Monday, July 27, 2009

The lego fridge for our kids college rooms

I saw this modular refrigerator on Inhabitat and see all sorts of possibilities for when the kids enter the dorm room life.

Besides which - the thing just looks cool. I don't think it has any affiliation with Lego, but it's super cool looking. I'd like to make sure it can hold a full gallon of milk before endorsing it. Perhaps we'll be adding these when our kids enter the teen years and commence eating (and drinking) us out of house and home.

Getting the whole story –parents, coaches and teachers need to get on the same page

In my recent, unscientific survey of parents of boys, I’ve discovered a 3 to 1 probability that sons won’t tell you extensive details about their day. Especially if something didn’t go their way that day. And with boy energy introduced to a world that expects 5 year old children to control impulses that physiologically require the brain development of an 8 year old, often things don’t go their way.

It’s hard to be a boy today. And it’s hard to be a boy’s parents.

Over the weekend, I received an extensive list of behaviors at camp that my son is exhibiting. Reading it made me feel really bad about myself and really bad about him – until my husband reminded me that we haven’t heard this litany from any other camp this summer. We know our son is athletic and competitive. We know that he needs to be pushed to his limits. We know he pushes every other limit as far as he can. He’s done well at camps that push him to do better and force him to play up.

We offered our son the choice to continue at this camp or do one week of baseball camp and one week of soccer camp. Surprising us, he chose the current camp. His logic – I can do both baseball and soccer at my current camp and I want to show that I can do this camp right.

Our strategy: Read him the feedback from his counselors – no editing. I wanted him to know that his behavior was noticed and not working. Then we focused on three things he could do today at camp:
  1. Cheer for his camp-mates and don’t ever talk about what he did himself. This humility thing is hard for him and this is a good way to practice it.

  2. If he is called out, asked to sub, scored upon or anything else he doesn’t like, no tantrums. Just take the referee/counselors call with dignity, sit down and cheer everyone else (see #1). This is another really good lesson.

  3. No pushing, shoving or trash talking on the field. The other kids don’t like it and he doesn’t need it to play well. I give this one a low probability of success.

According to Real Boys and The Minds of Boys (which I have read) and Raising Cain (which my sister has read), boys are hardwired to physicality and to compete. Not all boys are physical and competitive, but it’s not a disability to be competitive or physical although it does need to be channeled. As a parent, I’d like to hear from the teachers and coaches about what I can do to support my boy and help him adjust to the expectations they have for him. Like most parents, I’m winging it. I’m sure that the only thing guaranteed to work is time for that brain development to happen. In the meanwhile, anyone have any great ideas to get boys to tell you about their day – including what didn’t go their way?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Crimes and Misdemeanors - the incident call

As a parent of two energetic boys, I’ve learned to anticipate the inevitable call about an incident at school or camp. I understand that it is impossible to see everything leading up to an altercation. But to teach my sons something useful, I need to be very concrete and specific – so I need facts.

It’s simply not okay for a camp or school to call and tell me Taylor (or Benjamin) misbehaved without context. I need information and I am going to ask questions until I get it. Too often, the caller expects me to defend my child or justify his behavior without listening. That’s not my goal. My goal is to teach my child how he can make a different choice next time – but that takes some understanding of the situation. Take my recent incident call:

“Taylor really misbehaved – over the top. He was very upset that things didn’t go his way in a game.”
“Really? That’s surprising. Can you tell me what happened?”
“No, I wasn’t there. But his reaction was over the top.”
“What did he do?”
“He kicked and hit and screamed.”
“Do you know why?” - No
“Can I talk with him?” – Yes.

I learned from him that a friend of his first pushed him over the foul line on the field causing his goal to not be counted – but there was no tantrum then. Taylor did complain about what his friend did. That’s as far as I got before the camp director resumed the conversation and told me that I couldn’t help him justify his behavior. So far, I didn’t know what his behavior was except that it was out of character. My job as a parent is to understand enough that I can teach my child and to advocate for him if he cannot. In that order.

