Words an anxious mom hates most? 'Mailbox empty'

True Tales From Everyday Living

Real life


It had been 15 years since I waited for a guy to call me or send me a letter.

Oh, back in the days when I was single, I'd check the messages on the answering machine and race to the mailbox looking for a letter. (That was before e-mail.) If no message was there, I'd wonder, "Could I have said something wrong?" "Was he mad at me?" "Was he OK?"

This summer, I was doing it again. Only this time the guy was an almost-10-year-old boy -- my son, off to overnight camp and his first time on his own away from home.

Ages ago, when I was a 10-year-old at camp, the only way kids could communicate with their parents was through the U.S. mail.

Today it's different. Although my son's camp didn't allow visits or phone calls, it did allow e-mails. When I found that out, I thought that was a great idea. I wouldn't have to wait days to hear from him. We could keep in touch every day, and I could remind him to use bug spray and brush his teeth. I could perk him up if he felt homesick. He could fill me in on all the exciting things he was doing and tell me how much he missed me.

Before he left, I had him practice sending e-mail messages and made sure he knew my address.

Then the day came and my husband and I drove him out to his camp in Western Maryland. We were probably more nervous than he was, but we were the picture of stoicism. We talked about how nice the camp looked; how much fun it would be to sleep in a cabin with other kids. We ooh'd and ahh'd over a live snake exhibit that included a 20-foot python.

We helped him register and carry his things to the cabin. I made his bed and refrained from expressing my worries that he had chosen the top bunk. His dad put away the suitcase and reminded him to keep his dirty clothes separate from his clean.

Then we cheerfully gave him a hug, careful not to say anything that would embarrass him around the handful of other preteens who were milling around the cabin. And we drove back to Baltimore.

The camp director had promised the kids would e-mail that Sunday night after they had an introductory computer session. But no message came.

On Monday, I checked my e-mail a dozen times, still nothing. Perhaps he had forgotten how to sign on to his account, I thought.

Tuesday morning, I e-mailed the camp director, and despite all the security warnings to the contrary, sent her his log-in information and password. She replied that all of the students should have sent e-mails Sunday and Monday. She didn't mention our son in particular, so the questions lingered. Was he hurt? Was he homesick? Did the python eat him?

I called the mom of another boy at the camp. Yes, she said. Her son had e-mailed her. Twice. He was having a great time. She promised to ask him to pass a message to our son to get in touch.

By Tuesday night, when we still had no word, my husband was ready to drive to the camp and find out what was wrong. "You can't do that," I said.

"Maybe he's mad at us," my husband said.

I tried to think back to Sunday, and I could remember nothing that could have made him angry other than I had told him to pick up the Nintendo and put away the Pokemon cards before we left home.

I was worried, but also a bit annoyed. The kid goes to geology camp and learns to work GPS devices but can't figure out how to send an e-mail.

"Maybe I can find the e-mail address of the geology teacher," I said.

I sat down at the computer and checked my e-mail for the 20th time. There at last was the message we had been waiting for. "Sorry I couldn't get in touch. The camp doesn't have AOL. I'm fine. Today was great. We went caving. Tell Papa and Michael I miss them. Love, Andrew."

And that was it. We waited three days for that? Well, at least he was OK, I thought. He hadn't succumbed to food poisoning or been devoured by the python.

I dashed a message back. I was so glad to hear from him. Did he know that the cave he was going to see was four hours away and had bats and bones of prehistoric cats? He probably should wear his jeans. Papa saw a deer and two fawns in the yard. I was busy at work. Write back soon and tell me all you're doing.

I looked at the letter. Cheerful, yet hinting at my love and longing. Maybe it was a little long, but he wouldn't mind. After all, he hadn't heard from me in three days. And now that he had an e-mail account set up, he could easily answer. I pressed the send key.

The next day, I waited excitedly for his reply. And the next. Did I say something wrong?


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