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Take a Page from the 'Book of Alice'

Sometimes it can be hard to share an early-morning line to register your children for camp.

Wandering through the on a sunny Saturday morning with my family is produce-shopping nirvana. In between the organic strawberries and delicate sweet peas a few weeks ago, I awoke from my state of bliss when I heard a worried 10-year-old girl ask her mother, “Do we have to stay there until 9 at night or something?”

Curious, I started eavesdropping and I realized they were talking about the ’s day camp.

In an instant I time-traveled back to the 1990s, to the enchanted days of Hidden Cove, Trail's End, and the lovely maid Miriam and warm-hearted Bob, a counselor who always wore a neckerchief with the Swedish flag on it.

Many working mothers know the challenge of filling big white squares on a summer calendar. To guarantee our daughters spots in the right camp session, I would get up at 4 a.m. and drive across the Island to stand in line in the cold damp air at Lincoln Park.

The first time, I had to be early to guarantee that Emily could attend the same session as her friend, Garrett; they were still in that golden age when boys and girls are friends, before they discover the opposite sex is icky, and way before they discover the opposite sex is so totally not icky.

In later years, getting up to earn my spot at the front of the line became an annual challenge.

I am a morning person, but as my teenagers, once said, 4 a.m. is “before the butt crack of dawn.”

No Alameda coffee shop opens that early. I had to make my own coffee, which is a very bad idea. (I make horrible coffee. Refer to my . And do yourself a favor if you’re ever at our house — just say no if offered coffee.)

Practically sleepwalking each year, I would pull my jeans on, yank a sweatshirt over my head and head off toward the East End.

The streets were usually dark and quiet, except for the year another driver wanted to be in my lane at exactly the same time.

It could have been my fault, but I think that other driver cut me off. I had to slam on the brakes when she merged. I might have made what might have resembled a frustrated hand gesture, and most definitely got a nasty look in return.

As it turned out the other driver and I were headed for the same park. As it turned out I stood directly in front of her in line for hours. Beat her there by several seconds.

Take a page from the Book of Alice: Never, ever make frustrated hand gestures within Alameda city limits. It’s way too small a town. I know this now. But you can’t un-ring a bell, so the other mother and I pretended that it hadn’t happened and chatted amicably, waiting for the crew to show up with card tables, forms and big pink boxes of doughnuts to start the registration process.

The year of the hand gesture, I completed the forms and enrolled Emily in Hidden Cove at Robert Crown Memorial Beach — walking distance from our house on Burbank Street — and her older sister, Sarah, at Trail’s End up at Redwood Regional Park.

The ARPD website describes Hidden Cove as providing “exciting adventures of the outdoors.” When you send a youngest child off to camp for the first time, Crown Beach is the perfect outdoor adventure. You can relax at work, knowing your sweet irreplaceable baby won’t have to trek through environmentally hostile terrain with inadequate provisions.

No frostbite, , no hypothermia nor unqualified rock-climbing partners at the other end of a frayed rope. Alameda is the perfect place for “exciting adventures of the outdoors.” As long as you apply sunscreen and pack an interesting bag lunch, they’re good to go.

Trail's End is for second through fith graders. A yellow bus picks up children at parks throughout Alameda. The first-time camper moms wave long after the campers are out of sight. The old pros get back in their cars before the bus leaves the curb, having promised their kids not to wave, kiss goodbye or even acknowledge they’re related.

Which brings me to our daughters’ ARPD counselors — our heroes. There was the lovely maid Miriam, with long wavy brown hair and a stunning smile, and curly-headed Bob.

Children adored both of them, and parents hoped those children would grow up to be equally good role models and one day wear that blue-striped ARPD uniform. 

Campers and counselors spent their days exploring the trails or making crafts.

If you are unfamiliar with poet Billy Collins’ The Lanyard, I encourage you to read it, or better yet, watch the video of Collins reading it himself.

It’s a tribute to his mother for all she did for him, and in return he gave her a plastic lanyard. I have several lanyards around the house, along with stamped leather key fobs, macaroni necklaces and embroidery floss friendship bracelets. Treasures — each and every one.

At ARPD camps, parents joined their children on Thursday evenings, bringing blankets and a picnic dinner. Not-so-Tony-award-worthy after-dinner entertainment included typical silly skits and songs.

My favorite went, “Hey, my name is Joe, and I work… in… a button factory. One day, my boss came up to me and said, “Hey, Joe, are ya busy?” I said no. “Press the button with your right elbow.” The campers would press imaginary buttons with their elbows, knees, feet, until they lost their balance. That song still gets stuck in my head if I think about it for too long. (Shoot… Too late…)

Many years go by, our children are grown, and summer break is the stuff of daydreams. According to many studies, Americans work too hard and take too little time off. (I could have saved them beaucoup bucks and told them that.) Sitting at my desk in this old warehouse, I wonder if ARPD should consider day camp for grownups.

Wait — they do! It’s called Mastick Senior Center. Mastick offers crafts and field trips. I wonder if Sarah and Emily want lanyards …

Judy Judy August 11, 2011 at 03:52 AM
Like Michele, we love the ARPD camps. The price is right for mom and the kids always have a great time. Thanks for the article, Alice!
Melanie Perez August 11, 2011 at 11:51 PM
Mia went to Trails End camp last week for the first time and loved it....The Thursday night campfires and skits are something we will always remember....ARPD rocks....
Carla August 12, 2011 at 04:36 AM
Thank you for this one- I've forwarded it to the "lovely maid Miriam" and now we're sharing it amongst all the old ARPD leaders we still stay in touch with. :)
Alice Lewis August 12, 2011 at 04:32 PM
One lanyard, coming up! Need to find me some of that plastic string...
Alice Lewis August 12, 2011 at 04:34 PM
Thank you Carla! ...and Melanie, it's true. ARPD rocks!

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