Our twelve-year-old son is nearing the end of his first sleepaway camp experience. We think he’s had a great time, though our contact with him has been extremely limited. Yes, we’ve spotted him in some of the photos the camp has been posting on their website for parents.
And his eLetters (scanned physical letters that the camp uploads and emails to us) have painted an overall positive experience.
The first time away from home is a big deal for any kid. It can be hard. It certainly was for me when I was nine and went to sleepaway camp for the first time at Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire. Of course, I got homesick. But I remember having a lot of fun too.
Now, as a parent, I’m obviously on the opposite side of this equation.
Letters from our Son
One unexpected pleasure has been reading his letters. It goes way beyond whether he’s simply happy. (Though that’s important!)
This is actually the first time he’s written physical letters to us. And we’ve really heard his voice about his day through his written words.
And knowing this has been his only conduit to my wife and me, I think he’s treated this analog experience with a previously unrealized sense of importance.
And I wonder if these unexpectedly detailed letters will contain more information and perspective than our early reunion conversations upon his return.
Communicating with a Tween
If you’re a parent of a tween, I think you know what I’m getting at. My questions to our son about his day sometimes receive a one-word response.
It’s entirely possible our first moments after we pick him up from camp will go like this…
I’m driving. He’s in the back seat…
“How was camp?”
“Did you have fun?”
“Did you make some friends?”
On the other hand, he could spend the entire three-hour car ride back telling us about his many adventures. It’s hard to know exactly what to expect.
I know we’ll hear his stories… eventually.
But we’ve already got his letters. And to me… they’re gold.
Discovering the Art of Letter Writing
Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised, but he’s really picked up the art of letter writing. He’s a natural storyteller using the written word. I’ve seen many hints of this through his school work.
But reading my boy’s camp letters has dramatically refocused my point of view on the value of letter writing.
In today’s always-rushed, digital-first world, who’s got time to write a letter? Maybe an email or a quick text. If you’re feeling really ambitious, perhaps a short video message.
That’s all better than nothing. But a real letter that’s crafted from your bare hands… Whoa. How special is that?
Like Father, Like Son?
Across the past decade of writing this blog, I have sometimes been guilty of expressing myself through the written word without ever articulating the same stories with the same detail.
It would seem that on certain topics, I feel more comfortable writing out the stories than verbalizing them with the same clarity.
As I look back across my decade of weekly posts, I think this blog has more than occasionally served as my own letters written home (though of course, I’m communicating to a different audience).
As I expose this self-reflection, I realize my admission brings up a number of issues surrounding the psychology of blog writing (another topic for another day).
For now, I’ll simply draw a parallel between writing a blog and the art of letter writing from camp. The written word can reveal so much.
Tell Me a Story
Of the many growth opportunities a summer camp can offer a child, who knew that writing letters home could so strengthen the storytelling muscle?
Sure, not every camper’s letter will reveal the center of a child’s heart, but if you’re lucky, there will often be details that reveal true feelings.
I expect most parents don’t send their kid to sleepaway camp to learn how to write a good letter, but I’ve realized it’s an added bonus.
This all may be an obvious point, but it’s one that this parent has happily figured out.