Luckily, his friend is in the karmic carpool and I had the chance to talk to the friend and the friend’s mom. The rest of the story:

After the game, the friend shut a gym door in Taylor’s face and Taylor shoved the door open and pushed back. Both boys were sent to the office. The friend provoked Taylor verbally there and Taylor hit him. That’s when I got the call. Taylor did not make the right choice, but after two or three successive provocations, I’m not exactly surprised. So the lesson was “choices when someone is annoying you.”

I am still concerned that the camp director didn’t have the facts and assumed that it was a sportsmanship issue about losing a game. My definition of sportsmanship doesn’t extend to two boys sitting in an office. My experience is that when kids get under each other’s skin, it’s best to separate them and let them cool off. Any other ideas (I was thinking a water hose would work too!)?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Baby Monitor Smack Down - webcam vs. traditional sound monitor

A good friend asked if I had any thoughts about if he should invest in a webcam baby monitor for his second child. He has a standard baby monitor from baby #1. With my first child, I bought multiple baby monitors because I couldn’t find one that worked reliably in our cordless phone, near our neighbors and wireless networked house. And our baby’s nursery is as far away as possible from the master suite – not intentional, but ultimately very nice. For the record, the (then) $19.99 Fisher Price Sound and Lights monitor was the absolute best.

We’re past baby monitors now – if our kids need us, they either come and get us or shout at the top of their lungs. And only the baby who cannot get out of her crib is tolerated using the shouting technique. I did a little research on these webcam baby monitors on Amazon and There’s a Dad’s actual experience here. But my recommendation to my friend – don’t bother with the webcam baby monitor.

First, most of the moments with a newborn are not all that interesting - sort of like watching paint dry. Of course they’re snuggly and cute and those hands and feet are just amazing. But it’s not really an interesting video stream. Think about how often you watch home videos – you’d watch more if they were edited. How often do you do that? I have about a year’s worth of video snippets that need to be burned to a grandparent and great-grandparent DVD.

Second, when they get more entertaining, they generally are moving all over the place so a stationary camera is likely to miss the most interesting activities. Cameras are portable for this reason.

Third, if you are going to do video-calls with family, it’s nice to control the environment a little bit. Plus every Mac can do this easily with iChat and I think PCs can do it as well. Not to mention it doesn’t invade the privacy of your home without your permission.

So, save the $170+ or apply it to a video camera and get good at posting the most adorable videos of your children that you can catch. I predict that the webcam just won’t get viewed often and everyone will still want the cute videos that they can kvell over with their friends.

What do you think?  What sort of monitor did you use and did it help you sleep or keep you up?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Breast or Bottle - both work just fine

Its a shame that anyone - medical professional or layman - would make a mother feel guilty for taking care of her child.

I breastfed 3 children for 12 months each because I both wanted to (important) and my body cooperated (important). Because my children were in day care starting at 9 weeks or so, they were also bottlefed (happened to be breastmilk, but bottle sanitation is as important).

When expecting mother's ask me about how to do it, here's what I tell them:

  1. Breastfeeding is NOT intuitive for you or your baby. Expect it to be something you both need to learn and will take practice. Share this gem of wisdom with your partner.

  2. Breastfeeding doesn't always work and the more anxious you are about it, the more likely it is to fail. Try to relax. And it still might not work - so be glad you have other options.

  3. Milk production requires sleep and water. Do everything you can to recover from pregnancy and delivery. This is not the time for supermom behavior. Even if you don't breastfeed, you need to recover to be a good Mom.  Drink a lot of water.

  4. Most of our generation was raised on formula and we're fine - if it doesn't work, don't make it more than it is.

  5. You will feel judged for every parenting decision you make. The sooner you believe in your own (with your partner, if you have one) judgement, the better your parenting life is going to be.

Hope it helps.

Read the original article -

SUNDAY MAGAZINE | July 22, 2009
Motherlode: In Support of Bottle Feeding
By Lisa Belkin
Although breast feeding should be encouraged, doctors urge more assistance for mothers who choose bottles.


