I’ve been getting a lot of funny e-mails lately about parents of sleep away campers. There’s a blog post on suburbbabble.com, there’s an Edge City comic strip, and there’s an xtranormal cartoon collecting hits on YouTube.
They’re all different mediums, but they all deal with the same thing: the obsessive way in which parents of kids at sleep away camp pore over the pictures that are put up on the camp websites each day.
If you have a kid at camp, you already know what I’m talking about. If you don’t, I’ll briefly explain. Every camp employs a photographer to walk around all day, taking pictures of as many kids as possible. At somewhat random times throughout the day and evening, the camp then uploads these pictures to a website. In theory, this is a fantastic tool: parents can look at pictures of their smiling children and see that they are having fun. In practice, it’s become more like a dangerous weapon: parents stalk the website all day long, obsessing over their child’s every facial expression, and whether they do or do not have their arm around the kid next to them.
Back in the day, when I went to camp, there was no Internet, no e-mail (one way or otherwise), no pictures, no camp newsletter sent to your inbox everyday. It was radio silence. You put your kid on a bus and you forgot about them for the next eight weeks. You knew they were having fun if you didn’t get any letters from them, because only the homesick kids actually wrote letters to their parents. Frankly, I can’t imagine it. I think I’d go insane without the pictures and the newsletter and the ability to e-mail her, even if she can’t e-mail me back. I mean, at least this way, I know what she’s doing every day. At least I have some way to share in this experience with her.
Among my friends who have kids at sleep away camp, looking at pictures online has become something of a sport. One of my friends told me she waits to look at them until night time, when she sits down with a glass of wine and sifts through the pictures. But more common are the parents (myself included), who stay logged into the site all day long, hitting the refresh button every few minutes to see if anything new has gone up. (In the YouTube video, one of the cartoon moms walks around saying ‘Refresh. Refresh, refresh, refresh,’ in between sentences, prompting her friend to ask if she has a tic or something).
Most of the time, it’s the same pictures that were there five seconds ago. But twice a day you hit pay dirt: a fresh set of pictures from the last activity that took place at camp. And once they’re up, you’re faced with the task of looking through hundreds of pictures, trying to find your kid. Is that her, in the back of the pool, behind that other kid? I think it is, those look like her swim goggles. Is that him, running across the soccer field in a blur? Looks like the shin guards we bought right before he left.
Every now and then, though, you get lucky, and you get a posed picture or two of your kid with her friends. And these are the pictures that can make or break your day. If she’s in the middle of the pack, smiling, I feel like all is right with the world. But if she’s off to the side, or if she’s frowning, or if there’s a picture of the girls who I know are her best friends but she’s not in it…that’s when the panic sets in. You start to wonder, why isn’t she in the middle of the pack? Why is she not smiling? Why are her friends doing something without her? And your imagination begins to run wild with negative thoughts.
The blog post on suburbbabble.com gives a great example of this: there were fifty pictures of the writer’s daughter’s bunkmates at the lake, but her daughter wasn’t in any of them. After frantically worrying, she learned on visiting day that her daughter had been stuck in the mud in a canoe with girls from another bunk, LHFAO. Moral of her blog post: every picture doesn’t always tell the whole story.
I don’t know. Maybe it was better the old school way, when you sent your kid to camp and you didn’t get to share in the experience at all. Maybe that was kind of the point. But whatever. The world has changed. We have all of this technology, and we have needy parents who want their kids to experience the independence of camp but who can’t handle not being a part of their kids lives. So why not put them together in the form of online camp pictures? It’s like that old Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups commercial, when the chocolate and the peanut butter accidentally combine. Sure, they were fine the old way, but isn’t it so much more indulgent to put them together?
Of course, I understand the point of the blog post and the comic strip and the video. I’m driving myself crazy with these pictures. I’m extrapolating my kid’s entire summer camp experience based on a single moment of a single activity from a each single day. I’m totally ridiculous. But come on. I’m a mom, in 2013. My kid is at sleep away camp for seven weeks. Does anybody really think that a blog post or a video or a comic strip is going to stop me from obsessing over the pictures of her? Please. Refresh. Refresh, refresh, refresh.