Memo to Kids at Camp: Don’t Call Me! — Love, Mom

Hi Readers — Here’s a seasonal little post from Judy Gruen, the award-winning author of three humor books, including The Women’s Daily Irony Supplement. She has also just won an award for her humor columns on from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. Read more of her work on


In most ways I’m a classic Jewish mother. If I’m cold, I tell my kids to put on sweaters. I make chicken soup on Friday nights. (It’s good and good for you!) I worry more than I should. But I depart from the stereotypes in one significant way: I really am not interested in hearing from my kids every day when they are away at camp on the other side of the country.

And yet, they call. They call from the bus to tell me they are on the way back from the water park, but the reception is patchy up in the mountains and usually the call breaks up, requiring several more calls to complete the message. They call to say that while the showers are flooding the bunks, they are still having a great time. They call to tell me about the successful outing to Wal-Mart to get fly swatters and candy.

Look, I’ll match my maternal love for my kids any day with any other mother on the planet. My kids are fabulous, smart, and even good-looking (objectively speaking). I am enormously grateful to be their mom. But I had thought that going away to camp meant going away.  I.e., that my urban kids would revel in the freedom of being in the great outdoors, parent-free for one month. Meanwhile, we parents could learn to cope in a small, measured dose with an empty nest.

And unlike when the kids are home in Los Angeles, where I do worry when they are out too late, I am blissfully worry-free when my kids are at camp — until they call me at midnight from the bus somewhere in the Catskills Mountains. Then I think: They’re on a dark and windy mountain road! Is the driver responsible, cautious, and still alert at this hour? When they call to report on the bug problem, I think: West Nile virus! Are they using the bug spray I packed? Ignorance is bliss, and I wish I weren’t always so well informed.

Moreover, it turns out I am also expected to email my daughter several times a week. I had thought I was doing something special by writing her a real note card that had to be mailed with a stamp, but this didn’t rate. “All the other parents” are busy emailing their campers, and so must I. God knows what damage I might do to my child if she doesn’t hear from me electronically every 48 hours. Talk about pressure!

The good news is, I absolutely must find something fun to do all by myself, not because I’m bored — just because this way I’ll have something worth sharing on the next phone call.

23 Responses

  1. Sounds like how it’s going to be with my kids – my daughter more than my son. She tries to tell me how the littlest things are going and I’m in the same room with her!

    If they’re ever off to camp (and I hope they will be eventually), I hope for the same thing this mother hoped for… peace and quiet while they have a good time!

  2. I sent my son off to Philmont Scout Ranch last Thursday for a 2-week backpacking trip. Get this… no electronics allowed. Yay! I will get to hear all about his hair-raising adventures when the bus drops him off next Thursday. Assuming he survives. 😉

  3. As they get older it continues. My 23 year old who lives 50 miles from me calls me daily w/those same things. It seems to be that when she gets on the freeway she thinks of me. Bluetooth or not, get off the phone!!! But she has stuff she wants to share or vent. I get in & out blow by blow traffic info and description of other drivers. My college student, also away from home calls as she is walking to class, between classes & to kvetch about everything. As much as it frustrates me because I want them to be independent yet. . . . They want to share w/me and not close me out of their lives. oops, just got a text from one, she must be at work, or in class. I love technology. Thanks for the chuckle, and could I relate.

  4. So different. When I went to Japan as an exchange student (I was there 8 weeks when I was 14) they actually discouraged us from phone calls and too much correspondence so that we didn’t get homesick. We stuck with that, messaged each other once or twice and exchanged a few emails, but who now would think that talking to your loved ones LESS in this case, can actually help you to not be overcome with missing them? (I’m 23 now, so granted this wasn’t THAT long ago. My exchange was also through 4-H, however, so I imagine they hold a less helicopter view)

  5. Funny. My teenage daughter is in Montreal on a student exchange for six weeks and when I see that she’s online at the same time as me I use all my restraint not to open the chat box. We have chatted a few times but I’ve kept it short. I think it’s best for both of us. I love the idea that my kid from a smallish city is navigating Montreal by herself daily but I don’t always want the details. Her Twitter updates give me all the info I need, like: Just. had. the best. poutine. ever!!!!

    My son is 20 and moved out 2 months ago. The first couple of weeks he kept calling daily and I was wondering if he had actually moved out. He’s down to about once a week now and I enjoy thinking of him between calls instead of wondering what the heck he needs now.

