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Why I Get Upset When I Don’t See Summer Camp Photos of My Son

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I haven’t seen a picture of my son on his sleepaway camp’s website in five days. They post about 400 pictures each day; certainly there must’ve been an opportunity to take at least ONE picture of him, right? Yesterday in my daily email to him I wrote, “Can you PLEASE just like hop into ONE picture tomorrow so I can see that you exist?”

For the record, I hated sleepaway camp. My parents sent me for the first time when I was 11 years old. I look sad and emaciated in the pictures that my parents took on visiting day. I would call my parents asking to come home, and they said no, that they wanted me to stick it out. My mom would write me letters about how boring everything was at home, and how could I possibly want to come home to such boredom?

Could you only imagine if the Internet existed and they posted pictures back then? I probably would have written on a piece of paper and held it up to the camera: “Get me the hell out of here!” I never went back after that summer, and fortunately went on to have many amazing summer experiences afterwards.

Last summer my son went for two weeks as an introduction to sleepaway camp. This summer he is back for four weeks. I remember watching the Sleepaway Camp “Refresh Refresh” video before he left and thinking, there is no way that will be me. Ah, think again.

It’s very strange going from seeing and talking to my child throughout the day, knowing what he ate for breakfast, when he last showered, reminding him to read, knowing how many vegetables he ate that day, texting him from two flights up telling him to come upstairs for bedtime…and then boom. No communication for days and weeks on end. So multiple times each day I refresh the camp’s website where they post pictures to try to catch a glimpse of him.

He went this summer not knowing anyone in his bunk. In the first few pictures he’s got his arms straight down, close to his body, standing next to some boys in that awkward I-don’t-really-know-at-13-years-old-how-to-pose-in-a-picture-with-boys-I barely-know pose. Then all of sudden I notice a picture with his arms wrapped around some boys! Wow, another one with a different group of boys, all arm in arm.

I know I read too much into his appearance in the pictures. Happy picture, happy picture, smiling picture, and then…oh my goodness…the only picture today is him at the camp carnival standing in the background with his hands in his sweatshirt pockets, no smile, and watching other kids doing the activity.

Surely, there must be something bothering him! I wrote him an email and asked him if everything was OK. “So I realize I may be overreacting, but in the one picture I saw of you today, you didn’t exactly look happy. You know if something is bothering you, we are just a phone call away. Of course if I am misinterpreting, then that is great, do not call us.”

He’s written two emails so far and in both he tells us how much he loves his bunk, the counselors, and is having a great time (with many exclamation points). I get to email him each day, but he only writes back once per week. And it’s not like when he actually does get the opportunity to email us that he will actually respond to my 15 rhetorical questions from six days earlier.

My emails are basically like writing in a diary knowing that I will not receive any form of communication back that actually responds to or answers any questions. So I continue on with fine-tuning my picture interpretation skills to figure out how and what he is doing.

I’ve concocted a time-saving scrolling method for getting through the pictures while squinting on my iPhone: See a collection of girl pictures, even if there is one boy in the picture—scroll past fast. See a bunch of pictures of inside activities, i.e., pottery, beading, painting, really any crafty activity—scroll past fast. See pictures on the tennis court, basketball court, soccer field, driving range—whoa! Slow down…he might be in one of these!

Perhaps the camp could make it easier for parents—like send parents an email when appropriate saying, “Your son was off campus today at a tennis tournament, therefore you will NOT see any pictures of him. Go back to your summertime down-one-child activities and come back tomorrow to stalk our website.” Or, how about making it like Facebook and asking the kids each day to tag themselves in the daily pictures so we can zone in on the pictures of our child?

Don’t get me wrong, I really do enjoy looking at all the pictures of fresh-faced, happy-go-lucky, beautiful kids (that I don’t know). The pictures are genuine, pure, and heartwarming. They don’t know what’s going on in the world outside their camp utopia, and that is just the way it should be.

I actually teared up the first time I looked through all the Friday night service pictures. Just to look at a sea of kids all in their “Friday night white shirts” from all across the world (well, mostly the Northeast) all joined in together for Shabbat is emotional. No need to drag him out on a Friday night after a long week at school to meet the services quota needed to become a bar mitzvah. He truly seems to like these services!

This weekend we get to see him for our first Visiting Day experience. I’ve never been away from him for this long before. I really miss him and all his hormonal moody teenage ways. I wonder if his voice changed. Has he surpassed me in height? Has he touched a vegetable since I last saw him? Will I get answers to more pressing questions, such as, has he showered or brushed his teeth in three weeks?

At the very least, I will get a break from the picture scrolling and instead become the picture—one with gleaming eyes and wide grins experiencing the pure joy of reuniting with our sweet happy boy.


Read More:

Electroconvulsive Therapy Saved My Life & Helped Me Be Myself Again

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