What Children? What Husband?


The 15 suburban moms whose laughter rippled from the rustic cabin they named Lageritaville had left behind a total of 38 kids, 10 minivans and eight husbands who had taken off work Friday so their wives could leave early for a weekend reliving their girlhoods at summer camp.

Actually, no one was supposed to even mention "the H word" or "the K word," according to the rules laid out by the women, who live in the same Washington suburb and share a baby-sitting co-op, a book club and a cul-de-sac happy hour. But then, they couldn't make the no-hair-dryer rule stick either.

Their attitude was: Hey, who hasn't broken a rule or two at summer camp? Especially after a lagerita, a lip-puckering brew of equal parts lime juice, tequila and cheap beer blended with ice.

"We're all nearing 40, and we just want to have fun," said Jo Jackson, 36, who brought a pinata stuffed with candy, nail files, pimple lotions, wrinkle creams and Mardi Gras beads. "We do a lot together anyway, but we're constantly being interrupted. Someone's got to get a child, or someone's got to change a diaper. This time, we're just ourselves. Before we came here, we were neighbors. Now we're friends."

That's the idea behind Camp AWOL, a women-only weekend at the Timber Ridge summer camp, where the spaghetti, chocolate pudding and orange Kool-Aid served in the mess hall tasted pretty much as the campers remembered.

Because much of the weekend is devoted to canoeing, kickball, softball, swimming and tennis, the camp's acronym stands for Athletic Women On Leave. But, with every camper of legal age and without the need to drive or respond to skinned knees, they also joke that another "A" word--alcoholic--more closely describes those leisurely afternoons and evenings by the pool.

Cindy Aserkoff, an America Online executive and soccer mom whose generation of women grew up without playing many sports, started Camp AWOL four years ago as a respite from the responsibilities of family and career and for a chance to try new sports without fear of looking clumsy.

"It's an opportunity for women to get together and talk to each other with no pressures," she said, stretched out poolside as some of the other 40 campers lolled, reading paperbacks or floating on air mattresses.

Friends whom she invited to the initial August weekend brought more friends. As word spread, one weekend wasn't enough. Aserkoff added a June session and is considering an extra weekend this September. Potential slots are limited because the $125 weekends must be bracketed around the kids' summer camp season. But Aserkoff hopes to expand Camp AWOL to more weekends in several camps across the region.

The locale, in the Shenandoah foothills of West Virginia, is integral to the experience. It's not just that the site is so remote that cell phones don't work and so quiet that chirping birds are the alarm clocks. Nor is it solely the camaraderie that develops when a dozen women share a one-bathroom cabin and sleep on bunk beds and cots with plastic mattresses.

Rather, it's the irrepressible girl that emerges from the woman who is canoeing down the river and comes upon a rope swing, as happened to Sharon Belliveau, a systems analyst at the Federal Reserve Board.

"I am Xena, queen of the river!" Belliveau shouted as she arced across the river and let go. Displaying honed organizational skills, the women came loaded for bear. Peggy Schultz, a management consultant from Washington, brought Stilton cheese and garlic hummus, plus new flowered sheets for her cot. Marie-Louise LaFond, who works for Cox Communications, carried fold-up chairs usually used for watching soccer games, marshmallows for roasting and a large can of bug repellent.

In the wee hours of Saturday, they talked about men. They read aloud from a little red book listing 201 graphically passionate things that could have been excerpted from a Cosmopolitan magazine article. Like preteen girls talking about boy bands, they played make-believe, drawing up dream lists of attractive men.

Some were a little rusty.

"I picked Andy Gibb," Jackson said with a shrug, not knowing the pop singer had died 13 years ago. "I know more about Raffi at this point," she added sheepishly, referring to the children's singer.

The weekend was, everyone agreed, simply the best.

"I have the best friends here that I've had anywhere--so many intelligent women that all get along," said Jane Filbert. "Our husbands go away on business, and we don't do anything for ourselves. So when this came up, we seized on it."

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