We just returned from a weeklong family vacation at the Jersey Shore. It was lovely, but I couldn’t help taking note of the ways in which the concept of “vacation” has changed since we became parents.
WHAT TO PACK
A couple of bikinis, flip flops, a sundress, one bottle of Hawaiian Tropic dark tanning oil.
Four kinds of sunscreen (all a minimum of SPF 45); three sun hats; one beach tent; one inflatable baby pool; various flotation devices; a week’s worth of diapers and pull-ups; enough sand toys to build the biggest sand kingdom in all of New Jersey; a small library’s worth of bedtime reading; a toddler-curated selection of cars and trucks (which I will spend half the vacation retrieving from piles of sand, restaurant floors, prickly bushes, and dusty corners; one set of Bristle Blocks (see previous); three pacifiers (don’t judge us); a stroller, a booster seat, and a bicycle seat; one economy-size box of Welch’s fruit snacks; one dog, one 2-year-old, and three grandparents. And some stuff for my husband and me.
We’d slather ourselves with suntan lotion, splay on our beach blanket, and flip through all the New Yorkers we hadn’t had time to read over the previous months (because we were so busy doing… what, exactly?). We’d nosh on a simple lunch of bread, cheese and fruit, then doze a bit. Depending on where we were vacationing, we would either keep our bathing suits on or we would not. When we’d had enough sun we’d wander down to the water to float peacefully in the waves. We would repeat this until it was time to head back to the hotel for a nap.
We lug our beach tent, flotation devices, and sand toys down to the beach, where we commence a ritual not unlike pig wrestling, in which we must capture and then apply sunscreen to a wriggling toddler who has already managed to coat his entire body with sand. We then embark on a beach-combing mission to examine every shell, stone, crab and clump of seaweed that has washed ashore. Then it’s time to build sandcastles, which involves my husband and me slaving over buckets of sand and water while our 2-year-old oversees the operation like a small, cranky pharaoh. If one of our sand towers has a crack or other imperfection, he knocks it down. He has no tolerance for mediocrity.
Swim time! It’s not until our second-to-last day that the little guy overcomes his fear of the water, but he makes up for lost time by magically transforming his aversion into a desire to never get out of the water ever again. This is exactly what we’d planned for when we decided to rent a house on a bay beach, reasoning that the calm water would be ideal for the kiddo. What I failed to take into account was the fact that bay water is kind of disgusting—murky and teeming with slimy sea life which one can feel but not see on account of the murk. Skeeved as I am, I have to man up and wade in with the little guy, who squeals with joy as he floats in the soupy water. As I push away the image of my submerged legs covered with seaweed and crabs and jellyfish, I think, for about the millionth time since his birth, how lucky for the kid that he’s so damn cute.
The husband and I wear our bathing suits the entire time (which I’m sure our parents appreciate), but the kiddo occasionally ditches his. Ever discreet, he shucks his shorts only after we return to the privacy of our beach cottage’s fenced-in front yard. As we hose the sand off our feet, he runs around his inflatable pool yelling “naked baby!”, pausing occasionally to urinate in the grass.
SHIT HAPPENS (when you least expect it)
Just a few months after we started dating, when our relationship was tender and new, and I was still artfully maintaining the illusion that I was exempt from such base bodily functions as defecation*, my husband and I traveled to India. We spent a week in Delhi, followed by a week at the beach in Kerala. It was my first trip there—and it was by far the most exotic place to which I’d traveled thus far. I was excited, of course, but also terrified that it might prove a little too exotic for my intestines. I wasn’t ready for such an extreme sharing of bodily functions, especially not within the intimate confines of a hotel room. I packed an arsenal of Imodium AD and prepared for the worst. As it turns out, I made it through the trip without so much as an errant gas bubble (though I did have a rather dramatic homecoming once I’d returned to the safety of my Brooklyn apartment).
*This effort was for naught, because apparently—as my husband revealed only years after the fact—I unwittingly left behind some, er, evidence in his bathroom mere weeks into our relationship. Now that I’m over my retroactive embarrassment, I’m left to wonder how I could have let such a thing happen. It’s just so unlike me. I’m convinced that either he has me confused with someone else, or an evil toilet gremlin planted the poo in order to frame me.
My parents want to take everyone out to dinner on their last night with us at the shore. We go to a semi-fancy restaurant called The Lobster House, where the windows look out onto a boat-filled marina and the decor is decidedly nautical—from the wooden mermaids on the walls to the sailor dresses the waitresses wear. Not one to miss out on a rare chance to doll the boy up a bit, I have outfitted him in a blue-striped T-shirt and white pants jauntily cuffed to mid-calf. That’s right. White. Pants.
I hope you’ll pardon the not-so-humble brag when I tell you that our son is a delightful dining companion. The kid enjoys eating in a restaurant, and he generally wins the admiration of our fellow diners with his good manners, cheerful disposition, and enthusiastic enjoyment of food. This night is no different; he has just been served his fish and chips when he announces, “I love to eat!” A short while later, as all of us are busy tucking into heaping plates of seafood, he leans forward in his high chair with a look of intense concentration on his face. I lean forward too and whisper, “Are you pooping?” His reply is a half-grunted “yeah.”
My husband, the dear, pushes back his chair and says he’ll take the little guy to the gents’. I dig a pull-up out of my purse and realize that I’ve left the wipes at home. In fact, I’ve hardly brought anything from my usual baby emergency kit—no change of clothes, no sippy cup, not a single Matchbox car. But then one of the grandparents produces a nearly empty packet of wet naps and we are saved. Or so I think.
When 10 minutes pass with no sign of husband and toddler, I get up to investigate. I run into them in the waiting area. My husband looks sweaty and panicked and our son isn’t wearing pants.
Him: “We have to leave, right now. We can’t go back in there. There’s shit everywhere…”
I look around to see if anyone has heard. Several elderly patrons are making no attempt to hide their interest in our conversation.
Him: “…on my hands, on his legs, in his shoes, on the car…”
Me: “Wait—on the car?”
Him: “There wasn’t a changing table in the men’s room so I went to change him in the back of the car, but then I realized I didn’t have the keys so I changed him on the hood.”
The boy clings amiably to his father’s shoulder, unperturbed by his lack of pants. I run back into the dining room to grab the keys and tell our parents that we’ll be leaving early. Our car is a ghastly sight: brown smears streak the hood and in the center of it all an overflowing pull-up slumps like an exploded bag of chunky peanut butter. I find a few hand wipes in my purse and we scrape the whole mess into a plastic bag that formerly served as a carrying case for our kite.
Back at the house, husband and son both have a shower. All cleaned up and clad in fresh jammies, the little guy seems to have forgotten about the whole thing. My husband is still recovering.
As my mother-in-law pointed out afterward—perhaps a tad too soon afterward for my husband to fully appreciate it—we surely would not forget this vacation. And we’d also have a funny story to tell for years to come! And she was right. I mean, what’s the better story—”The Time I Went to India and Didn’t Have Explosive Diarrhea”, or “Poop Extravaganza at The Lobster House”? The moral of the story is this: listen to your mother-in-law. And, if you’re dumb enough to dress a toddler in white pants, for god’s sake bring a change of clothes.