Sure, I would write letters home -- more often than many kids who only did so on nights they had to hand over a letter to gain entry to the dining hall.
And my mom wrote me back, envelopes stuffed with Times clippings and Mets gossip. My parents would drive up at the four-week mark for visiting day to put faces to the names of my counselors and bunkmates.
That isn't quite the case nowadays. Though my daughters are "away," I feel quite apprised of what's going on. And, in the age of helicopter parenting and TMI, I don't know whether that's a good thing or not.
First, today's sessions are shorter -- three or four weeks instead of eight -- in part due to our accelerated pace of life, but also because of how expensive camp has gotten. So it barely feels like any time elapses between putting them on the bus and getting them back.
That blackout is pretty novel in a world where I can be shopping in Portsmouth and send comparative photos with my phone to my girlfriend in Colorado to get her opinion. Or where my friend traveling solo in Vietnam this summer has been so good about posting photos and videos of her trip and Skyping to the point I feel I have more contact with her across the globe than I do when she's home in the East Village.
But despite the camp's ban, technology is a two-way street, and while campers are blissfully offline, the camp has proved as active a correspondent as my friend in Hanoi.
But in the 21st century camps send out frequent email updates and maintain websites with daily blog posts and hundreds of photos that parents can access and download. The picture atop this post, for instance, I pulled from the camp website, of my 13-year-old hugging a friend. A private moment, made public.
The first few days of camp I went to the website to check on my daughters' arrival. But then I let it slide, partly because it's laborious to scan the images for ones of your own kids, but it also felt slightly creepy: There were pictures of meals, dances, trips. I felt like I was spying on their private time.
Since the kids are in the Facebook generation, I am sure the are happy to have all this documentation and public display. But I didn't want to spoil hearing about these experiences from them, and wanted them to tell me what they chose to, instead of having me monitoring them like a security camera.
In terms of my communicating with them, I no longer had to rely on the vicissitudes of the US Postal Service. I could simply email the camp and they'd print it out. But the girls only wrote me back once, partly, I think, because they are so used to texting and emailing that the writing of a letter seems like churning your own butter.
What is the effect on the girls of being the online generation forced to go offline? I found out when my 13-year-old had a 24-hour hiatus before the start of a second session of theater camp and I took her off-campus.
Besides tastes of non-camp food and shopping, I also gave her some access to the Internet -- her BlackBerry was allowed out of lockup, and I lent her my laptop so she could update her Facebook and Tumblr pages.
"Call her!" I said. "Nah, that's okay," she said. This is the weird dichotomy of today's technology: we are more in touch but not as connected.
My 17-year-old, who is heading into her senior year of high school, instead of staying at camp, headed off to a city to take a two-week pre-college arts course. She got her phone and Internet back and after we talked on her first day, I swore to myself to just let her be and not monitor her experience.
I realized I like that she feels I am there for her, in ways I didn't always feel my parents were there for me. And her communications don't seem like dependence, just sharing.
But I also wonder how altered my relationship would have been with them - -and what it would have meant for my development -- if, when, say, I'd been backpacking in Europe after college, I'd had this walkie-talkie-with-camera connectivity instead of just exploring the world.
I know my mom probably would have liked it. But feeling away is a precious thing.