Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Beach Day Care at the Jersey Shore

First published on www.StyleSegment.com

Call me a hill-billy, but I didn’t know if your kids weren’t listed on a wedding invitation then you couldn’t bring them. My husband Patrick and I had planned our summer vacation around a Philadelphia wedding, which we learned too late was for big kids only. Before abandoning the wedding for lack of a babysitter my retired dad saved the day and said he would take a train to Philly to babysit.

Our destination was the Jersey Shore. Cape May, New Jersey is 7 hours from Pittsburgh and 1.5 hours from Philly. Seven hours also happens to be the limit my young children, Lyra (3) and Luca (1) could watch DVDs in the car. It was perfect.

Cape May is the oldest beach resort town in America and although it is still technically the Jersey Shore it is far from beachcombers that look like the Situation and Snooki. Instead, the town is filled with quiet Colonial and Southern veranda style homes that are almost all upscale b&b hotels (www.capemay.com). We were looking for a rental late in the booking season, therefore a lot of the family friendly places were booked. Many of the mansions do not allow children because they are adorned with antiques.

Of course, when people tell me I can’t take my kids somewhere I want to yell in their faces that they have no heart, but it wasn’t so long ago when I would give the parents of a screaming kid a look of disdain if I was on my grown-up vacation. Still my kids are cuter than most and have yet to publically embarrass me. That is if you don’t count running around naked, incessant smiling at strangers, vomiting, and pooping. Otherwise, they are acceptable.

I went to www.vacationrentals.com to find a property that was open for a week in July. The hotel rates for a week were almost the same as renting a condo or house so we invited a couple to come with us who had kids the same age as ours. Whoopee! Beach Daycare!

You need a beach tag to be on the beach. A couple of young lifeguards pointed out on the first morning of our visit in a half-beach bum/ half-long island accent, “If you are on the beach before 10 a.m., enjoy the day. But if you go to the boardwalk and back then your dust.” I am guessing that meant we need a tag unless I wanted to pee in the ocean, which incidentally is what my husband taught my daughter to do.

Beach passes are $15 for all persons over 12. My husband pinned his to swimming trunks and claimed if it came off it was NJ’s fault for a faulty design. I think he was just upset he couldn’t wear his Euro Speedo bottoms. We had been told that men had to wear trunks that come to mid-thigh. However, we let our son wear his baby Speedo version.

The first thing I do when I get to a destination is book a massage, which I did at Cape May Day Spa (www.capemaydayspa.com). I have learned that if possible you should get your nails done before a trip not during. I have never received a better manicure than I do at home. However, if you need a redo go to Hale Nails on Gurney Street beside Louie’s Pizza. They have gel nail polish that last longer when digging in the sand.

The best things to do with kids besides let them eat sand and dig holes in the ground is riding bikes. Our friends had brought their Chariot stroller that can attach to a bike to pull the kids. We rented ours because I had filled our SUV with suitcases for each of my kids, mine was the biggest. Bike rentals are about $15-$10 for 24 hours.

Patrick and I had another one of our cherished married moments when I couldn’t find my bike lock. He aggressively told me he had no idea what I did with it. A woman from the bike shop was on her way to cut the lock off when he found it in his pocket. It was a ball twister, meaning I wanted to twist his balls.

There were many swanky restaurants that had fine reviews, but not one of them was suitable for children. Consequently, we did not have one extraordinary meal, although, we did cause a scene the first night in town.

While waiting for dinner at the Montreal Inn across from our rental at Capri-Motor Lodge (www.caprimotorlodge.com), Patrick decided he was going to let Luca try a swig of beer while sitting on his lap. I should explain my husband is Romanian and thinks many things are funny that I don’t. Having responded to my evil eye he moved the beer further from Luca’s reach. Then he decided to arrange more glasses on the table while taking his hands momentarily off Luca sitting in his lap. At that moment Luca took a lunge at the beer following the glass bottle to the concrete floor. The sound of my kid’s head hitting the ground together with the unbroken beer bottle caused women to cover the mouths in horror and the bar music to stop. My first impulse was to whap Patrick, but I reserved myself and focused on examining my son’s noggin.

