Friday, October 19, 2012

Camp Memories & the New Rolls Royce of Day Camps (Spring Lake Day Camp)

I went to camp. I think camp for Jewish kids is a rite of passage. Most end up going to sleep away camp but I never did. I didn't want to leave my friends at home. I was afraid of losing the connection. But now, because of Facebook, I'm kind of jealous I never went because I see these sleep away camp FB groups where these people are all still really tight like 30-40 years later! But back to day camp...

I went to Town & Country in Old Tappan. I remember the names and faces of girls (and boys) I knew when I was five years old. I've recognized some of them in the mall here and there over the years. Most I never approached but I remember being in the changing bunk with them, looking up to the older girls, listening to Eye of the Tiger in the gymnastics building, and Jam On It on Joanne Lamstein's radio in the back of the bus with Johanna & Cathy Lamstein, Danny Bright & Todd McDonald . I remember Danielle Gallant and her older sister coming to camp hysterical crying. Crying for the ENTIRE DAY. Why? Because John Taylor (or Simon LeBon?) from Duran Duran had the NERVE to get married. I remember "cutting" periods with Lyris Autran, Jen Selig, Allyson Goldstein & Nirene DiNardo, going to the swings, and just hanging out, thinking we were so cool. There were water balloon fights with Adam "Droops" Kestin and Dave Tully. I remember loving color war, singing all the "fight songs" and watching the counselors paint the "team" plaques to be hung by the pool and all over campus. I remember the canteen, the fruit punch & orange drink in the mini cartons for snack. It probably wasn't the nicest camp but I definitely remember having fun, making friends, learning to swim and making lanyards in box stitch.

But, Town & Country is now something else. I'm not sure if it's homes or still some kind of camp but it isn't the old T&C, that's for sure. Any of these Bergen County camps were probably on very expensive land and they all sold out to developing companies. I can't remember all the names but there was definitely a Jellybean Camp and Camp Scuffy. I can't think of the others but if anyone else can recall, feel free to post them and your memories!

Day camp has come a long way. I now have a child and he's already gone to camp. He loved camp both years he's gone already. Choosing a camp is hard though. There are finances and camp ain't cheap no matter where you pick. You want to feel like you're getting the most for your money. And when you also work, you need something that really fits with your schedule, otherwise you have to factor in other costs like extra swim lessons outside of a camp that doesn't offer them or after camp babysitting.

Two years ago E was at the Glen Rock Jewish Center for camp. I can't express my love for them enough. The staff is a lot of the teachers from the school year and Hilarie the director is the same. I love the whole community here. But, they just don't have the kind of hours/weeks I need. It's just too short of a day and amount of weeks offered. It's very affordable. But they also don't have their own pool and my son can't be trusted to be at the town pool without me there. He's used to being there and he runs around the pool. If I can't stop him, I can't imagine someone else can either. I could be wrong but the fact remains, I still need more time/weeks. But, FYI, if you are even thinking of registering there, I'd make sure you do it the first day registration opens because it's sold out faster than a Springsteen concert in NJ.

Last year E was at Barnert in Franklin Lakes. It just wasn't the place for us. It's a beautiful facility. But they also don't have a pool and I really want daily swim instruction. The plus side is they are the only camp I know of around who does NINE weeks. BUT, they start at 9:30 vs most camps picking up by bus around 8-8:30a or having drop off at 9a. It cost maybe double or triple what GRJC costs and they expected me to pay $10/day for drop-off at 9a instead of 9:30 so I could make it to work on time. I think it's extemely ballsy to charge $3600 for camp for the summer where it's only until 3p three days a week and the other two are til 1p and lunch is additonal money. I had to pay the $10/day to the person watching him who was also his counselor. So for a half hour she'd already be there, where he's basically playing with toys with other kids there or on his own, I paid $270 in cash to her, then I also was giving a tip in the end. It just all left a bad taste for me. There was more but I'm not going to go on a negative turn (anymore than I have). It's just not for us.

In the Bergen/Passaic area, there is basically only one private day camp- Spring Lake Day Camp in Ringwood. I actually worked there in the summers of 1992 and 1993. I remembered it more like Camp North Star than Camp Mohawk (Meatballs reference) to be honest. I remembered it being more on par with Town & Country. Stacy Pett, Mark (swim guy), and I hanging out in the "grove" in the mornings, "Gossip, Gossip, We Want Gossip" with Alex Morik & Amy Ouida on Friday mornings for line-up on the big lawn by the pool. But, regular camp. Bug juice, hot days & homemade PB&J for lunch.

