One of the few visceral memories I have from my days at Camp Hillcroft was the time I received a long letter from my father, in which he spoke to me as if I were already much more grown up than I felt. I don’t remember the actual words or content of what he wrote, only that it made me feel special and loved and very, very close to him.
I believe some of his thoughts were about how much I prattled on about the boys at camp, and how he was worried that such trivial thoughts would trample my intellectual acumen and even more importantly, get me hurt. He was and is a quiet philosopher, my father, even though, as anyone who knows him knows, he couches it in biting sarcasm and quotidian wit. But underneath it all, he is a deep thinker who deeply loves and cares about those few people he lets into his life.
I’ve been thinking about that letter, long lost in the detritus of many moves, as I write to my almost-12-year-old son at camp this summer. This is his third summer, and his longest stint yet – he will be away from home for six weeks.
We are into Week Three, and to date I have sent him one letter that was mailed in time to be there when he arrived, one letter right before I left for an overseas trip, one postcard from said overseas trip, and another letter just today. None of the letters I sent were deep or meaningful. They were newsy, breezy. All the experts tell you not to tell your child you miss them when you write to them – and the fact is, I don’t. Not really. As I tell my family anytime I go on a work trip, I don’t miss anyone for the first week. Then, in the second week, I start to get a little ache.
Now that we’re in the third week, I definitely feel the lack of his presence, but I am still enjoying the quiet. And I get to see him in another week and a half at visiting day, where we will regale him with Chipotle and maybe a few contraband comic books or some such goodies to leave behind with him.
Anyway, back to the letters. There’s a part of me that knows that a profound letter, such as the one my father wrote to me, is probably not the right tone for any of my children. None of them are the kind of kid I was – broody, poetic, melodramatic and insecure. And a reader. Oh, how I read. Books were my friends for my relatively happy childhood, my stormy adolescence and my long journey into adulthood.
But my children are cut from a different cloth. They’re not readers. They’re not particularly romantic thinkers. I don’t think they would relate to such a letter. Better to stick with the news from home wrapped up in x’s and o’s (hugs and kisses) from mom.
As for the frequency of my letters, I am feeling both a little guilty and a little liberated this year. During my son’s first two years at camp, I felt compelled to write regularly – at least twice a week. Writing hand-written letters (which for some reason seem de rigueur) is hard for me. I have carpal tunnel syndrome and terrible handwriting, and it literally hurts for me to write. So I have kept my notes short and sweet. But for those first two years it felt like I would be committing some terrible act if I didn’t write often and remind him of home.
This year I am taking a different tack. Even though a close friend recently told me that she writes to her son every day (“isn’t that what we’re supposed to do?”), I have decided that both he and I could use a little break. I tried to justify it by telling myself that receiving fewer letters makes them more special, and maybe that’s true. But the fact is I just don’t feel a need to connect with him as much, nor am I the slightest bit worried about him.
Many other sleep away camps post hundreds of pictures of their campers everyday and my friends who have kids at those camps spend hours scanning the albums looking for a shot or two of their child or children. But our camp refuses to do this. We might see five pics a week on the camp’s Facebook page, if the counselors (who basically run the place) remember to post. As a result, since I am not constantly searching for my child’s smiling face, I am, in a counterintuitive sort of way, much less focused on him and less worried about his welfare.
So again, back to the letters. There is nothing more wonderful than sitting down with a great letter from someone you love when you are away from the familiar. My friends and I used to write each other letters by the score when I was in camp, away in college, and away on my first overseas trip while studying abroad (my then-boyfriend even sent me several joints while I was in France, tucked into a love letter – ooh la la.)
So I hope that my sweet son is enjoying my letters, and the letters that his dad is sending, and that hopefully other extended members of his loving family are sending as well (no pressure, guys.) They are probably not like the memorable letter I had from my dad so many years ago, and that’s ok.
We still have time for the big one – the letter I write to him … or his brother or sister ... when they leave home, and I spill my heart out to them with advice, deep thoughts and hugs. In the meantime, there’s much to tell about the fireflies in the backyard, his sister’s sports camps and the National’s record in baseball. This is the stuff that life … and love … is made of, after all.
photo by Muffet via Flickr