Top 10 ways to be a geekdad while out on the lake - excerpt from Geek Dad

Added my three Geek Mom contributions:

  1. Calculating the number, speed and circumference of whips and figure-8s to make the tube ride fun and not dump the kids.

  2. Headset for the walkie-talkie in one ear, bluetooth for the cellphone in the other. Finding a walkie-talkie that’s bluetooth ready - bonus points.

  3. Tube-based webcam. 360 degrees.

Re-posting via Wired: GeekDad by Dana Bostic on 7/22/09

My children and I love spending time on one of our local lakes. Filling
the boat with gear, finding a nice spot to camp, tubing, knee boarding,
and cooking out are all part of what I really want to share with my
children. On this last time out, I did notice several Geeky activities,
so here I present my Top 10 ways to be a GeekDad while out on the lake.
Please feel free to comment with any Geeky activities that you enjoy
out on the lake.

10. Writing this article while on the lake. Did I take my laptop and
broadband access card on vacation with my family to one of the most
beautiful lakes in North America. Are you kidding?

9. Thinking how much better the picture would look with a Digital SLR.
Imagine how much detail I missed in this picture, if only I could have
shot this on a 10 megapixal SLR with 200mm lens.

Read the rest of Dana's post here and comment...



Capturing moments - when the Canon Powershot is indispensible

I'm not sure what inspired them, but last night the kids broke out in song following dinner. Ariel has become obsessed with Puff the Magic Dragon - she absolutely loves the song and will listen to it over and over again. It's cute although we are really looking forward to when she develops a broader repertoire of music.

Because of sacred time, I was right there able to capture it on our Canon Powershot - which has all the functionality of the Flip AND is an incredible still camera - thanks Best Buy!

Benjamin stayed in tune while creating his own funny lyrics. Even better, he's learning to play Puff on the piano so I think a full rendition of the song is in my future. Sometimes my kids teach me how to parent them. Since I love to perform and can sing and play piano, I'll sometimes join in to "help" Benjamin on the piano or in singing something. He's pretty clear - he'll ask for help when he wants it and the rest of the time, he'd like me to let him work it out. Humbling, but appropriate, no? What do your children teach you about parenting?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Home invasion - how we manage kids’ time with TVs and computers

Computers, TV and video games are fun. Addictive, time draining, brain zoning fun…and even the WII, whose games apparently get kids moving around still involves the television or computer monitor. From watching our kids we know that they, like us, zone out when the TV has their attention. It’s clear that their brains are taking a break. The computer is a bit better – they can interact with it, but I still intuitively feel it’s not as good as playing a game, running in the yard or reading a book.

Before our kids could ask for it, we decreed our home a video-console free zone. This was also before the WII which I must admit I want to own. Benjamin and Taylor envy the Nintendo DS whenever they see it – in fact, it’s led to more interactions with the snarly version of Benjamin than I care to recall.

During the school year, the kids understand that the rule is no TV or computer during the week except for homework. Saturday and Sunday have a two hour daily max, except for football season – which has a one-game max. There’s not a lot of time for them to watch TV during the week and I don’t see the reason for it. Of course, I’m not home with the kids – and neither is anyone else. They’re in school, day care, activities or playing with friends or each other. I appreciate how an in-the-home mom needs a break and a little TV every day apparently doesn’t hurt pre-schoolers as long as the parent controls the programming. Blue’s Clues and Dora are in…Ninja Turtles…not so much. Thank God for TiVo and every DVR that copied it.

We’re not alone in our determination for our kids to learn to entertain themselves and each other without electronics. President Obama regaled the NAACP last week about how we need to raise our children. People who are angry that he singled out the Xbox are missing the point of his lecture. I’m not sure the President of the United States should be focused on parenting and I hope he neither taxes nor regulates it.

We’re going to break down on our gaming console ban soon – we’re planning a 16-20 hour drive from San Francisco to Big Sky, Montana. Peace and quiet in the car requires extreme measures…like a console that plugs into the car DVD system and allows the kids to vary their entertainment. That said, I’ve asked the installer for an “all-off” button so that Mom and Dad in the front seat can shut off all electronics and ensure that our kids notice the majesty of the Rockies and Yellowstone.

