How often do you receive a hand-written letter in the mail? Do you ever wait by your mailbox anymore, hoping the postman (or woman) shows up soon to deliver your mail? Do you even receive mail anymore? Letter writing, for the most part, is a lost art. We spend a good percentage of the day connected to the world with our smartphones, sending texts, posting to social media and crafting emails. But how often do you pick up a pen or pencil and write a letter to someone? I would say most of you are quickly answering my question – never.
I rarely hand write letters anymore. My laptop’s keyboard is one of my best friends, as I swiftly send communications to colleagues, friends and family every day. The world wide web has made communication instantaneous. When we send a text we often panic if the person doesn’t respond in 30 seconds. We expect a response to an email within 24 hours, at most.
But then there is summer camp. While so much has stayed the same, so much has changed since I went to overnight camp a couple of decades ago. No matter what camp a child chooses, there will always be swimming, dancing, singing, boating and campfires. The kids will make new friends, eat some strange food and compete in all kinds of activities. The heart and soul of what is summer overnight camp hasn’t changed.
But the way parents and their children communicate has changed. Instead of waiting for the mail or looking at old photo albums as a reminder of what the children look like, parents (and grandparents) hit refresh throughout the day on the camp’s website, waiting for pictures of their children to be uploaded. Parents can write an email, press send and camp will print and deliver the message to the child within 24 hours. Some camps even scan the children’s handwritten letters and email them home to the parents.
My children’s camp, Camp Kadimah, for the most part, is technology-free. The photographer and videographer roam the camp and capture every moment of the children’s day. The administrative staff check their email and cell phones often and are available at a moment’s notice if a parent needs something. Emails from home are printed and handed to the children.
But the child’s experience of camp is basically technology-free. That means all communication from the camper to the outside world is accomplished the old-fashioned way – a written letter, affixed with a postage stamp and dropped in the mail. So that means for about six weeks each year I do something that feels slightly anachronistic – I check my mailbox throughout the day.
The letters are few and far between, contain very little information and are basically illegible. And yet I long for them. There is something so sweet in seeing my child’s handwriting on a page, written from a bunk bed or picnic bench in central Nova Scotia. I see dozens of photos of my kids posted to the camp website, but I will take a letter any day over a photo. There is something so personal and so human about a hand-written letter (even if I can’t read or understand most of what’s on the page).
My kids have been away at camp for just over two weeks. So far, we have received one postcard and three letters from my daughter and one letter from my son. Supposedly each child is required to write one postcard home in the first few days of camp in order to receive a treat from the tuck shop, and yet Matthew has managed to get away with enjoying tuck each year and not writing a postcard home. I figure I only got my token letter last week from him because it was my birthday and he did acknowledge it.
His one letter, fully handwritten of course, arrived last week when I was having a bad day. Hey, we all have bad days, so no big deal. A career opportunity I thought might come through fell apart and I was feeling down. We’ve all been there. So, I checked my mailbox, and there it was, a letter from my child from camp. My mood changed in an instant, as I made out the words that he is having “the best summer ever.” His cousin, and close buddy, Max, is in his cabin. His other cousin, Elia, from Israel, is his counselor. The weather is great. What could be better?
I will keep hitting refresh on the photo stream, check Instagram and read email updates from the Director. The pictures may be worth a thousand words, but a personal, handwritten letter from camp, well that is worth so much more.