At the age of 12, I begged my parents to send me to sleepaway camp. They complied, and I ended up at a place with a Native American-y name about three hours away from our home in Connecticut for a two-week stretch. Aside from being so miserable that I considered alleging sexual abuse by a counselor to convince my parents to collect me, a few things stood out.
The most popular female camper was Colby Kline, who played the bratty birthday girl in 1990’s Problem Child. Everyone kept asking Colby to jump up and down and flail her arms like she did in the movie to the tune of “It’s My Party,” and she was happy to oblige. Colby had an agent! I was jealous. I also remember feeling cheated by adults for the first time when told by a camp administrator that archery, an activity listed in the camp’s brochure, was not actually offered. Lastly, I experience my first encounter with second-hand embarrassment, which struck while watching grown-ups dance around a bonfire singing “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt.” Their contrived over-enthusiasm irked me.
Today, it irks me to know that I was such an over privileged, homesick twerp of a pre-adolescent. For obvious reasons, my parents refused to let me leave camp early. What they did do was send me a few care packages, and secretly chuckle at each of the insanely dramatic letters I scribbled throughout those fourteen days away. In retrospect, I can laugh along with them, and I invite you to do the same. Lo and behold, 10 letters from the child who hated sleepaway camp more than anyone else in the world ever:
Dear Mom and Dad,
I love you. I miss you. As I write this letter, I am crying. Please take me home early. Camp is not fun. I wish I had never come. I cry a lot. Mark, the head guy, won’t let me call you. Please call and write to me. This is a torture camp through my eyes.
I wonder if I should go to the infirmary and tell them that I am homesick. The counselors also told us that we could be dismissed from camp for going to the boy’s cabins. Maybe I’ll go there later on. I’m so sorry about this. I work on holding back my tears all day. Please call me. I need to talk to you.
P.S. Write and call
P.P.S. Luv ya’ll
Dear Mother and Pooki,
It is Monday at 4:45pm. You didn’t call at lunch. I hope you call at dinner. In the future, I’d like you to know that it’s better for me if you call between 1:05pm and 1:30pm. I’m very homesick and count the days and meals until I go home. I dislike it here strongly. Please call each day and write as often as possible.
I hardly get any sleep or food here. I’m unhappy. I often find myself bored, with nothing to do. I do try hard, though. I love you very much. Never forget that. Here I have no one. There is no one for me to go around with or spend time with. I’m extremely lonely. Home is everything to me. I don’t act the same as I do at home. I’ve begun to notice that. There’s no smile on my face, I’m quiet and not very active. I can’t wait to go back home. Home is where I belong. I love you. Please come get me. You wouldn’t lose anything and neither would I. Please, I love you and need you.
P.S. Please write and call me
P.P.S: I love you more than anything
Dear Mommy and Daddy,
This is the 3rd letter I’m writing on Monday. However, this letter and another letter I wrote to you were written, I think, too late to get to you at the same time as the 1st.
Mommy, I’m miserable. I need you. Again, I’m crying. Please call and write. I love you. I can’t stand this. I need to come home. Call me as soon as possible. You know that you can have all the money I ever earned in exchange for you to come as early as possible to pick me up. HELP. I’m desperate. I’m miserable. They make us take classes. Then we have to choose an elective class where they take money out of your account to use materials. Didn’t you pay enough already to send me here? Take me home, I beg of you. Call me so that you can come. I’ll pay you back. It’s worth all the money in the world to me to come home, where I belong. HELP. HELP. HELP MOMMY!
P.S. Call and write
This is the worst nightmare I’ve ever had. Each day seems like ten years. Tonight I’m being forced to go camping. Please call me. Talk to me. I need you. I have no one here. There’s nothing here for me. Today is Wednesday. I love you.
Mark, the Director, is a liar and I hate everyone here except for a few girls. I now know what it feels like to suffer. Help me. If you take me home early, you can have all my money, and eternal gratitude. If you refuse to take me home early, which I know you won’t, I’ll have no one left in the world to love. Nothing to live for. And I will die. Please save me and don’t talk to Lisa. I need you to love and hug. HELP!
P.S. Call any time until you reach me
Mommy & Daddy,
You’re the only ones that can take me away. Save me from a world of terror. HELP. I love you. I wish I knew Spanish. That’s probably the most common language here. HELP. I love you.
P.S. Call & write
Dear Mommy and Daddy,
It is Thursday and I am as miserable as ever. I need to come home. Every day is the same here. Even weekends. I can’t wait to see you. Please take me home. I know that you don’t have the heart to make me stay here. Especially since I will pay you $781. You need to help me. Mark or anyone else won’t let me call. They are stupid people. You must call me. I love you dearly and miss you. Please help. I can’t stop crying. The people here lie all day. Many of the activities they promised, they do not really offer. I hate it here. You must save me. I need you. The days are like ten years each. It’s horrible, terrible, miserable, etc.
After Lisa told me that you refused to drive me home early, I balled for two hours straight. Lisa is not nice to me. Please do not believe or listen to her. I’m miserable and sorry. I can’t last. Please HELP. CALL. I love you. I know in my heart that you will not make me stay. HELP! I love you. Camp is a nightmare. I need a hug, a kiss, and love. Write me please. I count the days, hours and boring activities until I can see you. Please do not tell Lisa what I write to you anymore. I love you.
Don’t listen to Lisa. HELP ME. It’s awful. I can’t make it. Please Mommy take me home. Lisa told me that you won’t, but you have to. I love you. I told you that I’d pay you back but you must let me go home. I ball all the time. HELP!
I love you. Don’t torture me. Please take me home.
P.S. Please CALL
Dearest Mother and father,
I haven’t cried all day. I’m very proud of that. I’ve been doing my best to keep busy. This morning we went to an amusement park called Quassy. It was fun. Except for one ride that made me feel sick. Soon I will go swimming.
I just finished reading the magazine and letters you sent. Thank you very much for them. It was nice to read your letters and I look forward to finishing my magazine.
I only have 3 full days left—an extremely comforting thought. I can’t wait to come home and see you. I love you very much.
Guess what? I decided to try my best at winning a tennis match that I was previously planning to purposely lose. I won and have yet to play a game in the finals of the girls’ tournament. Wish me luck. I hope I win.
I’m trying very hard to have fun and am doing better. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m still feeling a bit sick from that one ride at Quassy. I must be signing off now.
P.S. Write & call
P.P.S. I love you and always will
I love you all very much and think of you constantly.
Things are a little better here. It’s Wednesday after lunch. I only have two more full days and 8 more meals left. I can’t wait to be home. Home, sweet home.
Today I play the final game in the girls’ tennis tournament. Wish me luck.
P.S. Thanks for the food for thought!
Admittedly, my separation anxiety didn’t fade with age. The biggest downside to this is that I’m not fluent in French. Unlike my older, bilingual sister, I was too much of a crybaby to spend the summers living in France with relatives. On day one of college, I shed tears while pinning photos of high school friends onto the corkboard above my desk. And to this day, it truly pains me to say goodbye, even temporarily, to those I love. I become sentimental in a way that is so overpowering, I can’t focus on anything other than my fondest memories of whomever’s leaving, which, of course, makes me sad.
I’ve never been able to figure out why I’m wired this way (severe middle child syndrome?), but I’ve learned to manage the issue, and to accept it. Like most handicaps, this one has its upside. At least, I have to believe it does. While many seem embarrassed by their emotions and thus hesitant or unsure how to express them, I embrace mine. If I love you or miss you, I will tell you—several times over, across many mediums—without feeling at all weird or insecure. Hopefully, I spread a little warmth along the way—without creeping too many people out.