How much TV and computer time is in your child’s life and how do you ration it?

Monday, July 20, 2009

The answer is more sleep. What's the question?

My friend Laurette had a two month old daughter and called me on the carpet with “you bitch (smile in voice)! How could you not tell me what to do with my screaming daughter when you knew the answer?“ The answer is more sleep. Now, what is the question?

Laurette’s daughter was screaming when she was put down. She thought she was putting the baby down too early and she didn’t want to go to sleep. It’s a logical, adult conclusion. And completely wrong.

We learned early on that sleep begets sleep. To have (relatively) happy children, a good bet is more sleep starting as young as possible. For Laurette this meant putting her daughter down every night 15 minutes earlier and earlier until she found the hour where her daughter went to sleep with a few whimpers. Of course, her daughter slept through the night at 10 weeks or so. My kids needed to be forced to sleep through the night at 4 ½ months after I was ridiculed by the more seasoned moms in my first office.

After my first child was born and I returned to work, I was dragging because I had a nursing baby waking up at 2:00am to nosh. The other office moms laughed at me and I asked to know the joke.

  • First child, you jump out of bed when they whimper to check if they are okay. You nurse and comfort them as needed until you are utterly exhausted.

  • Second child, you jump out of bed when they are really screaming and might wake up the first child. You nurse them if there is no other option to get them to sleep.

  • Third child, you throw out the monitor.

All three children grow up just fine.

That night, I kissed my son goodnight, told him I would see him at 6:30 am and turned off the monitor. I slept soundly and at 6:30 am, he was happy to see me. I don’t actually know how many nights he cried at 2:00am, but I don’t think it lasted very long. We were both a lot happier on a full night’s sleep.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Sacred Time

As a day care mom, I used to leave work to pick up my children before day care closes at 6pm (until we had three kids, hired an au pair and then I left work at 5:30 to meet her at home by 6 after she picked everyone up). Over the last eight years, 5:30 - 7:30 pm has become sacred time. Without spending it with my kids, I get stressed and our lives get crazy.

5:30 because day care closes and after school activities end.

7:30 because it's bedtime so that my kids get the 11-12 hours they need per night to be energetic and well behaved at school, day care or camp the next day. Basically, so they're fun to be with rather than whiney, cranky monsters.

I've changed jobs every time I got pregnant and one-time, twice. And since my third most recent change (three kids, four changes), I've discussed my family time schedule with prospective hiring managers in my interviews. To their credit, they each told me that they would respect it and they each did.

It's ingrained in my schedule and that of my family and my colleagues. I recommend it to every parent. Because I do it 7 days a week, it's easy to plan on it. The kids know they are going to have time to talk, cuddle and play with me. Homework is checked and piano is practiced. The cell phone is off. The blackberry is charging. People don't call (except in emergencies). For 90-120 minutes per day, they have my full attention (other than cooking, bathing, reading - the normal chaos that goes into the witching hour).

My routine is not unusual - studies indicate children are getting daily time with their working parents. I figure - no one dies if I don't answer an email for 2 hours. And I reap the benefits because I need those cuddles and visits as much as they do - best stress reliever in the world.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Exasperating Eights

The terrible twos don’t come close to comparing with an enraged almost 8 year old. Every Thursday, my boys have a swim class. They’re at the same level but Taylor, the younger, is about to achieve his next “ribbon” and Benjamin is not. Benjamin learned this fact last week. Now showing: "Rage at Swim Lessons".

When I arrived – Benjamin was arguing with the instructor at the front desk about how he hates swimming and it’s stupid and he’s been working on the purple ribbon for over a year and he should have it. Privately, I completely agree with him that a year for a ribbon is too long between positive reinforcement events and I had spoken with the school about the pace. But my son was being disrespectful of his au pair who had asked him to swim and the instructors who were trying to teach him.

My approach was twofold: first, I asked the instructor when Benjamin received his prior ribbon and she confirmed September 2008. I asked Benjamin to tell me the current month and year and then confirm if a year had passed. Not quite. Second, I gave Benjamin a choice – he could sit on the bench next to me and not swim (and I was clearly not going to be warm and cuddly) or he could get in his trunks and go work on his purple ribbon. He chose to swim.

