I confess. It’s mid-July and although my three kids are spread out all over the country at sleepaway camp and on teen tours, I have yet to log on to CampInTouch to search for their pictures online. That’s right, not once. Gasp if you want, clutch your chest in horror (What a shonda!), and shake your heads in dismay. I understand your initial reaction. Not so long ago it would’ve been my own. You’re angry. Even worried. After all, I have shirked my responsibility as an overbearing Jewish mother, bucked the system and must, as if by explanation for my transgression to overindulgent moms everywhere, be suffering from depression or experiencing a breakdown of sorts.
Sorry to disappoint but my choice is deliberate. I am 100 percent lucid.
I don’t deny it. I wasn’t always like this. The summer my two girls went off to sleepaway camp in 2009, I sat vigilantly at the computer waiting for photos of my children to be posted. I was the animated mom in that YouTube video circulating a few summers ago. You know, the one poking fun at mothers sitting pensively by their computers hitting refresh, refresh, REFRESH until new pictures of their kids relishing in summer fun away from their well-to-do homes magically appeared. I scoured each online photo with fine precision, with skill comparable to a detective’s, looking for proof—any hint of a smile, any glimpse of my gifted progeny in the background of some other kid’s photo, even a lone body part in a crowd to indicate my child like all the others was elated with joy. And if that wasn’t enough, I saved each and every (and I mean every) photo in a computer file, even the Where’s Waldo? ones, to create a professional looking personalized camp yearbook for my children complete with fancy layouts, witty captions, and heartfelt quotes borrowed from camp newsletters. Such an endeavor took me months to complete, and I presented my labor of love during every Hanukkah to come until the year my husband walked out.
The summer following my separation was emotionally grueling. It was also the summer I stopped looking at camp pictures online. I just couldn’t anymore. I needed my days to mourn the end of my marriage and learn how to self-soothe. Friends would approach me and remark how happy my little angels looked at camp. I would smile politely, pretending I knew the photos of which they spoke, pretending to know how happy their children were, always grateful to receive such positive reviews but never missing the approval if I didn’t. One friend, eventually realizing my secret, took it upon herself to save pictures of my eldest daughter as she perused for her own, and emailed them to me regularly while remarking ever so subtly that she knows I don’t look. Of course I looked at the ones she sent and saved the so-called happy evidence on my computer, even using some of them in my girls’ B’not Mitzvah montage this past fall. No one was ever the wiser. But I never asked for this service, not ever, and I would have been equally content without it.
Though the wounds from my failed marriage have largely healed over the past two years, I have stuck to my new habit, or non-habit I should say, of not viewing my kids’ summer photos online. I don’t feel the need, and I’m definitely lighter without the added pressure of keeping up with the daily, even hourly, addition of photos to the camp’s website. Instead, I talk and text with my daughters regularly (teen tours allow unlimited phone privileges) and I email my son who is spending seven weeks at sleepaway camp almost every night. Notice I said almost. Yes, I admit there have been a few nights when I didn’t email (please hold your condemnation until I finish), like the days he and I spoke on the phone as well as a couple of other nights when I was out late and it slipped my mind. Oy gevalt!
But I didn’t chastise myself about it afterward as I would’ve in the past. Why? Because I was confident someone else my son loves and who loves him—his dad, sisters, or grandparents—sent him an email that same day or mailed a letter that week and he would receive some piece of correspondence from someone somewhere despite my forgetfulness. And if by chance he didn’t, if it just so happened he failed to hear from anyone back home for an entire 24 hours, so be it. I’m THAT confident my son knows I love him because, well, I do. I continue to demonstrate my love with every fiber of my being as I have for the nearly 14 years since first becoming a mother. Looking at camp pictures simply no longer constitutes one of my ways.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I’m uninterested or don’t care. I do, very much so. I‘m over the moon my children are enjoying the summer my ex husband and I carefully planned and financed for them. I’m thrilled my children have the privilege of spending their summer with old friends and new ones, participating in activities and sports they enjoy and, in my daughters’ cases, traveling to some of the most picturesque national parks and monuments in the western United States. But now that I have ushered in a new life—one filled with varying interests, deep passions, and defined goals—I look forward to viewing my girls’ personal photos they shot all summer of their adventures AFTER they return home. I look forward to listening attentively and with enthusiasm as each of my children recall stories of their summers away, and reveling in the reality they are growing into smart, independent, and interesting people whom I love dearly, respect, and whose company I enjoy—with some moderation.
I no longer sit by idly waiting and watching to see how someone else, even my own children, lives their life. I no longer take full responsibility for anyone else’s happiness, or sole blame for anyone’s lack of it, only for my own. I do my best. Always. I mother my children. I worry about them. I provide for their needs. I nurture them. I love them. But what I no longer do is live vicariously through them.
For me, that’s the most refreshing picture of all.