    But I agree with Laurie. I love that they still want to talk to me and share funny bits of their days.

  6. Nice post, and a very interesting site. I just wrote about sending my daughter off to overnight camp for the first time here.

    I am encouraged to know that we are not the only parents out there who think that the world has gone a little nuts by trying to overprotect our kids.

    Keep up the good work!

  7. I worked at a wonderful girls’ camp in the North Carolina mountains while I was in college. Campers were there for at least two weeks, although some stayed for four, six, or even eight weeks. Except in extreme circumstances, the girls were not allowed to call home if they were only 2-week campers. Kids who stayed longer were allowed one phone call every two weeks. They were encouraged to write home (on paper, no email) every day during rest hour, and most of the girls did.

    I really think the lack of contact with parents helped them get over homesickness quickly–they had to adapt and immerse themselves in camp life. It didn’t hurt that the counselors took good care of all of the kids, but I know it helped each girl become much more independent and confident. I can’t wait until I can send my kids there.

  8. My 8 year old daughter recently went to Girl Scout camp for a week, and she was not allowed to call us–fine by me, I’m sure she was fine. Her friend’s parents were aghast at my apathy towards having no contact with my daughter. They simply couldn’t imagine not calling for a week!

  9. When I went to girl scout camp (which was, admittedly, pre-cell phone) we weren’t allowed to use the phone at the camp to call home for anything barring emergencies. Homesickness was NOT an emergency. In all the years I went there, I don’t know of anyone who even wanted to call home when we were there. I loved that time away where I was a little more independent than I was at home, and I know my parents loved the peace and quiet.

    When I first moved out on my own after college I did once call my parents on the morning of a pretty bad snowstorm to ask how bad it had to be snowing for it to be reasonable to call in to work. They laughed themselves silly that I had called for that reason. 🙂

    Now that I’m all grown up (hah!) with my own kids (21 months and 3.5) I do talk to my mom just about every day, but just to chat and get some grown up conversation time in between conversations with small children. Not to mention tips on dealing with insane three year olds…

    I guess my feeling on this is that it is great for kids to want to talk to their parents and keep them up to date in their lives, but if that isn’t combined with a real sense of autonomy and ability then it can definitely become a crutch for the child (even the grown one) and a burden on the parent.

  10. My boy is going away to church camp. He has no cell phone, so I don’t expect to hear from him for a week…and I’m okay with that. (But I can’t wait to hear the stories when he comes back!)

  11. My children go to a resident camp for one week a year. Their camp does not allow the children to bring a cell phone and calls are only allowed in an emergency. E-mail is available but you have to pay to write your child and it’s strongly discouraged. My kids do love getting a postcard from me but they never write back, they have informed me they are much too busy. I love hearing about their week when they get home but I do not want a daily update on my week off. As a homeschooling mom this is truly the only break I get. Besides, I don’t think they would call even if they could.

  12. My dad said one of the best things for me was a summer camp they sent me to when I was between 8th & 9th grade (mid-80s). He said I wasn’t allowed to call home the first week (I don’t remember this) and then I got one phone call over the 1st weekend. He maintains that I came home from that camp more confident in myself than ever and never looked back.

  13. I remember when I sent my 7 year old daughter to sleepaway camp for a month several years ago. Of course they were not allowed to bring cell phones (nor did she have one). I waited patiently eac hday on the camp’s website, looking through literally hundreds of pictures to see how my little darling was doing. After a week, I called the camp’s parent liason and told her who I was and who my daughter was. Before I coudl say any more, the parent liason told me that my daughter was doing fine, eating well, making friends, just having the best time of her life. I stopped her and said, I KNEW that – it was ME who was having withdrawl and I just needed to see a picture of her on the website – and told them they should take pictures of the first time campers and post them immediately so the parents can feel okay about their child being away.
    Sure, my kid is occupied 24/7 up at camp – but me, as a single mom, there’s a huge void when she’s not here!

  14. My 15yo is at church camp right now. I find myself forgetting he is gone. I sort of feel like a bad mom when that happens, like i can’t even keep track of where my kids are! (Well, there are 7 of them so it’s not like it got any quieter with him gone, lol)

    But then, I take a deep breath and just enjoy the fact that my son is savoring his freedom. There is talent night tomorrow that the family is invited to and before we know it, I’ll be picking him up Friday noon. I’m not sure any of us will be ready for the week to be over. i love that he is having this experience. Normally, camp is out of our budget but he got a scholarship this year. Yeah! I expect no phone calls from him at all ~ frankly, I’d be stunned if he called.