He’s a strong swimmer – he just prefers to play. Taylor, on the other hand, likes to practice sports until he masters skills. Different personalities lead to different outcomes. The instructors watched Benjamin closely this time and determined that he had all the skills – he just had to stop goofing off in order to be tested. It’s hard to be shown up by your younger brother – I understand Benjamin’s frustration.

The Talmud says we must teach our children to swim “Swimming both protects the child physically (from drowning) and also acts as a metaphor regarding independence.” ( My son is learning that independence (the choice to play rather than practice) is earned and not always fun.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Food Fight

My eldest, Benjamin, is a proud, picky eater who traces his pickiness lineage right to his maternal grandpa. The doctor isn't worried, but that doesn't stop us from trying to instill healthy eating habits. It's the right thing to do, but it's led to some nasty food fights - which might just be over.

My mother always said she wasn't a short-order cook and I've adopted this philosophy. Benjamin learned how to cook SmartDogs in order to feed himself - which was fine until I read Better Safe than Soy about the impact of how much soy is in the American diet (think cows and chicken feed). With our family cancer tendencies, I knew I had to reduce the daily consumption of SmartDogs.

Thus began the family food fight - the battle of wills. I don't want to fight with my son every night. Long term, I cannot win this fight because he has to make healthy food choices himself. And frankly, I was stumped until yesterday.

After taking Taylor to the track yesterday, I wasn't sure if running a mile is a good thing for a 5 year old to do - so I looked at CrossFit Kids for the kids WOD. Suffice to say - a lot less than one mile.

CrossFit kids has a section called "sane nutrition for kids in 150 words". I read it out loud to Taylor. Benjamin heard it. And this morning, Benjamin went running with me (only let him do 800M). After running, he told me that he needs to start eating healthier if he wants to run faster and further. The 150 words made sense to him!

Here is Sane nutrition for kids in 150 words" from CrossFit Kids (emphasis mine) -

Our goal with kids isn't to get them on the zone, but to get them to think and make good choices about what they eat. Our goal is to teach them very basic concepts, sugar is bad, protein is good and you need to eat some in every meal. Nuts and seeds are good fats. Eat them, don't avoid them. Pasta, white bread, and white rice are not that good for you, stuff that's red, yellow, green and found in the fruit and vegetable aisle is good for you. Eat a lot of it.

Look at your plate, make a fist, eat that much meat every meal; turn your hand over and fill it with nuts and seeds, eat that much good fat, fill the rest of your plate with stuff you found in the fruit and vegetable aisle. Fill your plate this way at every meal, don't eat more.

Try reading it out loud with your kids sometime you aren't fighting about food. Let me know if it works for you. I'll let you know if Benjamin follows through.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

You are not alone

This morning, a work friend was clearly upset about something when she came into my office. She's doing the step-mom thing - which I think is probably a lot harder than the mom thing. And the mom thing is pretty tough. I asked if she was okay and she asked me to tell her something funny instead of talking about whatever happened with the kids at home yesterday or this morning. So I shared my amazement at the endurance and speed on my five year old on the track.

My story was about this morning's workout - I'm doing CrossFit on my quest to return my body to the size and weight it previously maintained prior to the three kids. I'm only trying to lose 15 pounds - but I have new respect for everyone who tries to lose weight. Anyway, my son Taylor asked if he could spend more time with me today so I invited him to join me for today's WOD (workout of the day) - 5 sets for time of 400 meter sprints and 15 overhead squats (with 95 lbs - no chance - I did it with 20 and I'm proud). Taylor didn't keep up on the first sprint and became my time keeper on the second one. Then he asked me if I could be his time keeper. His first 400M = 2:30. Second 400M = 2:12. Third 400M = 2:11. Then we walked to cool down and he wanted to know if he ran a mile. Since he hadn't, he wanted to do the last 400M split. Did that one in 2:11. He's 45" tall! I figure by the time he's 9, he'll be doing this in 1:30 or something. And his brother is a runner too - so now he wants to be timed.

