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guilt

The Worst Letter I Ever Sent My Kid at Camp

Thoughtful woman writing letter at desk, (B&W)

I have two boys at two different summer camps right now. One of them is having a blast. The other is also having a great time — but I only know that because I have extrapolated it from his silence.

My oldest son, 14, knows that when it comes to letters, he needs to Feed The Beast. (Yes, “the beast,” in this particular scenario, is me.). He knows that I am someone who gets super excited about receiving real mail, and have ever since I was little. In fact, when I was a girl, I was so excited about getting mail that I wrote to Archie Comics telling them I was an 8-year-old girl in New Jersey who wanted a pen pal — I then got more than 100 letters from all over the world, from Nyack (exotic!) to Mumbai (not bad, either). The Mumbai part got less cool when, as a college student, I got a letter from this same guy telling me he was in love with me and was going to come live with me in America. Um… we hadn’t written in 10 years, guy, I think we drifted apart. But I digress. Kid 1 knows that he has to Feed The Beast with short, regular letters telling me about camp.

My second son, however, is a different story. Perhaps it is because he is not the oldest, and doesn’t have the same inborn need to please his parent. Perhaps it is because he is having way too much fun at camp. But the Feed The Beast discussion took longer to get results. When he was younger, it was a real struggle — we had one summer with maybe three letters in a month, and that didn’t do it for me. Now he is 13 and we are in a good place — he generally writes me about two or three times a week.

The only problem is the camp mail system. For whatever reason, the letters from this camp tend to come in clumps: You hear nothing for a long time, and then BOOM, four letters appear. I don’t know who deserves my scorn: the counselors charged with taking the mail to the post office or the general mess that’s our postal service. But it almost always means that a lot of time goes by between letters.

This is my kid’s fifth summer at this camp, so you would think I would remember the pacing of this postal dance by now. But, well — apparently, I do not.

I have a visceral, almost physical reaction when I do not hear from a kid for over a week. After nearly two weeks of receiving no mail, I am basically reduced to a state of stereotyped Jewish mother neuroses. In my head, I’m in a housecoat, hair in curlers, wearing cats-eye glasses, whining nasally, “You never CAWL, you never WRIIIIIIITE!” while swinging around a rolling pin. (This bodes really well for our future relationship.)

I don’t know why the silence brings out the worst in me — especially since I know that in all likelihood, it is not his fault. I don’t take Ambien, so I can’t even blame that for the screed I emailed him last Friday morning:

*This email is to be read to the background music of ‘Remember Me’ from the film Coco*

Remember your dear old mother? The one who gets you book socks, gym clothes and combination locks, along with a little emotional support and daily transportation services?

Imagine her, if you will. She is sitting alone and forlorn, staring off into the distance, on a porch that we do not have, holding a cane for dramatic effect. Her mind is occupied, as it always is, by only one thing: wondering how her son is. How she remembers him fondly — his laugh, his smile, his sweet hugs.

Have his pens all broken, she wonders? Or perhaps they have run out of ink, penning the book-like detailed volumes of correspondence he plans to send to his mother? Perhaps his pencils have worn down to tiny stubs from crafting his lengthy descriptions of every nuance of day to day life at camp, so he is trying to sharpen them with his teeth? That must be difficult. Or perhaps a thief broke into the bunk in the night, mysteriously evading the crap all over the floor like a ninja, fleeing into the darkness with all of her son’s stamps?

No doubt one of these scenarios has taken place, the mother thinks. For she has not heard from her son in two weeks. It was only two weeks ago that she brought him the food items of his request on Visiting Day, and fixed his music player so that he could listen to his favorite music. It was only two weeks ago that she told him how much she loved his letters, and how she truly appreciated that he was being so diligent with writing.

Her eyes are becoming dim, no doubt plagued with that toxic combination of old age and profound sorrow. The horizon stretches before her, but is blurred. Is that the mail delivery person, she wonders, coming over that crest in the distance? Will she or he be coming bearing a bag full of correspondence for me to read and savor all over again?

Okay, you get the drift. Shabbat shalom, sweetie – hope everything is great!

I love you!
Love, me

Just how did I think he would react when he received this letter? I didn’t really think that far ahead, to be honest, probably because I was so pleased with myself that I had finally deviated from the boring-ass email I have been typing for weeks: “Nothing much going on here… I went to the supermarket… I filed four articles yesterday… your sister pooped in her pants.”

But if I had to guess at his reaction? Well, I assume that he would read it, shake his head at his wacky mother, and move on with his day. I didn’t think it would make him feel particularly guilty — not nearly as guilty, I can assure you, as I felt when on that SAME EXACT DAY I received six happy, detailed letters from this kid. That’s right, SIX. And yes, dear reader: I suck.

The moral of this story, fellow parents? Take a chill pill. This is SUMMER. While I think it’s reasonable to expect some level of communication with your child — I mean, I’m paying a lot of money to send you to this camp, the least you could do is send proof of life, kid! — let’s not go overboard (like, yes, yours truly).

Because, when it comes to camp correspondence, the general rule should be, No News Is Good News. No News means they are having a great time. You know how when they are at home, they will make sure to tell you first when there’s a problem of any kind — like, “we’re out of blueberries!” or “The Xbox isn’t working!” — the same thing generally applies at camp, too.

Plus, you know how camp is a safe warm-up for our kids to become more independent? Maybe it serves the same function for parents, too, by teaching us how to get over ourselves and let them go.

Now, please excuse me while I go check my mailbox.

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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