The house is quiet, with our soon-to-be sixth grader off at camp. What’s a dad supposed to do?

It’s his first time away this long. We’re not yet a week into the three week camp (!), and it is strange not to know what time he went to bed, or what he had for dinner, or what his mood is. Even as he’s been more independent, living under the same roof you know so much.

I find myself holding my breath, hoping that things are going well, and sifting through clues for information.

Clue one: no letter from him so far. He’s equipped with both old fashioned paper and stamped, addressed envelopes, and also a newfangled kind of e-stationery that he can write a letter and “mail” — it’s scanned and emailed to us, or something. So is no news good news? I hope so. Surely if he were in despair we’d be getting long pleading letters. If he’s too busy to write, he’s involved and having fun, right? Though the mail takes a few days, and… Well it’s inconclusive I think.

Clue two: photos. Camp sends a gallery of images every couple days. They don’t want the kids to feel documented all the time, so there aren’t tons, and with 100 kids, we just see him in a few, but still it’s a glimpse. A shot of his small group, his face enigmatic. It doesn’t help that recently he seems to think it’s cool to scowl for posed photos. In the gym with a basketball; he’s making some kind of big gesture towards the other kids, but his face is turned away from the camera. Then he’s swimming in the river, and has his goggles on. It’s a pleasant shock to realize he’s able to organize his swimming equipment and bathing suit without me. That’s a good sign, and the water is his happy place, and he’s with a group of kids all looking at something, a rock or a leaf or a fish maybe. My heart stops when I find him in an evening shot with a big group of kids, some kind of conga line laughing and blurred, and he’s walking a different way with his football and a totally blank look. Mad? Sad? Bummed that he just missed a catch?


The deeper I sink into long-distance micromanaging my son’s camp experience, the funkier I feel. I do understand that I’m not there, and he’s not here, and all this twirling won’t do anything. And the more I worry through the evidence, the the less clear I am what I’m looking for. Of course I want him to have an amazing time, to make friends, learn about farming and cooking and nature. Get a taste of a diverse, Jewish, community-minded place where kindness counts. I want him to learn about himself, and enjoy his independence.

But does that always look like radiant, laughing joy? Is he allowed an off day, a bad mood, heartbreak? Could camp, for all my hopes for it, turn out to be “meh”? Is my son allowed his own opinion?

I can worry and I can weep, but my child has to go into the world every day and face it. For years my job has been to be there much of the time, but that job is changing. It seems right now I have to be here for him, waiting to get the letters if they come, listen to his stories about camp after he comes home, help out if he needs it. But I have to let him have his own life and his own experiences.

Both my kids are on their way to the people they’re going to be. They still need us. But they also need some freedom from what I hope and dream.

I sit on the patio and look at the palm tree I planted when we first moved in, before kids. It’s growing large, and powerful, making its way up and out. I’m part of its story, but the story will continue even when I’m not here to see it, and that’s as it should be.