Summer camp in the age of Facebook

Facebook has no higher calling than when it is used to demonstrate to anxious parents that their children are still alive while they are away at camp.

Parkway kids ready for PASSPORTkids.
Parkway’s children ready to have their every move chronicled in photographs on Facebook. Oh, and they are also going to PASSPORTkids Camp in Crossville, Tenn.

I’ve recently been on both sides of this phenomenon. When our oldest when to Boy Scout Camp at Camp Rainey Mountain in Northeast Georgia a couple of weeks ago, there was radio silence. No word from him for seven days. We friended Camp Rainey Mountain on Facebook in the vain hope that we would catch a glimpse of him in a photo posted during the week.

This week I’ve been with our church children at PASSPORTkids camp in Crossville, Tenn. As chaperone my chief duty – other than make sure no one died – was to chronicle the week on Facebook so parents could see how much fun their children were having as they were having it. Rebecca, our children’s minister, used her Nikon to take the “high quality” images for sharing after the event. I used my smartphone camera to shoot and post immediately. The one-two photographic combo worked pretty well.

Facebook’s contrasting role in these two camp experiences begs the question: if it doesn’t happen on Facebook, does it really happen at all?

Social media in and of itself is not good or bad. It is simply a communications tool. How we use it determines its value. It can help us stay connected with family and friends, or it can consume us by creating an insatiable appetite for personal information. It’s gossip on steroids.

When it comes to camp, it’s nice to see images of our kids having a good time. And if we can be content with seeing the occasional shot of them in a canoe (life jacket properly fastened, of course), playing soccer (scoring goals) and participating in worship or performing on stage, then I think that’s great.

However, if we as parents sit, smart phone in hand, hitting refresh continuously, waiting to see the next image of our child so we can convince ourselves that they are OK without us, then there’s a larger problem. Facebook can feed our worst “helicopter parenting” tendencies, sometimes without us even being aware of it.

Mail call
The way parents communicated with kids at camp before Facebook. Brendan opens his care package on Day 2 of camp. It contained lots of breath mints. He had the freshest breath in camp, hands down.

As a chaperone, I was conscious of getting images of each of our children posted to Facebook as often as a spotty cell signal would allow. We were at camp, after all. I heard nothing but positive feedback from the Parkway parents, and I am not accusing any of them of abusing Facebook’s never-blinking eye to maintain a connection with their children.

But I think the temptation is there. I know, I know, easy for me to say, I was with the kids all four days at camp. That’s where my Camp Rainey Mountain experience was helpful. As I shared in New South Essays two weeks ago, I had my own parental anxiety about not hearing from Barron for a week, and though I scoured Facebook for images, I think it was better for me not to know what was happening with Barron every second of the day.

In the New South, Facebook changes the nature of the camp experience – not for the children, but for their parents. Whether that’s a good change or a bad change is up to you.

Do you appreciate or question Facebook’s role in keeping up with your kids when they’re away? How is your children’s camp experience difference from yours? Is the separation really separation if you have Facebook? Share your thoughts in a comment below.

Guys’ night out

“Decompression” is the best word to describe my rare night out with the guys last Tuesday.

The idea for the outing sprang up last week when I saw that the San Francisco Giants were coming to town to play the Atlanta Braves. Carla was amenable to giving me the night off, so plans were set in motion.

Brian and Daniel
Brian, left, and Daniel, right, met all the requirements of compatriots for a guys’ night out: they’re guys.

I haven’t seen a Braves game since my buddy, Bob, moved away several years ago, and I felt it was time. My friend, Brian, is a life-long fan of the Giants, and our mutual friend, Daniel, lives in Grant Park, about a mile from the stadium. Not only did he provide free parking, Daniel’s baseball knowledge combined with Brian’s pop culture omniscience set the tone for the perfect guys’ night out conversation.

Admittedly, Daniel is better friends with Brian, based on a relationship that dated back to when the two were in seminary at Mercer’s McAfee School of Theology, but baseball talk is a universal language, and our conversation was easy and constant all night.

It’s been my experience that when guys attend a ball game, they talk about all of the previous times they have been to ball games. Over time, our memories fade, and we are left more with impressions than the ability to relive the experience play-by-play. Details such as who hit home runs, who pitched, special promotions, the importance of the game, whether someone achieved a milestone or broke a record, who won, weather conditions and run-ins with unruly fans all coalesce to form the substance of guys’ ball game conversations.

Our view at Turner Field
Our view from the lower level, first base side in right at Turner Field.

