“Have you seen any pictures yet of Andrew from camp? How many?” My friend Jen asked. She and I were dining al fresco in Scarsdale Village, sipping our sauvignon blanc along with all the other moms of Scarsdale whose number of at-home offspring had reduced significantly in that last week of June. Four days prior, our village population of the under-18 set had shrunk noticeably. This occurs in many nearby towns, when families gather in parking lots around the tri-state area for the summer ritual of loading precious children onto sleek, air-conditioned coach buses and sending them off to sleep away camp.
“Bye! Love you! Have fun!” Moms and dads call as their kids depart for the forests and lakes of the Adirondacks and Poconos, or further onward towards the Berkshires and the great New Hampshire and Maine wildernesses. “Brush your teeth! Wear sunscreen! And remember to smile for the camera!”
Smile for the camera, you ask?
Oh, yes: Smile for the camera.
Except for a few hold-outs with ‘no-online-photos’ policies, many sleep away camps now post daily pictures of their campers as they go about their business of being campers.
What does this mean for moms (and dads, but primarily moms)? That we are obsessively checking the camp website for up-to-the-minute photos of our children, sorting through zillions of shots of other people’s children…and then sighing with contentment when we see one of our own. Then we promptly post them on Facebook and email the photo to all grandparents and aunts and uncles…and to ourselves so we can scroll through them on our phones all day long.
Unless you are me, and, on day four, when everyone else is happy because they saw a smiley face from camp that tells them that their child seems happy, you haven’t seen a single photo of your sweet, dimpled child yet.
And, to add insult to injury, you happen to be out to dinner surrounded by a whole bunch of braggers.
“Here’s one of Jessie…and here’s another,” a mom named Lisa said, stopping by Jen’s and my table to swipe her pointer finger across her smart phone screen and stick it in my face.
I grabbed my goblet and took a swig. I would not give her the satisfaction of acknowledging her camp photos. “I saw a sneaker,” I said.
“A sneaker?” Jen and Lisa asked in unison.
I nodded. “Yup. A bright orange Reebok belonging to the foot of my firstborn.” He was apparently seated next to his pal Michael, whose full persona made the shot. But the mean camera counselor cropped the photo in such a way as to leave me in complete agony. Your son is there, yes, but we won’t let you see more than a teensy-weensy bit of his left foot.
“I have about ten pictures of Jessie so far,” Lisa added.
Did I mention that our kids attend the same camp?
I decided that I hated Lisa.
“How did you get so many?” I asked.
“Oh, I bribed my daughter! I told Jess, every time I see you in a photo, you get a dollar. I learned it from my friend, Amy, who owed her daughter, like, two hundred dollars by the end of camp last summer.”
“You have to tell them to seek out the photographers and smile, smile, smile,” another mom added.
Work the cameras? That wasn’t mentioned anywhere in the camp literature. “Waiter!” I called. “May I have another?” I said, pointing to my now-empty glass.
The next night, I happened to be out again, because summers are tough for moms like that. I sipped my sauvignon blanc and asked tonight’s dinner companion, Beth, to corroborate what I had learned. “Is this true? People bribe their kids to get into as many photos as possible?”
“Oh, yeah,” Beth said, completely nonplussed. “The going rate is a dollar a photo.”
I had definitely missed that meeting.
The next morning, I got online and immediately emailed Andrew. “Hey, I bet you are having a great time at camp! It looks like Michael is, anyway! Can you do me a favor and try to get into some photos over the next few days so I can see how happy you are? It would mean so much to me! Thanks! Love you!”
And, suddenly, there he was a few hours later: my beautiful boy, playing tennis, and water polo, and smiling with his lean, sun-kissed arms slung around his bunkmates.
No exchange of money – except the exorbitant camp tuition fee, of course – was necessary. Like generations of family members have done before me, I just relied on good old-fashioned Jewish guilt to guide my way.
So now you know how these photos affect the moms, in case you didn’t.
But what does this hyper-vigilant photo-opting mean for the campers? I’ve thought quite a bit about this. In addition to learning to waterski, they are learning the important skill of posing for waterskiing photos. Not only can they make a movie, but they can also be documented about making a movie when they appear for four seconds in the evening camp video movie montage, with the aptly-picked, spunky tune “I’m Walking on Sunshine” blasting in the background.
Here’s how I imagine the day in the life of a modern camper:
Did you make that weird wooden sculpture in art today? Great, now turn to the camera and smile with a hammer in your hand and safety goggles on, please! Great one, thanks! Did you just eat lunch? Awesome. Can you pick the lettuce out of your teeth and smile, please?
Maybe the camps do photo drills, like fire drills. Someone blows a whistle and bam, the bunks all scramble to snap a perfect photo for mom and dad, with the winning bunk awarded an ice cream sundae party. There must be some kind of practice going on. Because I swear, with a moment’s notice, fourteen boys can get into perfect bunk-picture-taking formation, shortest to tallest, in two rows, with the front row on bended knee, dripping wet and in life vests, the back row proudly holding kayaking paddles. Handsomely scruffy counselors in camp logo t-shirts pose on either side like bookends.
I attended sleep away camp for four summers, and yet I would be hard pressed to show you a single photo from that time period besides the formal one taken on picture day.
Isn’t it annoying to have to stop what you’re doing to smile for the camera? It’s so…paparazzi. If people were constantly snapping images of me typing all day at my computer and going to the grocery store I would eventually ask them to stop, or, pushed to my limit, make obscene gestures. (Could you hold up that carton of eggs, please, Mrs. Gerstenblatt, and smile wide? Andrew wants to see what his mom is doing this summer!) Yet all this picture taking doesn’t seem to phase Andrew and his buddies in the least.
I suppose that when your entire life is documented the way these “Millenials” lives are, it’s the absence of technology that makes one take notice, not the mere presence of it.
After all, the first photo I have of Andrew dates back to 16-weeks in utero when he was the size of a kidney bean.
He had the cutest spine. Like a prehistoric lizard’s.
And what about me, a Millenial’s Mom? I suppose I’ve grown accustomed to having all that footage. And so I’ll check my computer each day, looking for a glimpse of a particular bend in an elbow, or a bit of striped bathing trunks, and smile wide, knowing without even having to see his face: that’s my boy.
I’ll bet you a dollar I’m always right.