Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Spending time, money for summer fun

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J. Adam Fenster⁄The Gazette
Annie Bertholf, 16, splurges on munchies at the concession stand Friday before watching ‘‘Hairspray” with friends at the Regal Cinema in Bethesda. Between movie tickets, popcorn and a soda, the cost of a movie takes a bite out of her budget.
Kids may long for the freedom of summer, but for parents, it’s a season that pits their ingenuity — and wallet — against keeping their children happy and occupied.

Long days spent at the shore may be the ideal, but for most families, the reality is finding ways to make sweet memories of the days and weeks spent in the ‘hood.

For parents like Julie Karner, of Potomac, planning for summer begins when icy weather is still the norm.

‘‘I make summer camp plans in February. If you don’t get something set up by then, you run the risk that your kids won’t have anyone to play with [because] the neighborhood just empties out,” she said.

Camp costs run the gamut from just $200 for a two-week Girl Scout camp for daughter Jenny, 8, to $900 for a computer camp for son Jason, 20. Even 4-year-old son Grant got a taste of camp via the Potomac MOMS Club.

‘‘It’s a glorified birthday party, really, with each parent coming up with a theme,” Karner said. When her time came to host the ‘‘camp” for 10 children aged 3 to 4, she used a water park theme complete with a water slide.

For some families, sleep away camp lasting from a week to two months is a right of passage for their independent-minded children.

‘‘My daughter at age 6 was demanding to go. When kids demand it, they’re ready,” said Kim Band, of Potomac. Her daughter Jolie, now age 9, and son Trevor, 7, are both spending two months this summer at a lakeside camp in Pennsylvania that offers everything from go-karts to dirt bikes to an adventure course with a zip-line. Those kinds of amenities do not come cheaply, with stays costing from $2,100 for two weeks to more than $6,000 for eight weeks.

‘‘It’s definitely not inexpensive. You need to budget for it, and some people pay all year in installments,” Band said. ‘‘But my husband and I agree it’s the best gift we could give our kids. They are having the time of their lives.”

Sending a child off to sleep away camp takes nearly as much research as sending them to college

‘‘You’ve got to see the camp while its in session to really know it. I know people who travel all over [the mid-Atlantic area] to witness a day in the life of [the camp],” Band said.

Then there’s the cost of outfitting campers for the adventure, which runs another $500 for camp bed-sized linens, a trunk, camp uniforms and other gear, she said.

Her biggest challenge, however, is taking a vacation from being a mom.

‘‘It’s actually hard for me to not be plugged into being a mom all the time,” she said. ‘‘This time apart rejuvenates me as a parent, and my husband and I are having lots of dates. But I still can’t wait to get back into being a mom.”

For some parents, summer means all kids all the time. They keep their sanity—and costs down—by doing exactly what suits their family style: chilling.

Amy Brody of North Bethesda, said she tries to makes the summertime a calm oasis in the otherwise hectic lives of her two 13-year old daughters and 7-year-old son.

‘‘During the school year we’re so scheduled and busy,” she said. ‘‘I just try to enjoy hanging out in the summertime [at] home and not being so scheduled.”

Her children enjoy attending soccer and a sleep-away camp, and there’s always the option of catching the latest blockbuster movie. But it’s the simple life that really appeals to her kids.

‘‘Just to take a family of five out to the movies and for ice cream, it ends up being a $50 night,” she said. ‘‘It’s a money issue but it’s also about quality: My kids would rather be at home, roasting s’mores and playing games.”

Karner said she also cherishes the freedom her family enjoys during the ending weeks of summer. Camps are done and her enthusiastic swimmers no longer have twice-daily practices or meets with the Talley Ho Foxes swim team

‘‘That’s when we wake up in the morning and we can do anything we want. There’s no carpooling. It’s just a day for picnicking or board games or maybe a trip to Mount Vernon,” she said. ‘‘My kids look forward to that time so much. They call it ‘‘Camp Karner.”