My allergies have arrived like guests at the Met Gala; my neighbors have finally gotten around to taking down their Christmas decorations; and the change in humidity has made it feel like the whole town is going through menopause with me. That’s right: Summer is here!
As I pop another Claritin like a Tic-Tac, I can’t help but feel bittersweet about what summer also brings: sending the kids to sleepaway camp. Sure, they’ll be learning new skills and gaining independence, and Hilary will be off Ritalin for six weeks and under someone else’s supervision, but I can’t help but mourn the contact I lose with them.
Well, there is contact, but it’s like the meals I ate on my diet last year: depressingly one-sided.
Even though both Ethan and Hilary are incredibly literate, they somehow can’t seem to write their mother a simple letter from camp. Last year, when I caught Ethan on a rare phone call home, my frustrations bubbled over. I exploded.
“I bet mothers who have children in labor camps in North Korea get more letters than I do! Heavily redacted, highly censored letters, but still — at least they send something!” I moaned. “And if they don’t send anything, they have a better excuse than you two do!”
I learned that yelling at them about the conditions of North Korean labor camps didn’t get me any letters. Creativity and guilt got me letters. I started on Ethan, my 13-year old.
1. Include a fun fill-in-the-blank
One day last year, as I checked the mailbox for a letter with the Camp Togowoods return address, and came up empty-handed yet again, I had a sudden realization: Ethan had writer’s block! I sat down immediately and typed up the best writer’s block cure: a fun game of Mad Libs.
I am having a ___________ time at camp. In art class, I made __________ and it came out very ____________. How are you? I think about you when the sunlight hits the trees, and it reminds me of the way you ______________. Has anyone told you today that you look ____________? Other kids here talk about their moms and it makes me so happy I had a _______ like you. I love you. Please take care of yourself. Counting the _________ until I get to see you again.
2. Use a self-addressed envelope with postage
The response I received from Ethan’s completed Mad Libs was incredibly mediocre, but writing up the Mad Libs note had awakened something in me: Maybe it was time that I started asking myself how I was doing. So, I tried a new tactic and I made writing a letter home as easy as possible for my first-born. I included the below note in a self-addressed, stamped envelope, leaving only the signature line blank. All Ethan had to do was sign the thoughtful letter and drop it in the post.
Greetings to you on this beautiful day in Camp Togowoods! Although I am far from home, and your smile, I cannot help but feel compelled to imagine you today and quote Shakespeare: “Shall I compare thee to a summer camp day? Thou art more skinny and more temperate.”
Are you still thinking about going back to school? I think you should. In fact, I think that you’re worth every happiness you’ve ever denied yourself. This Sunday, as Big Little Lies airs, I think you should light a candle and pour yourself a glass of wine. Find your greatest bliss in your smallest joys, like I know you can. The other night we had a cookout for dinner, and I couldn’t help but wish that every bite of my s’mores was a bite of your famous low-calorie Mexican lasagna.
You are loved. You are worthy. You’re not too old to go to Coachella.
Thinking of you,
3. The ransom note
After I received Ethan’s incredibly thoughtful, emotional letter (see Number 2), I realized that I was still not receiving any letters from Hilary. Although micromanaging was the way to get results in Ethan’s case, I knew I had to employ a different technique for my 7-year-old: guilt.
I wasn’t terribly surprised that I hadn’t received correspondence from her. After all, she was off Ritalin for the summer and I’m sure that was keeping her very busy. But I was busy, too! Busy getting my children to write me letters back! For this project, you’ll need scissors, magazines, and, if you’d like, an image of the Jonbenet Ramsay ransom note for inspiration. Who says kids are the only ones who get to crafty this summer?
Please help me. I’ve been kidnapped, and my kidnappers need you to write me a letter home as my ransom. You have 48 hours.
4. A crafty letter
Fortunately, Hilary responds well to drama — the ransom note worked. So I decided to raise the stakes again with this next note, which is guaranteed to get a response if you, too, are struggling with an ungrateful child who can’t bother to write you from the amazing summer camp you shelled out eight grand for.
It’s important to use a heavy cardstock for this project. Burn the edges with a lighter, tea candle, or a vape pen. I baked mine in the oven for 10 minutes at 300 degrees, and it came out with a toasty glow that I was very satisfied with. It’s also important to turn your handwriting into a desperate scrawl that conveys the gravity of the situation. Feel free to alter it however you’d like, but below is the letter I wrote Hilary.
We lost the entire house in a fire. I have nothing left. I am penniless. Please write me back soon, so I can use your letter to start to build back my possessions.
If these tips work for you and your children, feel free to write me a thank-you letter! There’s nothing like getting a piece of old-fashioned, handwritten correspondence in the mail! In fact, some of us live for it.
Header image via CSA Images/Getty Images