Diary of a Dad who Sent his Kid to Sleepaway Camp

by Barrett

Our son is away from home for the very first time, and this is how I’ve been coping over the first few days.

My wife and I dropped our son off at sleepaway camp this week after a three hour drive. He’s twelve, and it’s his first time away from our family (beyond sleepovers with friends). This big step would have likely come earlier if not for the pandemic. But this is the summer. And he was ready for it. The big question is… were we?

No Parenting Responsibilities. Yay!
As I drove home, my wife and I used the time to plan a weekend getaway. We also discussed a variety of activities we could do as a couple during our parental pause. It all seemed positively invigorating.

Then, we got home and our new reality set in.

No Parenting Responsibilities. Boo!
It was so quiet. Everything seemed a bit off without him around the corner. We talked about how our son might be doing after his first day. Did he have everything he needed? Would he quickly make friends? How was he adjusting to his new environment?

We had no information. And that was the plan. This camp is a screen and cellphone-free zone. But in our age of immediate and constant flow of digital communication, it felt really strange that there’s effectively a dome of silence over our son.

But not entirely. There are visual breadcrumbs to follow…

Putting on the Digital Detective Dad Hat
The camp posts photos daily on their website where my wife had already created our parent account.

An industrious camp photographer is snapping away all day and then uploads hundreds of pics the next morning for parents to review. It’s effectively a visual data dump, and it takes some time to go through.

As I reviewed the first group of photos, I spotted our son on the dinner line. Then, there was another photo of our boy eating dinner.

Wait! Who was our son sitting next to? Was that the same boy who was on the dinner line with him in the previous photo? It was!

Okay… That’s good. Maybe that’s a new friend he just made. Hard to really know based on two photos.

The following day, I pulled up the new crop of photos and started searching for our little Lester. (He’s actually not so little anymore.)

No. No. No. Nothing.

Wait… there he is again! He’s walking somewhere. And…
…And he’s walking with that same boy.

I’d definitely say that’s a new friend.

After two days and three photos, I’ve derived the following:

  • Our son is not starving.
  • He’s made at least one new friend.
  • He seems happy enough.

I feel like a digital detective, putting together an entire storyline based on a few visual fragments. But it’s something. And these few clues definitely sooth my parental craving for information.

Do You have an Extra Stamp?
Of course, we’ve also supplied our boy with a stack of pre-stamped envelopes and stationary. The old-school practice of letter writing is still alive and well at summer camps.

But snail mail in 2022? Come on! There must be a faster way!

And there is.

Our camp uses an eLetter system where both parents and campers can effectively email each other. For the kids, it’s actually more of a scan-a-physical letter system where the camper first writes a letter with pen and paper. Then, the letter gets scanned and uploaded.

We received our first eLetter on day three, and it was a fairly lengthy report! He wrote that he missed us (as well as our cat). He was also enjoying himself and gave us some detail on his early experiences.

In short, our lad was doing just fine.

Time to Disconnect?
There’s a certain irony that though we’ve sent our boy to a summer experience that is technology free, I am now glued to the camp’s website each morning.

Perhaps I could also benefit from a few weeks away from glowing screens, keyboards and the constant drip of digital info. A total blackout and disconnection. A cleansing of sorts.

Wait, let me think about that for another moment…


It’s Not Party Time Yet
Our son is away from home for the very first time! I need that digital tether, thin as it may be. Every morsel of information is welcome.

I hear that parents who send their kids to summer camp over multiple years quickly move into a ‘party mode’ mentality during their kid-less weeks.

For me, maybe next week.

For now, I’ve got to review a few hundred camp photos to try to figure out what our son was up to yesterday. And then, I want to write another eLetter to him.

Thank goodness for technology.