Send It Snail Mail

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let kids unplug while they're at summer camp

by bethany kandel

i just received a postcard from my son at sleepaway camp, and i'll have to preserve it. after all, it's going to become a relic of the past, along with hand-written love letters and thank-you notes from the days before fax machines, email and im.

i suppose it was inevitable that technology would eventually meander through the freshly mowed grass of summer camp. these days, many overnight camps have entered the age of instant communication and now offer email and fax services to help campers and their parents correspond electronically instead of using the u.s. postal service.

whatever happened to getting back to nature? you're supposed to swim in ice-cold lakes and drink bug juice, roast s'mores and battle mosquitoes. camp is not just about the independence of being away from your parents and the security of home; it's an escape from everyday life, stocked refrigerators, satellite tv, playstation and, yes, even computers and cell phones.

it's just as easy for junior to jot the usually short but sweet note on a pre-addressed, pre-stamped postcard (as this mom prepared) and hand it to his counselor as it is to make a special trip to the computer bunk to write to mom and dad.

and while i certainly understand the temptation for parents to choose the ease of electronics for their summer correspondence-after all, most adults have too much on their plates to find the time to write a letter, never mind actually locating an envelope, a stamp and even a mailbox-i also know that when you're a kid away at camp, there's nothing quite like getting an old-fashioned, handwritten piece of mail.

when i was young, i needed to write a letter a day for admission to the camp dining hall. on 6-cent postcards i squeezed tales of campfires and soccer games along with requests for more flashlight batteries and food for my brother, "because he's starving."

i remember mail call as the highlight of rest hour, as we anxiously waited to see what we got in return. oh, the joy of receiving a pile of envelopes addressed just to me: the pink ones from my grandmother in florida, the white business-sized ones my mother filled with gossip from home and the ones colorfully adorned "swak" (sealed with a kiss) from my friends back in the city.

i expect that a funny postcard, a cheery letter or, better yet, a contraband food-filled package from home is still a lot more fun for kids to receive than a nondescript computer printout. after all, you can't slip a crisp $5 bill, a newspaper cartoon or clippings of the latest sports stats into an email.

whatever the medium, it's doubtful the message has changed. whether by old-fashioned snail mail or email, kids are still going to complain ("the food stinks!") or ask for banned treats ("send gum, candy, chips," etc.). on occasion, there's the dreaded request, "please come get me. i hate it here!"

and a postcard written in my son's own sloppy handwriting, complete with misspellings, missing punctuation and an occasional ketchup smear, is more likely to find its way into my memorabilia box than any email missive.

to my son at camp, all i have to say is p.s. please write. mommy's waiting by the mailbox.

bethany kandel is a former national news reporter for usa today and is the author of the expert parent (pocket books).

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