You’ve got mail.

camp letter

I’m cuddling on my bed with my girls, pens and envelopes strewn about the covers as I teach them how to address an envelope. I’m also trying to explain the difference between email and mail and why we need a stamp in the first place and why it costs $.49 to send a letter that could be free if we just used email already, besides, isn’t that faster?

“There’s no email at camp, sweetie.” 

I don’t know why the image of her 9-year-old hands carefully printing addresses of grandparents, friends–me–felt so emotional but the catch in my throat was significant enough that I didn’t dare speak until I knew I could do so without crying.

Learning how to address an envelope is one of those milestones you never read about in the baby books, but it’s so profound. It’s a child’s ability to communicate entirely without you.

The girls are off to sleep away camp for the first time, but it’s not a long time. They have each other, and another friend too. They’ve visited the camp and already think they know just which bunk beds will be theirs. (Fat chance.) They have talked excitedly for weeks about the lake and the archery and the horseback riding and the singing and the campfires, with Sage asking questions like “What if I hate all the food?” And “What if we don’t get the top bunk?” and “Are you sure the dress-up closet will be open?”

Whichever bed they get, they will live. If Sage eats nothing but bread and peanut butter all week, she will live. Same as I did.

Of course there are Twizzlers too. For the first time in my life, I managed to do something as proactive as drop the requisite care package at the post office in time for them to actually receive it before they leave. Tucking in the Mad Libs was the strangest part; 30-something years since my own camp experience, and the goodies we eagerly tear into on mail delivery days have changed very little.

What has changed is email. But there will be none of that.

As we put the last pre-addressed envelope back into the stationary box and closed it up, I realized this will be the first time I will have gone a whole week without speaking to them. I’ve hardly gone a single day without speaking to them, even when I travel abroad, even when they visit with other relatives. However for the next week, I have to live by the “no news is good news” theory of phone calls; holding my breath until next Saturday morning when I race back to the camp to see how they’ve grown, how they’ve matured, whether Sage has figured out how to get shampoo out of her hair by herself, whether they’ve made their beds each day, whether they got the suntan lotion on right, whether they leave with camp journals full of the names and numbers of new friends they may know for life.

But mostly, how they’ve grown.

I hope some of the letters we addressed make it out of the box and into the hands of the friendly local postal carrier. Selfishly, I hope the first one is to me.


19 thoughts on “You’ve got mail.”

  1. I wouldn’t worry about that shampoo thing—if you went to sleep-away camp at that age, you know as well as I do that they won’t shower the whole time. (“I went swimming every day! I’m plenty clean!”) 😀

  2. It’s always the most simple moments that we don’t expect to be moved by that are the most emotionally weighted.

    Beautiful and sweet imagery about addressing an envelope.

    1. Perfectly said. I thought packing would be emotional. No, I hated packing. But addressing envelopes? Oof, my heart.

  3. You are sending your kids to camp for the first time! I remember that so well! It will feel like forever and a minute at the same time. I’m moving my son to New York on Tuesday and am feeling the same way — excited and scared and nostalgic and sad — and excited to see how much he grows.

  4. I’m a few years from this, but I’m glad that there at least some summer camps that haven’t updated to letting kids send emails and videos home.

    As much as I’m sure I will long for constant updates when my kids go off to camp, I like to think that part of what they will learn there is that it is possible to survive without the Internet.

    1. One of the things I liked about it was how rustic and traditional it is; no phones, no iPods, and because the website is a little dated, “No Gameboys.”

      1. My kids left for camp yesterday too–the list of not allowed items included “walkmans” and “pagers”, which of course completely stumped them. Hilarious

  5. My kids have been writing a lot of letters lately (mostly to earn screen time marbles), and it’s amazing to see how touched people still are by real letters in the mail. My son has an actual correspondence going with his great uncle in Florida, and his grandmother in Oregon wrote to say his recent letters are the nicest she’s ever received. I’ve gotten a few myself at work, one of which even said “Write back!” which amused me to no end since I’d see him when I got home. But they are wonderful, and I love them, and I wish more people (myself included) too the time to write real letters.

    I hope your girls are able to use this opportunity to discover what is special about it, too.

    (Sorry you will miss them! I’m sure they will have a wonderful time.)

    1. I love the idea of connecting it with the screen time marbles. Damn, why didn’t I think of that?

      And yes…miss them terribly.

  6. My 8 year old just returned from his first 2 week camp experience (I never went as a kid). We loved getting mail from him and incented him financially to send us letters (among other things). But I think we went a little wrong because he sent us 3 letters on his very first day, each one shorter than the last. One letter said “This is my 3rd letter. Love, Josh.” I’m pretty sure that he didn’t understand each stamp cost 49 cents.

    He had a great experience at camp and wants to go back next year (yay!). I also went with the “no news is good news” theory. It’s really all we have.

    1. That is the best thing ever. I’m eagerly awaiting the first letter…will let you know how many words it is!

  7. Oh no! Was I supposed to help her address the envelope? I made her a printed list and gave her a box of cards/envelopes.

    (She just left today. First time ever, only 10 days.)

    Also, you remind me that I need to mail another postcard…

  8. Oh, our parallel lives!!! I also have girls 9 and 7…and they were at sleepaway camp last week. It was my 9 yr old’s second time, my 7 yr old’s first time. And this is the first time they have both been gone for more than 3 days…and that was grandma’s house. My house was so quiet!!! Our camp is fancy, we can send email and they post pictures…like 800 pictures a day only available to parents…and the email arrives like snail mail. I addressed their letters home, and even incentivized them while at camp (via email) to take pictures with each other…their cousins…their counselors…etc. Only my 7 yr old managed to do one of those things. 🙁 And I got one letter from each of them…slackers. I hope you fair better, Liz!

    Hope your girls have an outstanding time!

  9. I left my 9 year old to address his envelopes at the kitchen counter, copying them from a list his aunt made. He’s fairly astute, pays attention, that sort of thing. The 8 year old, not so much.

    When I came back, the first address was basically written like a long sentence.

    Hope the girls are having a GRAND time at camp, and that you’ve heard from them!! I’m anxiously awaiting correspondence, and may or may not be stalking the website for photos…

  10. Can they write me?

    Savor every word you may receive. Even if it is “Camp is really fun.” I still have all of the boys’ early letters from camp–– when they still wrote mom.

    Because these days – I get stuggots.

    Hope you enjoyed your time.

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