In any case - my story of the track led to other practical parenting stories - some already on this blog, others to come. She smiled and laughed. She found lots of ideas that she could apply with the step-kids. And she realized that the issues, whatever they are, are common across kids and parents.

Too often I talk with other women who feel alone in their parenting adventure - joined only by her spouse/partner (hopefully). I'm incredibly lucky - I made a dear friend during the months leading to the birth of each of our first children and we've kvelled and been exasperated together over the last 8 years of our friendship. I have another friend (over 20 years) who is about a year ahead of me with her first. Thank God for these two women who are my sounding boards and sanity checks. I think they're both planning guest posts to the blog...stay tuned.

So many of my friends and acquaintances share their feelings of loneliness, exasperation or embarrassment about discussing some of the more frustrating or gross things that happens when raising kids. Everyone seems to feel like their kid is the only one who does this maddening thing. Not really ever the case - you just have to find the other people who've been through that already.

My suggestion is to tell everyone you can what's going on. The benefits - quickly you'll find someone who's faced the same thing and has an idea; when you give something a voice it stops being so loud in your head; most of these things are funny. And as they say in Free to be You and Me - "It's alright to's gonna make you feel better."

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Karmic Carpooling

This morning, the kids asked me if we could go to Chuck E Cheese tonight after camp. When Neal's out of town, I don't mind one night of a "treat" dinner - provided we can get home before 7:15 so everyone can get to sleep on time. I told the boys that if they had a good day at camp, I'd call our au pair and ask her to meet me at the restaurant near my San Bruno office.

I didn't really factor in the impact of a carpool. Three families - we do pick up and they alternate drop-off.

Taylor announced to the other two boys that he was going to Chuck E Cheese tonight. This morning's driver emailed me asking me the plan with drop-off and do I want to take her son with us? What about dinner since adult food at Chuck E Cheese is not the main attraction. Sounded fun to have her and her family join us if we could work it out (adult food being the problem - solved by La Salsa).

The plan had been to drop Isaac off at Jujitsu and then meet the kids and au pair at Chuck E Cheese.

At 4:35 pm, my au pair calls - jujitsu is closed. That's when the carpool went karmic.

The plan:
Leave jujitsu and go pick up Ariel at day care.
Leave day care and go to Ilan's house to pick up Lilah and tokens. Leave Isaac there.
Call Isaac's Mom to tell her to pick up Isaac there. She says - no problem.

Told the plan to Ilan's mom who hung up to call Isaac's mom to pick up Ilan's sister at the same day care as Isaac's sister and bring the two girls to Ilan's house (following this?).

So - Isaac's mom brings the two girls to Ilan's house where all the other children are waiting. Everyone leaves for Chuck E Cheese - and I mean - everyone.

Best part of the story - other than setting it up, I continued working at my office and casually walked out at 5:20, drove 3 minutes and parked in front of Chuck E Cheese. About 5 minutes later, the first car of my friends and kids arrives with the question "want some kids?". The entire carpool gang with all siblings descended upon Chuck E Cheese to play.

8 children in 6 locations with two drivers. No stress, no problems and a delightful 90 minutes of kids playing and eating at Chuck E Cheese.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Running my puppies

What are little boys made of?
Snips and snails,
And puppy dog tails,
That's what little boys are made of.

Actually, little boys are made of pure energy. We could solve the energy crisis if we could figure out how to harness the energy of 2-8 year old boys. Who needs gasoline?

My husband and I are pretty high energy too. OK, in my case that's possibly a serious understatement. Suffice to say, we have very high energy boys. That's why we believe in puppy parenting. Here's the concept in a nutshell - run your puppies. Any dog person knows that young puppies need a lot of time in the yard to run. If you happen to adopt a Labrador, Golden or Irish Setter (we had the latter), you know that you either need a very big yard or get thee to a park. Little boys are just like puppies - full of love and affection as long as you run them like crazy. Get those boys to the yard or the park.