None of this talk was of earth shattering importance, but that was precisely the point. No problems to solve, no children to console, no “honey-do” lists or sharing our feelings. The two married guys were only interrupted by phone calls from our wives once a piece. That’s notable.

For Braves fans, Tuesday night was completely forgettable. The Braves lost 9-0, thanks mostly to a poor outing by Jair Jurrjens and clutch hitting for the Giants by Leesburg, Ga., native Buster Posey, who drove in five runs. But the outcome didn’t matter. For a few hours we were just guys talking about baseball. I’m sure our analysis was flawed, our view of bang-bang plays obstructed and our stories exaggerated. Still, the evening met all the criteria for a great night out.

Afternoon showers that stopped just before game time gave us a cooler-than-normal climate to enjoy being at “The Ted.” Our first level seats, bought off the Internet for a steep discount, were ideal for watching Jason Heyward track down fly balls hit to right field.

Buster Posey
Buster Posey drove in five of the Giants’ nine runs. Oh well, if you have to get beat by somebody, may as well be a Georgia boy.

We weren’t accosted by any obnoxious fans, and there were no drunk loudmouths to ruin the evening. Through social media I learned that our church friends, the Akins, were also at the game, and when I looked up at the giant screen between the first and second inning, I saw more church friends, the Willises, laughing it up and having a good time. I learned the next day that our friends from Macon, the Brownes, were also at the game. It was a veritable family reunion.

And speaking of family, I’m beginning to feel that it’s time to take the boys to a game. If our friends, the Ortons, can take their almost one-year-old son, Jack, then I think we can stand to get Harris and Carlton to their first game. Barron is old enough to understand what’s going on now, and Carla always enjoys a chance to people watch.

There will be a time when my whole family makes it to a game, but sometimes you have to hang out with just the guys. It’s just necessary.

At the risk of sounding like the “Most Interesting Man in the World,” I don’t need a guys’ night out often, but when I do, I like the Atlanta Braves. Stay baseball fans, my friends.

Where do you like to go for guys’ night out? Where do you send your husbands or boyfriends when they need to get away or you need them to get away? Have you had memorable nights at a Braves’ game? Join the conversation by sharing your comments below.

Separation anxiety

We tell ourselves it is necessary to send our children away on their own to prepare them for adulthood. I am beginning to believe we must send our children away on their own to prepare us for their adulthood.

Carla and Barron, in his scout uniform
It’s hard to tell who is more unsure about going to camp, Carla or Barron.

Last Sunday morning we dropped our 11-year-old son off at the Publix parking lot where he and about 40 of his fellow scouts boarded a charter bus bound for a week at Camp Rainey Mountain near Clayton, Ga. Only a month ago we dropped him off for a three-night mini-camp for new scouts at Fort Yargo State Park, so this experience was supposed to be only marginally more difficult.

For some reason, it’s not.

Since we left him he has not been far from my thoughts. Even though I have complete confidence in the adult chaperones and camp staff, I find myself wondering how he is faring emotionally with being away from home on his own for an extended period of time.

Oh, you should hear the speeches I make to Carla, lecturing her on the need for Barron to have these formational experiences of independence within safe boundaries. I have boldly proclaimed the benefits to his self-confidence and maturity. I make definitive statements about his safety and enjoyment of the merit badge classes.

In reality, I’m trying to convince myself.

In their wisdom, the troop leaders sent an e-mail to parents on Wednesday reassuring us that all is well. They even included a wish list from each scout. When I saw that Barron’s wish was for a “1989 Michael Keaton Batman Batmobile,” I knew he was just fine.

I’m beginning to understand that the biggest problem with sending your children away is the disconnection. He’s spent a week with grandparents before, and I’ve taken him along with the other church kids to Passport Kids camp the past two years. What makes this different is that we can’t talk to him. We haven’t heard from him. We can’t know how he is really doing.

As they say at the church, I’m “reaping what I’ve sown” for all the times in college I went weeks without calling home. And think, this is just the beginning!

Noah and Barron load the bus for camp
Best bud, Noah, left, and Barron, right, load their footlockers onto the charter bus bound for a week at Camp Rainey Mountain in Northeast Georgia. Photo courtesy of Chip Johns.

I am certain that he is loving his canoeing and woodcarving classes. I’m sure first aid is interesting. He will greatly benefit from the survival swimming as he learns the Bear Grylls-esque skill of turning his clothes into a flotation device and treading water until rescued. Cognitively, I get it. Emotionally, I need some assurances he’s OK.

