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I am not a helicopter parent, but when my son went away to camp, it took less than 24 hours for me to become his stalker.
For the 13-and-half years that I have been a mother, I have maintained certain boundaries. When my children were little, I encouraged them to feed themselves and pick out their own clothes. As they grew, I asked them about school projects but helped only if absolutely necessary; I do not do their homework for them. That online parent-portal at school? I check it every couple of weeks, scan the grades, log off. Maybe I ask my son a question about a grade or two. But he wants to be in charge of getting his work done, and as long as he’s doing well, that’s fine with me. I respect his desire for independence.
This summer, all that changed.
I knew that this was the beginning: the first of the departures, the top of the downslope of the curve of raising a child.
I had prepared myself, as much as a parent can, for his absence. I knew that this was the beginning: the first of the departures, the top of the downslope of the curve of raising a child, when, after so many years of closeness, one must begin to let go.
Knowing that my son was ready for this step helped. But as he vanished into a vortex of boys in a worn, ping pong table-filled room, forgetting even to say to goodbye to his father, his sister and me, a mixture of pride and a feeling of, “Get back here, you fink,” made it necessary for me to hug him—in public—then retreat as quickly as possible.
The camp took the kids’ phones away from them until the first Friday afternoon, and I steeled myself for no word from my son for almost a week—the longest I’d ever gone without talking to him. I resolved to busy myself with other tasks, including spending an unusually large amount of focused time with my 10-year-old daughter. This was going to be good for everyone.
But I didn’t count on the camp’s live blog.
The morning following drop-off, I checked the blog, just to see what it was about. It turned out camp staff updated it throughout the day with photographs from various classes and activities. I discovered that if I examined each photo, I could catch glimpses of my son. I could see, in almost real time, that he: a) was still alive; b) looked to be reasonably healthy; c) seemed to be wearing clean clothes; d) was, if not always smiling, engaged in the activity of the moment; and e) wasn’t wearing his mouth guard while playing flag football.
This was fantastic! I couldn’t talk to my son, but I could see what he was doing. I could decode his state of being. I could be there without interfering; he wouldn’t even know. Independence for him, knowledge for me. Brilliance! Perfection!
A stalker was born.
I began to check the blog occasionally frequently all day long. I now keep the blog open on my laptop, and refresh the window when I’m taking a break from working or whenever I feel like looking, which is often. The site is bookmarked on my phone, so I can check in when away from my house. If a day goes by without a photo of my son appearing on the site, I feel a palpable disappointment.
Am I dismayed by my own behavior? I was, a little, until my husband and friends whose son attends a different camp confessed to the same obsessive behavior.
What is it about camp live blogs that turns us into our children’s stalkers? We parents who have tried so hard, for so long, to teach our children responsibility so that they could claim their independence when they are ready. How is it that, given the opportunity, we immediately swoop in and observe them as closely as possible the first chance we get?
[Our children] are their own people, and summer camp is a warm-up for our future as much as it is for theirs.
Part of the truth is that what we are seeing is both controlled and limited. What we see posted on these blogs are snapshots of activities, glimpses of our kids in public moments. We don’t observe the off-camera interactions that make up the bulk of their days.
The harder part of the truth is about us, their parents. Our children leave us for the first time (or the second, or fourth), and we find that we have carved pieces of ourselves from us and sent them away. We begin to confront for a few weeks what we’ve always known: that these components of our lives do not belong to us. We take them out, set them on course, push them forward, and turn and walk away. Now they will come back, but eventually, they won’t. They are their own people, and summer camp is a warm-up for our future as much as it is for theirs.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s taken me a while to write this. I need to check the camp blog.