BIG BEAR LAKE — It's commonly considered that one reason kids go to summer camp is so mothers can take a break. Now there's a program that eliminates the middle step. Mother's Camp goes right to the source, with a camp program for moms only.
No husbands, no children, no boyfriends and no hassles. From Friday afternoon to late Sunday, mothers are pampered and fed, waited on and entertained. From morning coffee in bed, if they like, through a night on the town, if they have the energy, the camp is designed to please moms.
Mother's Camp is a three-day getaway in the Big Bear Lake area, staying at a private home or a lake-front lodge, depending on the size of the group, which can range from eight to 30 mothers.
A group of eight moms recently congregated on a Friday afternoon in the big suite at Frontier Lodge on the lake. Sometimes the camp is entirely composed of friends or club members. But on this weekend none of the mothers knew any of the others.
Ruthie Rigan of Rialto, the mother of three teen-agers, was the first to arrive. Her husband had given her a weekend at the camp as a gift for Mother's Day, and he drove her there. Not being the type to stick to a schedule when her time's her own, Rigan started her camp experience with a bubble bath and a long afternoon nap.
Each mother had her own room with fireplace, telephone and TV set, a basket of almond-scented lotions and shampoos and a bottle of champagne.
A full schedule of activities lures most of the moms out of their rooms. But nobody minds if someone would rather sleep all Saturday morning instead of going horseback riding. That was the choice of Cindy Russell of Orange, the mother of two daughters, ages 3 and 8. "Sleeping in is one of the things I came up here to do," she said.
Carol Smith-Carter is the founder and president of Mother's Camp. She and her husband, Tim, have two daughters, ages 6 and 11.
"Ever since I became a mother I knew there was a definite need for something like this," Smith-Carter said. "A year ago we finally were able to get it going." She was a camp counselor in Pasadena during her college years, and recently was advertising director of Big Bear Lake's newspaper, Big Bear Life & the Grizzly. As far as she knows, there's no other camp in the nation that's exclusively for mothers.
Some of the mothers who've called have wanted to bring their children with them, "but that's not the idea of this camp," Smith-Carter said. "This is a place for mothers to get away from the daily routines, to relax and have some fun."
Russell said she heard about Mother's Camp when she found a note about it on her refrigerator. "I thought my husband was trying to get rid of me for a weekend," she said, "and my husband thought I put the note there because I wanted to get away."
As it turned out, her mother-in-law had put the note there because she thought it would do them both good. "By the time we figured out how the note got there, I had already made up my mind to go," Russell said. And she keeps coming back; this was her third Mother's Camp weekend.
Lori Meyer of Vista has two children, a 4-year-old boy and a 6-year-old girl. As a divorced mother, she decided that a weekend at camp was just what she needed. "I heard about it, sent for the literature and signed up the next day," she said. "It's wonderful. I love it. I want the time to go real slow because I don't want this day to end."
After horseback riding in the morning and a picnic lunch at the water's edge, the women boarded a canopy-covered pontoon craft for a cruise around Big Bear Lake. It was the weekend of the trout derby at the lake, but there was no particular effort to stay quiet as "the captain," Jeanne Nafarrate, steered the big craft through the traffic of dozens of serious trout fishermen. And no one was having more fun than her passengers.
By late Saturday, the group, all strangers the day before, had become friends, sharing secrets, telling outrageous stories on themselves, heaping praises on their children and howling with laughter over worst-case moments of parenting.
There is something about sunshine, the aches and pains of horseback riding, floating around on a lake and having somebody else take care of all the details that is definitely therapeutic.
The Saturday evening meal was a steak and chicken barbecue, and the final meal was a Sunday champagne brunch followed by a village shopping spree.
Horseback riding, carriage rides, bicycles, shopping and sightseeing are all included in the price that ranges from $165 to $220, depending on accommodations. Crafts sessions are also organized and in the winter there are skiing and other snow sports.
"There are a lot of moms who need to relax and have someone else mother them," said L.A. Executive magazine, calling the camp "a whole new idea in vacationing."
Smith-Carter calls her program "a very comfortable adventure." What she promises is "quality time for moms."