Mamarama: Jersey City Parents Have Collective Nervous Breakdown

Between the high-stakes application lottery for the best charter schools in Jersey City and the recent mayhem that ensued over Camp Liberty enrollment, area parents have suffered a collective nervous breakdown.

Actual quotes reported from this past week’s registration line-up:

“I have no other alternatives this summer!”

“I waited for 3 hours!”

“I’m going to LOSE IT if my kids don’t get in!”

“This is like waiting in line for Rolling Stones tickets.”

“This is like waiting in line for New Order tickets.”

“This is like waiting in line for Radiohead tickets.”

Each concert-goers reference gave away age and era…but the truth was unmistakable: We are a bunch of overwhelmed families in Jersey City, vying for limited resources.

I’d like to say that we are recovering nicely and receiving alternative therapy for our collective breakdown, but this is just the beginning. A topic I tackled in a previous blog concerned a similar kind of mayhem over current charter school lotteries. As an “old-timer” in Jersey City, such chaotic urgency for entry is a relatively new experience. When my daughter won entry into Learning Community Charter School in 2005 there were only about 30 others wait-listed for kindergarten. The line moved quickly and most who really wanted to get in did so by the end of that school year.

One year later the wait-list jumped by a hundred, then another hundred and so forth. Even with the addition of another quality charter school in town we continue to be frustrated and disappointed with the competitive nature of “too many kids, not enough resources.”

And now Camp Liberty is not exempt from the onslaught. This camp has been an affordable, safe-haven for many parents. To the untrained eye it doesn’t look like much; nestled in an industrial park in a far-flung corner of Liberty State Park, the camp is no more than a very large grassy plot containing a swimming pool and a few athletic fields. There is an open-air pavilion where most of the musical theater occurs and few other indoor spaces. The magic of Camp Liberty, however, is in the talented staff and the brilliance they weave in terms of art, music and theater. This is what draws kids and parents to return year after year. Make no mistake, you won’t find swim instruction, a lake to canoe in, and certainly no one is going horseback riding. Yet parents and kids loves it and “good news” word of mouth spreads like a Dengue fever.

In all fairness to the staff, because enrollment had become more competitive over the years an attempt to temper that was put in place and unfortunately back-fired (see photo). Parents lined up on a chilly Monday morning, some with several applications in hand (for friends’ kids) and complained bitterly about the sheer stress of having to go through such measures simply to enroll your kid in camp for a few weeks.

One mom’s car was rear-ended by another parent about a mile away from camp. Turns out BOTH parents were rushing like mad to the camp site in order to deliver their applications in person.

Another parent expressed her disappointment with resigned candor, “I’m so tired of this… tired of fighting for simple things that should be easy for us; school, camp, organized sport leagues… it never ends. We have hundreds of new families moving in every year, but our infrastructure cannot support the deluge. I hate the suburbs, but at a certain point, they are starting to look more and more attractive.”

Many of us moved from Manhattan to avoid the stampede of pressure surrounding education and recreation for our children. Who needs to spend $1,000 on skating sessions at Chelsea Piers when we have affordable Pershing Field Rink in our backyard? But when it comes down to it – the things that we need the most: quality schools, recreation and a decent affordable camp are breaking under the strain. And if the institutions don’t break from the strain surely our nerves will suffer irreparable damage in the process.

In the words of beleaguered Jersey City parents, “Unfortunately for us – it’s fight or flight.”

Jayne Freeman

is the host of the long-time public access show Mamarama as seen locally on Comcast Cable (channel 51) and on YouTube. In addition to her parenting program she is a certified childbirth educator and regularly writes about the parental experience.