My second child has genuine shpilkes and loves sports. During the school year, it's a coin toss if we were going to get a note home about his ability to keep his hands and feet to himself. Which somehow manifests on the playground or field. Start summer- and start sports camps. The run your puppies philosophy says - as many hours running as possible in any given day will get the best results.

What do you know - not a single discipline problem. Maybe there's something to this. My dear friends have a son with sensory processing challenges. One of the techniques to help him be successful in school - a daily, challenging obstacle course. Run that puppy.

Sure, our kids a little crankier at bedtime when they're so tired they can hardly walk or eat. But they're so happy. Happy boys who are having fun and positively participating in activities make for very happy parents. By the way, my high energy daughter benefits as well from the running of the puppies. In her case, she's chasing the bigger boys or swimming.

I'm thinking that many of the challenges that young boys (disproportionately) have in grade school could be reduced if we insisted on puppy parenting - run the puppies in the morning,at lunch and in the afternoon. Once spent, they're able to focus. What do you think?

Masters Degree for Camp

This morning I had the same conversation, yet again, with another working Mom. Did you work out EVERY week for camp? For multiple children? Are they happy?

Truth be known, I long for Pine Grove Camp for my children. I started in 2nd grade at the Jamesburg campus (which now is an adult community - the Wall campus doesn't have the same rustic feeling), I think, and my sister must have started in kindergarten. This wasn't a specialty camp, religious camp or luxurious camp. But it was bona fide camp. There was bug juice for lunch (which was always hot, always included and generally edible). Although I never drank it, it certainly symbolized camp. We had bunks for our stuff - and there were some sleepover bunks that we used when we were older. There were fields for softball, kickball, dodgeball. I think there were basketball courts for people who played that (I think they were on the "boys camp" side...I didn't play basketball).

The structures were wooden or canvas. The playhouse was my second home - but I enjoyed the dance and gymnastics studios too. We did two musicals a year plus a talent show. I know my friends liked arts and crafts and ceramics. Science too. We had electives and we had group activities. We played intramural sport competitions with other camps.

And there was the waterfront. We had multiple pools and the lake. You had to pass a swim test to go boating or even swim in the deep-end. While we didn't have waterskiing (small lake), we did have canoeing, kayaking and row boating. We had swim lessons every day and we had free swim every day.

We left home, picked up by a small van bus, around 7:15 in the morning and got home after 5:30. We slept on the bus. Or we sang. Or we argued. The camp was only 40 minutes away...but we were always the first pickup/last drop off. And I went until I was 16. My best friends growing up were my friends from camp.

Fast forward 20+ years and I'm a parent of three great kids. Two of whom are in the prime zone to go to day camp. We live in Northern California, not New Jersey. I'm not sure what camp is like in New Jersey, but in the Bay Area, it requires a working parent to manage a complex spreadsheet of weekly/monthly camps with all sorts of varied deadlines for "applications" and commitments. We cannot have an empty week - because that means someone is taking off from work (which we do over the summer to be together and vacation) or someone is getting paid to recreate camp for our kids.

First - you have to know the deadlines of the camps you want. The community centers have great camps...and late sign ups. The private camps are much earlier. There really isn't day camp like Pine Grove - except north of Orinda and they won't bus from the Peninsula. Few camps start as soon as school is out. Few camps go until school starts...plan vacations accordingly! Second - you most consider drop-off and pick-up times, location, traffic and carpool probability. A few camps have aftercare for working parents...but mostly, you have to figure out if it is physically possible, with your work and parenting obligations, to get the kids to camp. Ideally they go to the same camp...but most of the parents I talk to cannot force this to happen - arg.

I probably spend about 30 hours researching, planning, coordinating and applying to camp. Another 10 hours ensuring everyone is paid, carpools are finalized and every version of the medical report is completed by the doctor.

The kids are having a great summer. But they're not at any camp long enough to make friends. So, we're looking back east for summer long sleep away camp. I do wish I could find Pine Grove, with busing, in the Bay Area. (And for all of you PJCC camp parents - it's a great camp...but it's where they go to school and the kids deserve some time off, no lake and gorgeous - but not rustic.)