Well, we're not at North Star anymore! I went there this past Saturday for their Open House event....

Oh. My. God. How could you NOT want to send your kid there? I was so in awe when I got out of the car- it barely looked like the same place. We had a lot of the specialties when I worked there but not in the same capacity whatsoever. New buildings, new pools, added activities. One of the biggest changes I noticed is the food pavilion. We all used to bring lunch, kids and adults, and they'd put it in refrigerators until lunch time. I remember lunch time well because after we all scarfed down our bagged lunch I'd French braid nineteen heads, quickly, using forks to avoid a lice epidemic. Now they have a catered hot lunch, included in the cost of the summer tuition. What? We had some of that lunch on Saturday and it was awesome. Organic milks, yogurt, bbq, fruit, salad, kid-friendly, etc. Floored.

I took a tour and one thing was better than the next. They expanded the grounds, they made new bunks, there is zip lining, a cooking studio, nature, ceramics, arts & crafts, go carts, dance, drama, hockey, basketball, daily swim instruction & free swim, music, boating, rock climbing, and special events like Carnival Day. It's become the Rolls Royce of camps in Bergen. It is just a beautiful place where I would be thrilled to send my kid. Of course, you get what you pay for and you pay for what you get. So it's a hefty price tag for the summer. But, in the same breath, I can say, I wouldn't need additional babysitting or a special early morning drop off. They are picked up and dropped off door to door by a bus so I wouldn't have to race against 208 traffic to get him there on time and still make it to work on time too. I wouldn't have to leave work in the middle of a sale to pick him up. THAT alone makes it worth it. There is just a lot of awesomeness there I'd like E to experience. He had such a fun time there just for the Open House. I can only imagine how much he'd love a whole summer.

So, I don't know what we're going to do. You may even be wondering why I'm writing about camps in October. But believe it or not, a lot of these camps have early-bird special pricing that ENDS by the end of October. They also all fill up quickly because there actually are NOT that many options anymore for full eight week camps. There are sport/acting/dance specific "camps" but those are usually only 2-4 weeks tops. If you're home, planning to go on vacation, or have other plans, these shorter camp sessions might have a lot of appeal to you, but if you work, you kind of need something stable for as many weeks as possible. Luckily E's school has a "mini camp" for the two weeks after school ends, which is imperative for me to be able to use. I also sign up for that the day I get the registration paper to ensure a spot is held. I need as little lag as possible which I assume anyone who works would also need. I get that most full time working parents use a regular daycare setting so they may not have these problems but E's school is a regular school that lets out for the summer. And I love the school so there isn't a question of switching to a daycare setting (although I am a huge daycare center supporter).

Of course there are other options for camp around. I'm pretty sure if I think Spring Lake is the Rolls Royce of Bergen, Ramapo is arguably the Maybach? of Rockland? My friend has worked there for like fifteen years and from what I hear, it's ridiculously awesome. Just totally out of my realm of possibility on cost. So I won't even look at it. But if Stein works there and is in charge, it must be great. My other friend, Cohen, sends her kids to Deer Kill, also in Rockland and can't rave enough. It's still one at the top of the list for E. I just haven't been able to get there- it's in Suffern and it's just out of my way. Tried to get there in the summer during camp and I just couldn't do it.But she's not the only one I've heard good things about it from. I've also heard great things about the Wyckoff Y. It's also just one of those programs though that isn't lengthy enough in weeks for me and I'd have to pick up and drop off. I'm just really looking for a bus option this year.

But here are the NJ/NY options I know for those getting ready to start their 2013 summer planning:

Glen Rock Jewish Center:


Spring Lake:

Wyckoff YMCA:

Ridgewood YMCA:


Deer Kill:

Blue Rill:

Camp Ramah:

Ramapo Country Day:


And if you're in the market for sleep away- My old camp director bosses (Lori & Ephram) at the Clifton & Bergen YMHAs (back in the early 90's) own Camp Wekeela in in Maine. I see their pictures from camp on FB all the time and I hope to one day be able to afford to send E to sleep away there. If there are any people I would trust with my kid for the summer, it's them. I remember when I worked for them when I was 20, their dream was to own a camp. Now they do and I'm sure it rocks.

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