Why I’m Not Writing To My Kid At Summer Camp
BY SUSAN GOLDBERG
Photo © twinshenanigans/Twenty20
Jul 5, 2019
My younger son is gearing up for his third summer at sleepaway camp: two weeks of early-morning jumps in the lake, canoe tripping, campfires, s’mores and not showering even once.
There’s another thing he won’t do even once while he’s gone: pick up a pen and write me a letter.
And that’s fine with me. In fact, I don’t plan on writing to him, either.
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Look, I’m not a monster. If he wanted letters from me — for all of the 12 days he’ll be gone — I would send them. But he doesn’t. And for his entire summer-camp career, he has steadfastly refused to write to me (or anyone else) while he’s away.
At first, I protested. I cajoled. He didn’t budge from his stance. I wrote to him anyway. He didn’t write back. I put addressed, stamped envelopes, along with paper and pens, in his duffel bag. They came back untouched. The next year, I cajoled a bit more.
“Mom,” he finally said, “the whole point of going to camp is to be away from your parents.”
And then I thought, “You know? He has a point.”
Frankly, the day-to-day details of my life aren’t really that interesting to your average 12-year-old boy, my own included.
Maybe it took me so long to come around to his point of view because it’s pretty much the precise opposite of my own. When I went to sleepaway camp, starting at the age of nine, I was thrilled at every letter my parents wrote to me. And I wrote to them, often and in great detail. Several years ago, my father sent me a package of all the letters he and my mother had kept from my 80s camp career. Rereading them, I was surprised at how open I was with them. Even as a sulky 14-year-old, I was quite willing to share gossip about my friends, to discuss fledgling relationships among the CITs and to air my anxieties around auditions for the camp musical (ironically, I got the role of Marty Maraschino in Grease).
But my kid is different. He’s affectionate and cuddly, but he’s not interested in expressing his every emotion through the written word. I am loath to chalk that up to gender, but my dad — who sent both his son and his daughter to summer camp for the better part of a decade — is not: “Girls write,” he told me, “boys don’t.” And my son is indifferent at the thought of getting mail from his mom. I can see the point: frankly, the day-to-day details of my life aren’t really that interesting to your average 12-year-old boy.
In a world where social media demands that we document each experience for posterity, it can be hard to shake the feeling that we ought to know about (and photograph) every precious moment in our kids’ lives, and vice versa. It can be hard to imagine that experiences are fleeting, that we won’t have a record of them in the decades to come. But, for kids privileged enough to be able to get there, sleepaway — emphasis on away — camp is an exercise both in letting go, and being in the moment. It’s a chance for tweens and teens to have new experiences, become more independent, learn new skills and make new friends. Yes, without parents hovering in the background, asking them to chronicle every moment rather than simply enjoying it.
I don’t have to be privy to every detail of my son’s time at camp, and vice versa. And neither of us needs to feel guilty about it. I’ll let him go and imagine the fun he’s having. And I'll look forward to seeing him when he gets back, filthy, mosquito-bitten and happy.
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