At Home with Tech

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Tag: parenting

How my Mother Influenced my Parenting Style

My mom was always there for me. It’s a high bar to match as a parent today. And one might ask if it’s actually too much. Here’s my parenting story for the day. You decide…

I have this memory from when I was a child. I don’t know why it’s lasted. I was twelve years old, and I needed to finish a seemingly insurmountable school project. It was a research paper, and I had left way too much of it to the last night. I was overwhelmed, and I guess I didn’t have the skills to plan it out better.

My Mom Saved the Day
What I remember from this sliver of my past is that my mother stayed up with me past midnight to help me get it all done. She sat at my desk while I did my work on my bed with numerous books surrounding me.

I think my mom was there mostly for moral support, but I do retain whisps of a moment of her going through a particular book, looking for some key information for me to use, and then writing it down on a yellow note pad.

I think I successfully turned in my project the next day, but that’s not what I really remember. It’s my mom helping me out in the middle of the night, when I couldn’t help myself.

Was that good parenting? Was it the right move to create a study group fueled by the organizational power of an adult? Wouldn’t the lesson of failure due to poor time management taught me more at that early age?

But that’s not how my mom was wired. And for better or worse, my wiring is based on that.

Role Reversal
This memory is particularly present, because I recently found myself in a similar situation with our twelve-year-old son. And now I’m the parent.

Our son had a history research project to complete. It was a group video project that he was working on with two other students. And yes, they fell behind. (And I knew with my own understanding of video production what technical challenges they might encounter.)

Fast forward to the night of the deadline… Their video needed to be finished and uploaded by midnight. The three were furiously working together virtually, and they were completely focused. There’s nothing like a looming deadline to keep you going.

Learning Visual Storytelling at an Early Age
A quick aside… I’d like to call out the fact that these seventh graders were editing a 10-minute video, complete with a script, b-roll, VO and music. They had collaborated mostly virtually and built their video project using an online platform.

This blows my mind, because these kids had to figure out how to line up all of the necessary workflows and proper collaboration to get a complex video finished by a challenging deadline. Plus, they needed to lock a narrative and find collective creative alignment.

That’s what I do for a living!!

So yes, I think this was a particularly big lift. These boys were still building their plane as they flew towards midnight.

Finding the Right Level of Parental Support
When our son announced at dinner six hours before the deadline that he would have to work through the night to try to get it all done with his schoolmates, it prompted my flashback to my own homework gauntlet when my mother came to my rescue.

So I told my son that I would stay up with him to help as I could. (No, I didn’t take over the video edit, though a part of me really wanted to offer!) He had his own team to work with. He wasn’t alone, like I was all those years ago.

I was simply there for moral support, and I prepared some late night snacks to help him feel fueled as he burned the midnight oil.

Perfection not Required
I’m happy to report that the team did complete their video, and I was pleased to see my son celebrate their accomplishment, bleary-eyed as he was.

Yes, it was an entirely imperfect process, and the sprint to the finish line contributed to that hard reality. I hope it was a good lesson that will contribute to future improvements in how he tackles these types of challenges.

Flexing a Growing Skillset
The next morning, he premiered his video for me and my wife, and he separately displayed his complex video editing timeline with pride.
His ability to align appropriate imagery and photos to his VO track seemed almost effortless and entirely organic.

I can claim some genetic talent that I’ve passed down, but it’s just my son getting it done using his own talents. Plus, I think it’s an example of his generation growing up with digital technologies. It’s simply second nature to them. Amazing.

No Need to Come to the Rescue
Our son didn’t require our last-minute help. He just needed our support. And I think someone to stay up late in a nearby room.

I camped out on the couch in the family room. And after I brought him his snacks, I actually may have dozed off for a bit. (I had set the alarm on my Apple Watch to ensure I didn’t miss his deadline.)

Remembering my Mother
Sorry, Mom. I know I didn’t have your endurance in this moment. But your grandson, who you never met, didn’t need it. He was just fine as he approached his own finish line.

Thank you for being there for me all of those years ago, because that’s what I needed.

Though I’m thinking a lot about Dad these days, I’ve been thinking about you too.

I miss you.

Why Camp Might Unexpectedly Teach your Kids the Art of Letter Writing

I don’t remember writing letters to my parents when I was a nine year old at sleepaway camp in New Hampshire, though I’m sure I did. (That’s me sailing on the right.) Only now do I realize the impact my letters must have had on my parents. Here’s why.

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?”

“Kind of.”

“Did you make some friends?”


“Uh huh.”

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.

Diary of a Dad who Sent his Kid to Sleepaway Camp

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.

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