As parents it’s hard to conceive, give birth, care for every need, teach, nurture, guide and prepare our children then suddenly at age 18 send them out into the wild. It’s natural and unnatural all at the same time.

This week I’ve realized that Barron needed to go to camp to teach us how to be his parents when he’s out of the nest as much as he needed to go to learn new skills and how to be on his own.

When we show up at the church to pick him up tomorrow, I’m sure we will hear the details of a great week. There will be low moments he’ll tell us about, but if minicamp is any indication, he’ll be singing “Bo Diddly Bop” and chanting “You Can’t Ride in My Little Red Wagon” while breathlessly re-telling us the jokes he heard around the camp fires and every adventure he and his best friend, Noah, experienced.

And I’ll savor the moment, knowing that 18 follows quickly after 11, and the time we have him to ourselves under our roof is limited.

Maybe next year will be easier – for me and for him.

What was it like for you when you were a kid and went away on your own for the first time? Have you sent your child away? What was it like for you the first time? Do you have an empty nest? How do you cope with parenting from a distance? How do you maintain contact with your college-aged kids? Leave a comment below and share your parenting journey with us.   

Andy Griffith: One of a kind

After just a few whistled notes of “The Fishin’ Hole,” the immortal theme song of “The Andy Griffith Show,” I am transported to the carefree summer days of my youth.

Andy Griffith
Andy Griffith as Sheriff Andy Taylor

I memorized that tune, gained an appreciation for the show and developed a fondness for the characters watching midday re-runs in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Griffith’s passing from a heart attack at age 86 on July 3 put me in a reflective mood.

Pop culture has absorbed few Southern icons the way it has Andy Griffith’s television characters.

There are plenty of hayseeds and hillbillies played for laughs on the big and small screens, but these Southern-fried jesters aren’t elevated to the status of role models. These buffoons are anti-heroes at best, beloved maybe, but not respected.

It is my contention that Griffith will be the only Southern entertainer to occupy that lofty position.

In the 1960s, Andy Griffith and his cast of zany Southern archetypal characters inhabiting the fictional town of Mayberry, N.C., became part of American culture. Syndication will keep it that way in perpetuity. Griffith’s character, Andy Taylor, was likable in nearly every way: a widower trying to raise a son, faithful church choir member, shrewd law enforcement officer, dapper and available bachelor, a mellifluous singing guitar player and a patient friend and mentor.

When “The Andy Griffith Show’s” run was over, it appeared Griffith’s life on television was over, so strong was the impact of his portrayal of Sheriff Taylor. Conventional wisdom had it that he would be forever typecast. But Griffith had that quality that could be reshaped with a little aging.

Andy Griffith as Ben Matlock
Andy Griffith as Atlanta defense attorney Ben Matlock

By the time Griffith introduced us to Atlanta defense attorney Ben Matlock in 1986, we were ready for his reinterpretation of another Southern archetype – the wise but gruff older man whose experience gives him the advantage over brash adversaries who underestimate him.

As the nation aged and advertisers aimed their products at the World War II generation and the top-end of the Baby Boom, Matlock captured another zeitgeist and actually had a longer run than “The Andy Griffith Show.”

In the landscape of New Southern culture , there is no emerging replacement for Andy Griffith. This is an era of dark themes and Southern gothic storylines. We have an abundance of such characters as zombie fighters, vampires, detectives and football coaches. Lately, the trend has been toward reality TV shows that put Southern caricatures on display and give legs to negative Southern stereotypes.

But Andy and Ben were characters Southerners could be proud of. Yes, they became clichés in their own right, but being kindhearted, clever and musically talented aren’t attributes we Southerners mind.

These two characters, plus the many other memorable roles Griffith portrayed, will secure Griffith’s place in pop culture. Re-runs of “The Andy Griffith Show” and “Matlock” may even garner a larger ratings share now that Griffith has passed, and he will likely be so ubiquitous on cable that the question “Is Andy Griffith dead?” will be a popular Google search in a few years.

As the Facebook tributes and Twitter odes continue for this son of the South, it’s important to remember that Griffith was a person aside from his assumed TV personas. His passing causes grief, but more than that, it provokes gratitude.

Thanks, Andy, for giving the South – old and new – characters we can be proud of. I will appreciate you in reruns a little more knowing that you’ve left us.

What’s your favorite memory of Andy Griffith on television? Does the whistled theme song evoke childhood memories of eating supper around the television on TV trays on Monday nights? What’s your favorite Andy Griffith role? Were you a Matlock fan? Share your thoughts and memories by leaving a comment below