A man rushed over and said he was calling an ambulance. Patrick replied, “I am a doctor. I think I can make that decision.” I could sense he was annoyed at this guy’s intervening and decided it was best to make an exit. At that moment the waiter came with our food, which I replied would have to be wrapped up. I hightailed it out of there ahead of my husband. Not a scratch or dent on my son could be found and before I left he was calm again.

There are many reasons why you shouldn’t feed your child beer and this may be one of them: they will think beer bottles are neat toys and fall off a table.

Thankfully, we had a great kitchen and although there is not a Whole Foods are on the island there is a great seafood market at the Lobster House (thelobsterhouse.com). Having a kitchen when traveling with kids is essential especially if they are my kids and will only eat the organic cereal and cottage cheese that you thought would be better for them when you started feeding them. Subsequently, they will not eat any other brand and we have to search out a Whole Foods at every place we travel - oh joy.

Our beach buddies are yoga fanatics. My girlfriend coaxed me into yoga every morning while she left the kids with her husband who almost had a meltdown himself trying to preserve our security deposit. They sort of colored the fridge with crayons, nothing crazy. Anyway, the yoga instruction was not as strenuous as BYS where we normally attend in Pittsburgh, but they were fine for me. The beach yoga class organized by the hotel Congress Hall was awkward in the sand, but the setting was calming with the morning mist surrounding us.

Dolphins come so close it looks like you can swim out to them, which my daring husband tried to do. The lifeguards made him keep our youngest out of the deeper water on the days when the ocean was too choppy. It is always funny to see him get in trouble for things I tell him not to do.

Of course, running a little beach daycare with four little people stumbling about doesn’t leave a whole lot of time for shopping but there is always a nap time to take an excursion. Luckily my husband needs a nap too so I could escape to Washington Street Mall (www.washingtonstreetmall.com). All around this three block area are little shops and restaurants. I found cute souvenir mermaid shirts for the little girls at www.lynnardens.com and a pirate onesie at Happy Baby Boutique (Twitter @capemaybaby).

The best souveniers in my book happens to be a book. An English bloke started a small press called Exit Zero (exitzero.us ) that produces a retro style newsprint weekly about beach life and coffee table books about the historic homes and sites. Their shop is on the way to the lighthouse, which is about a 20-30 minute bike ride from the main beach strip. Along the way there are numerous amazing homes to ogle.

Tip: Always bring a change of clothes for potty training tots. It will happen when you are far away from the car and supplies that they have a bout of diarrhea and your husband, making up for his ball twister, will have to clean up the mess in the men’s bathroom. Mom will put offending articles in a plastic bag in her purse and forget about them and only remember when she pulls them out at a wedding rehearsal dinner.

Note: Poop seems to always be a reoccurring element in stories that involve children so get used to it. Parenthood is messy and stinky, but so is my husband so I know where they get it from.

Speaking of poop, horse poop that is, one of the best ways to explore the homes is by horse and buggy. The only way to book a ride is to go there stand at the top of Washington Street Mall where there is also a stand to buy tickets for the trolley rides that are themed for kids or couples. There are regional theater shows to see and haunted boat rides to enjoy, none of which we actually got to enjoy. However, we would have if the kids were a little older, or had a sitter, or were left at home – with a sitter of course.

When we were leaving the heat was cranking up and the sand felt like walking on a hot grill. Philadelphia was what I imagine hell to feel like. My dad was already at the hotel which I will never go to again. Club Quarters may be fine for a single business traveler, but do not go there if you have a car to park or children. The hotel was chosen by the bride and groom because it was near attractions; however, it was too hot on this occasion to enjoy anything that didn’t have powerful ac generators.

We were an hour and half late to the rehearsal dinner which we were allowed to bring children. Luca fell asleep so we brought Lyra. We took a cab to South Street. Another good tip: taking a taxi is not a good idea of your child is prone to car sickness. As soon as she started to moan we stopped the taxi and walked the rest of the way. It was a good thing because I didn’t have anything clean in my purse to dress her or myself in.

In the end the messiness of parenting is a great excuse to over pack for excursions, it is also a great reason to have a large purse, and spend lots of time in the bathroom. Until the next time I torture myself with jetsetting with toddlers, take care and always carry wipes.