Writing letters to your kids at camp is weird. Photo illustration by Juliana Jiménez Jaramillo. Last week we dropped my two sons kids camp letters at their first overnight camp.
They will spend almost a month there, and we will be here, at home, feeling weird about things. Dahlia Lithwick writes about the courts and the law for Slate and hosts the podcast Amicus. Did you put it in the hamper? For most of us, the days when people wrote long, thoughtful letters to their children have long gone. They have been replaced by the terse Post-it note in the lunch.
These are often accompanied, in our case, by stick drawings of things that look like me but with Funyuns for hair. Unless you’ve been penning elaborate Tolstoyan missives for years, it is extra-difficult when you have to start abruptly in the middle of the relationship, with long, reflective musings to the people you love most in the world but have never written to, and don’t really know how to talk to in print. So my first efforts were indisputably lame. Mommy loves you but is incapable of expressing that in print! All the advice I had read about camp letters suggests that you should not talk about feelings, ask multiple pointed and specific questions, and be relentless. So it’s a bit like being a CIA interrogator, but with a return address.
A friend described how he wrote letters to his kid at camp from the dog, so I wrote one that was ostensibly from my cat. I hadn’t yet written a single good letter. I hadn’t penned a single authentic or interesting line, and the pressure was becoming intolerable. But he lost me at mosquitoes. And part of me didn’t want to send lists.
We live almost exclusively in lists. I wanted to write not-lists to my kids. Don’t answer this letter for years. On the fifth day that my children were gone, I decided to defer these painful questions of parental tone and wisdom by simply sending stuff. This produced a kind of potlatch performance—stuffed animals and fake nose-and-glasses combinations and mini-kites and disposable cameras. And on the sixth day I rested.
It’s just clickbait And annoys, Having fun, we’ll see you soon, With love, Your Boys! The breakthrough came on Day 7, which is today, on which I realized that the challenge in writing a letter to your kid lies not in mediating between Vonnegut and Sexton, or between your kid and yourself, or even—truth be told—between Joycean literature and the do-this-do-that voice. Last year, my eight year-old son went to summer camp. It was the first time he had been away from home for more than a night.
An hour after I dropped him off, I missed him. By the time I went to bed, I found myself wandering into his bedroom, just to feel close to him. As the days passed, I wrote to him daily. Each hour dragged as I’d wait for the mailman, hoping for just one letter from him. By that point I missed him so much, I began to imagine what he might write.
Thank you so much for letting me go to camp. I have learned so many cool things, like how to take a fish off the hook, tie sailing knots, and how to groom a horse. I’ve been out on the lake a lot, so it’s really come in handy. I’ve been drinking tons of water since it’s so hot. I do listen to all your good advice.
The other boys in my cabin are really smart and nice. I’m making lifelong friends I will cherish forever. We’ve had fun learning camp songs, playing cards, and catching frogs in our free time. During quiet time, I read the book you sent along.