrase:
“No news is good news.”
I waited until my son came home to learn of his adventures. I didn’t spoil his stories by telling him I already knew he won color war or went rafting down a raging river or caught a big fish. I completely enjoyed my more relaxed summer and enthusiastically awaited my son’s return. And when he did, l gave him my complete and total undivided attention to hear every little detail of his time away.
This column originally appeared on Mom2.com.