By Hollee Actman Becker
So it’s the last week of June.
Otherwise known as the time of year when parents across the country drive to various makeshift bus stops, hug their kids goodbye while hiding behind dark glasses, release them to make the climb up onto the air conditioned chartered buses that ironically advertise free wi-fi, then wave maniacally at their shadows — barely visible behind blackened windows — yelling “goodbye!” and “I love you!” and “you better freaking write!” until the very last bus has inched out onto the highway and disappeared from sight.
Only then will they be free to swipe away the stray tears, sigh at the anti-climactic-ness of it all, and then celebrate their long-awaited Summer! Of! Freedom! by running home to glue themselves to their computer screens and hit the refresh button every two seconds while guzzling glass after glass of wine.
If you have to ask why these parents are engaging in this type of behavior then you’ve clearly never sent your kid off to sleep-away camp for seven weeks.
And if your jaw just dropped at the phrase “seven weeks,” then you are clearly not from the Northeast.
Because the reason they — OK, let’s be honest here… we — attach ourselves to our iPads and our laptops and any other freaking device that will let us log onto Bunk1 or CampMinder or whatever website our camp happens to be using this summer is because we are all desperately hoping to catch a glimpse of our happy little campers — emphasis on the word happy — when each of our camps starts posting THE PICTURES.
And if there was ever a phrase worthy of utilizing the All Caps button it’s that one.
Because only when we see that first grainy image of our child smiling as they jump into the lake… or swing a bat… or kick a ball.. .or get a piggyback ride from some random nineteen-year-old who they may or may not have just met two minutes ago…Only then do we allow ourselves to breathe a collective sigh of relief, fork over the $1.69 to download the high-res image, and then finally just chill the eff out and relax.
At least for five seconds until we hit the refresh button again.
Anybody else here see the irony of confiscating your kids’ electronics and sending them off into a wi-fi free zone, only to spend the summer obsessed with electronics yourself?
Do you know how many mornings last summer I woke up to find an empty wine glass on my night table and an iPad on my pillow?
All of them.
But here’s the thing.
These are our children we are talking about here. And these images we see on our computer screens are our only lifeline to them.
So — and stop me if any of this sounds familiar — we spend our entire summer waiting to see THE PICTURES.
Talking about THE PICTURES. And — full disclosure — meticulously over-analyzing every single little detail about the freaking pictures.
Wait. Why isn’t my kid smiling? Is that a smile? And why is he standing all the way over there on the end? Why isn’t he in the middle like that kid there with all the freckles? Who is that kid with all the freckles anyway? I bet he’s mean. He looks mean. How come everyone in the bunk is holding hands and my daughter is holding a freaking water bottle? Does she not have any friends? Who’s bathing suit is she wearing? She looks skinny. Is she eating? She better be eating! And is that a sunburn?
Guilty as charged.
Last summer I made myself crazy studying the pictures.
Seriously freaking crazy.
You expected more from me.
Like, way more.
Sorry to disappoint.
I know it sounds insane.
Like, really insane.
And it so is.
But while I’m far from a helicopter parent in my everyday life, it’s really freaking hard not become just a little certifiable when you’re stuck at home sending one-way emails, and the only clue you have to your child’s well-being is an image that’s left you feeling at best unsettled and at worst suicidal and why didn’t you just sneak that damn cell phone into you kid’s laundry bag when you had the chance?
Here’s the thing, though.
I learned the hard way that the pictures don’t always tell the whole story. And sometimes the story you think you are watching unfold right before your very eyes all summer is not actually the real story at all.
The girl you thought looked mean turns out to be the bunk sweetheart. The boy with the hugest grin in every picture cried for an hour every night. The counselor who was always standing off to the side with a grimace turns out to be your kid’s favorite.
You get the idea.
But the most important thing to remember — and, catch 22, the hardest thing to remember — is that your kid can be having the craziest, most amazeballs summer at camp, YOLO-ing it up every minute, even if there isn’t a shred of photographic proof.
You don’t believe me, do you?
Think back to your wedding video for a second.
Who are the people the videographer ambushed and shoved his microphone in front of? Are they your awesome BFFs who were busy shredding up the dance floor? Or are they the guests who were just sitting at the tables, hanging out on the periphery, watching the action from afar, and therefore the easiest to approach?
My guess is, it’s the latter.
And my point — because I know you must be wondering if I actually have one— is this: Just because the videographer didn’t capture your closest friends on camera wishing you their slurred-yet-heartfelt congratulations, it doesn’t mean they weren’t there having the time of their lives.
And now it’s my turn to tell you a story.
Are you ready?
Here we go.
One day last summer about 50 pics went up on the camp website of my daughter’s bunk at the waterfront.
She was not in a single one of them.
So I start immediately freaking out.
Judge away but you know you’d do it too.
Here are all these girls smiling and laughing and jumping in the air holding hands.
And where the fuck is my kid?
So then a week later we’re up at camp for Visiting Day.
Which is a story in and of itself that you should remind me to tell you later.
So we’re at Visiting Day.
And we go on a family boat ride.
And my daughter starts to tell us a story.
About how there was this one day when her bunk went to the waterfront with another bunk in her division.
And how it was sooo cool because she got to go out in a canoe with two of the girls from the other bunk.
And omigod do you know what happened when they went out in that canoe?
They got stuck in the mud.
Like stuck stuck.
And someone from the waterfront had to come rescue them!
And it was awesome!
Like, soooo totally hilarious that the girls literally peed in their bathing suits.
I swear I’m not making this up.
So after visiting day I swallowed about a billion milligrams of Valium and then went home and pulled up that set of waterfront pics on the camp website again.
But this time I zoomed in on them on my iPad (great trick, btw… remember it).
And there she was — my kid, my heart, my home — way off in the background.
In a canoe.
Stuck in the mud.
With two other girls.
Laughing her freaking ass off.
Moral of the story?
You know what’s coming, don’t you?
Step away from the freaking computer.
Just step. The hell. Away.
At least until they upload the next batch of pictures.
Hollee Actman Becker is a freelance writer and blogger who explores parenting and pop culture on her blog suburBABBLE.com. Her writing has also been featured in publications like Self, Cosmo, The New York Post, Ocean Drive, Lucky, TheKnot and Philadelphia magazine. She lives in the Philly suburbs with her husband, two kids and their dog, Mickey Jagger. They also have a white picket fence. OK, that’s a lie. Go find her on Twitter here: @holleewoodworld.