"Hello Muddah! Hello Faddah! Here I am, at camp Granada," begins the wonderful 1960s spoof song by Allan Sherman. As anyone of a certain age knows, Sherman's lyrics go on to "recount" to his parents his experiences at camp, including alligators in the lake, bouts of ptomaine poisoning and malaria in his bunkmates, and more before he begs to come home. In the end, of course, he sees the guys are having fun after all and asks his parents to "kindly disregard this leddah!"
Flash forward to summertime several decades after Sherman's day, and in our new age of over-involved parenting and constantly connected technologies like "texting," it's not the kids who are getting homesick, it's the parents who get "kids sick."
Nancy Gibbs looked at this trend in a recent Time magazine essay. She notes that a survey by the American Camping Association found that 3 of 4 camps require kids leave their electronic devices behind. (Though that means 25 percent don't!) In any event, Gibbs says that resistance to the "no gizmos" policy often comes from parents, with reports of some moms and dads packing their kids off to camp with two cell phones, one to dutifully turn over to camp counselors as required, the other to secretly continue "texting" mom and dad!
Many parents, Gibbs writes, ask camp directors why they can't watch their kids on webcams, and in fact, many camps post daily pictures online of all the little campers. One problem? Mom often wants to know why her little darling looks like he's not having a good time.
Rick Pearson, a camp director in Missouri, told Martha Irvine of the Kansas City Star, who wrote about the same trend, that these days, "parents suffer more than the kids by at least 10-1."
Well, I'm not suffering. Three of my four kids leave for camp this weekend for two weeks. They will have a great time, and with only one left at home, "littlest little" as I call her, it will feel like I'm free as a bird. I've got closets to clean, friends to see and tons of work to do and organize.
Will I miss the others, who can only communicate with me by handwritten letter? (This is the older ones' third summer at camp, so I know I'll get several letters from my girls, roughly zero from my son.) Well, it depends on how one defines "miss." Of course I love my kids and, in fact, I quite often like being around them. But there are plenty of times when my children drive me, and each other, crazy.
Can one even say that in this overwrought parenting age, or is such an admission politically incorrect?
Anyway, there's no doubt they will benefit from navigating the world around them without me for a little while. Literally. My 14-year-old son, who will be traveling by himself, has to change planes in Denver on his way to camp. I've actually had several people ask me if I am having him officially accompanied by an airline. Are you kidding me? Hello, he is 14! The kid will be driving in two years. He'd better darn well be able to change planes on his own now without ending up in Australia.
Sure, I'll worry. Water always makes me nervous, one of my daughters is allergic to bee stings, and yes, I'll be happy to know my son made the right plane.
But I worry more about raising resilient kids who can confidently engage with their world. Kids who wouldn't dare, for instance, to someday text me from college to talk to a professor for them about a grade, as is apparently all too common now.Yes, I want to give my children good "roots." But I think it's every bit as important to give them strong "wings." Maybe, just maybe, that starts without me having any webcam access to their summer camps.
Betsy Hart hosts the "It Takes a Parent" radio show on WYLL-AM 1160 in Chicago. Reach her through betsysblog.com.