    This is also the same kid, btw, who has volunteered at the parish food pantry for over 3 years. He unloads a few tons of food from a semi, helps break it down into individual boxes, then is in charge of keeping the peace in the food lines while the other volunteers work inside. Yes, my 15yo is in charge of keeping the peace and I’m sure that would horrify many. He told me once that when people get restless in line and seem like a fight is going to break out, he just stands next to them and looks at them. He has earned a lot of respect, never making threats, just exuding authority. I doubt most of them know he is only 15. He carts boxes for old ladies and helps moms w/ young kids and listens to the stories of all of these people, learning that even those who are struggling have dignity.

    I’ll admit, it’s a little disconcerting to walk around our town and have people I’ve never met call out a hello to my teen. One time, I got our car stuck in a snow bank and two food pantry regulars stopped to help us get it out. That’s the kind of payback we are getting. No strangers snatching our son. But instead giving back to someone they know has respect for them even if the world looks down on them. My heart absolutely bursts with pride over this boy!

    So part of me wants to slow down the clock so he gets more time at camp … and the other part can’t wait for him to come back home. I know he is going to burst forth into the world when the time is right for him … and that time isn’t too long off!!!

  15. @KW – I don’t usually comment to comments – but I’m proud of your son too! You’re raising a good one! Thank you – from the rest of the human race 🙂

  16. I went to resident camp every year from 5th grade through sophomore year in high school. It never would have occurred to me to call home, even if cell phones had existed. Why the heck would I want to talk to my parents when I was having so much fun with my friends?

    I have no plans whatsoever to give my kids cell phones. I don’t want them to get used to the idea that they should call me every time any sort of thought is required. Figure it out on your own kid. Of course, I don’t have a cell either, so I just don’t get the need to be constantly connected. Kids need time to figure out who they are, time alone with their thoughts. For that they need quiet, and separation from their parents from time to time. Hard to do that with the electronic leashes.

  17. I totally agree that camp is a time when we can be worry free…as long as we don’t think too much about it. My son went to a camp this year for the first time. It was a camp for kids with epilepsy. It was wonderful to have a week off from worrying about him. And since he’s been back we have stopped using the video monitor at night. We aren’t living dangerously, but we are trying to stop making things worse by over protecting even if we have a valid excuse.

  18. As a retired communications tech, I find our modern age marvelous, but some folks do get carried away. I reflect on the “old days” when information traveled with the speed of sailing ships, horses’ hooves and human feet. When a ship went over the horizon it was lost from human ken. The telegraph was the first step, but it required skilled operators. Ordinary people could talk on the telephone, but for many years its range was limited. Radio meant ships were no longer alone on the sea (even if someone found the blueprints for the Mayflower and built an exact copy, sailors on the replica would know that if they didn’t arrive at their destination, the Navy and Coast Guard would come looking for them). Today we can talk to just about anyone anywhere, but sometimes we should close up the cell phone, turn off the computer, put the other tech toys away and just power down for a while.

  19. Funny, there was an interview with Julie Kraut yesterday on Talk of the Nation re: a Washington Post article she wrote about a camp that actually sends out daily photo and video updates of what’s going on. Ridiculous:

  20. I send my daughter to Girl Scout camp. They do not allow any electronic devices including cell phones.

  21. My daughter’s sleep away camp didn’t allow cell phone either, but some kids still brought them. Whether it was because the kids wanted to keep in touch with their parents or the parents couldn’t let go, I couldn’t tell you. But it was a big problem for the kids whose parents followed the rules.

  22. You make a great point when you say you can rest and not really worry about your kids when they are away at camp. We know that they are being watched over and taken care of versus, when they’re home and out late at night, we wonder and worry! Right now my kids are at a day camp in Suffolk County so I guess the next step is to upgrade to residential!

  23. I know this post is over a month old now but just had to add something..

    My kids are away at their dads and grannys for 3 weeks 🙂 I’ve had 2 texts, and sent a couple back and phoned them once…

    They are having a wonderful time off visiting various places and mum is having a great time too… Enjoying the peace and being able to do what I want without having to think about the children…

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