I've been getting a lot of funny e-mails lately about parents of sleep away campers. There's a blog post on suburbbabble.com, there's an Edge City comic strip, and there's an xtranormal cartoon collecting hits on YouTube. They're all different mediums, but they all deal with the same thing: the obsessive way in which parents of kids at sleep away camp pore over the pictures that are put up on the camp websites each day.
If you have a kid at camp, you already know what I'm talking about. If you don't, I'll briefly explain. Every camp employs a photographer to walk around all day, taking pictures of as many kids as possible. At somewhat random times throughout the day and evening, the camp then uploads these pictures to a website. In theory, this is a fantastic tool: parents can look at pictures of their smiling children and see that they are having fun. In practice, it's become more like a dangerous weapon: parents stalk the website all day long, obsessing over their child's every facial expression, and whether they do or do not have their arm around the kid next to them.
Back in the day, when I went to camp, there was no Internet, no e-mail (one way or otherwise), no pictures, no camp newsletter sent to your inbox everyday. It was radio silence. You put your kid on a bus and you forgot about them for the next eight weeks. You knew they were having fun if you didn't get any letters from them, because only the homesick kids actually wrote letters to their parents. Frankly, I can't imagine it. I think I'd go insane without the pictures and the newsletter and the ability to e-mail her, even if she can't e-mail me back. I mean, at least this way, I know what she's doing every day. At least I have some way to share in this experience with her.
Among my friends who have kids at sleep away camp, looking at pictures online has become something of a sport. One of my friends told me she waits to look at them until night time, when she sits down with a glass of wine and sifts through the pictures. But more common are the parents (myself included), who stay logged into the site all day long, hitting the refresh button every few minutes to see if anything new has gone up. (In the YouTube video, one of the cartoon moms walks around saying 'Refresh. Refresh, refresh, refresh,' in between sentences, prompting her friend to ask if she has a tic or something).
Most of the time, it's the same pictures that were there five seconds ago. But twice a day you hit pay dirt: a fresh set of pictures from the last activity that took place at camp. And once they're up, you're faced with the task of looking through hundreds of pictures, trying to find your kid. Is that her, in the back of the pool, behind that other kid? I think it is, those look like her swim goggles. Is that him, running across the soccer field in a blur? Looks like the shin guards we bought right before he left.