Summer

The sleepaway camp photo gallery: friend or foe? 

July 18, 2013 at 8:09 AM ET

My kids are at sleepaway camp and they’re having the time of their life.

At least I think they are because the camp’s photo gallery offers up hundreds of new pictures every day of smiling campers playing soccer, swimming in the pool and participating in all sorts of fun activities.

But for parents, like myself, who scrutinize the background of every image looking for tales of their own child’s camp experience -- the photo gallery can be your enemy.

A single photo that reveals my kid somewhere in the background grimacing, smirking, or even just sitting there playing with a blade of grass sends me into a flurry of concern. Letters will immediately fly asking, "How is camp?" “Are you happy?” "Would you like me to send you a puppy?!"

I am a slave to camp pictures-- spending endless hours scanning through hundreds of thumbnails trying to decipher which heavily pixilated figures are my children and whether or not they are having a good time. (Of course, the fact that half the boys at camp also have brown hair and buy their swimming shorts at Target doesn’t make it any easier to identify mine in the water polo melee.)

The author's son, Ben, at sleepaway camp with a friend.
Robert Jordan
The author's son, Ben, at sleepaway camp with a friend.

The problem is, a picture’s worth a thousand words and every picture offers an opportunity for interpretation. Jenny Acosta, office manager at Canyon Creek Sports Camp in Lake Hughes, Calif., says, “We try not to post pictures of the kids looking unhappy... it makes the parents anxious. The truth is... the photo gallery just doesn’t tell you everything that’s going on. It’s just a sliver of a glimpse into camp life. After all, the photographer can't be everywhere at once.”

I know she’s right. And I shouldn’t waste what precious alone time I have while my kids are away checking up on them and worrying.

But what if I don’t look? Am I a horrible mom for not making sure I see every possible moment of my child's camp experience? Are my kids going to come home from camp and quiz me? “Did you see the picture of me making you a clay ashtray? You did? Well, then tell me what was I wearing? I knew it! You just don’t care at all!”

When my sister and I went to camp, our parents had no clue whether or not we were having fun and frankly, I don't think they even cared. Camp built character and whatever we experienced behind camp lines was good for us. They didn’t need -- or necessarily want -- any information. They were busy enjoying their child-free vacation.

I should just step away from the camp website to go make some homemade sangria or take a long nap. And it would probably be best for everyone because the camp photo gallery is kind of like a Pandora’s box; sure you're curious about what’s in it, but perhaps everyone is better off if you just leave it unopened.

Sarah Maizes is the founder of MommyLITEonline.com, a parenting humor site, and the author of “Got Milf? The Modern Mom’s Guide to Feeling Fabulous, Looking Great and Rocking a Minivan”. She is a freelance writer, speaker, comedian and mother of three. Follow her antics on Facebook or on Twitter @SarahMaizes

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