We recently took a trip to an all-inclusive resort in St. Lucia – which might sound exotic, but it’s only a 40-minute flight from our current residence in Barbados (the drive to the airport took longer than the flight).
My research included combing the web, scouring guidebooks and surveying friends who’ve been there, and I managed to come up with a short-list of four or five family friendly hotels on the island.
I hate to admit this, but the deciding factor on the resort we chose was based on which one would accept my three-and-a-half year old daughter in their supervised children’s program. Most of the others would admit a four-year-old, but not three. The thought crossed my mind to try and fib her way in, but I knew my girl would proudly to hold up three fingers and rat me out if questioned.
So off to Coconut Bay Resort we went. While it wasn’t the most luxurious property and the beach was disappointing, it ended up being a perfect choice for what we wanted out of the trip – plenty of family fun time, a little island exploration and a few hours of well-deserved R&R for the grownups.
Family fun time wasn’t hard to come by, as the hotel pools, lazy river and water slides made the resort an aqua-paradise for all. We managed to squeeze a few day trips into the plan to see some of St. Lucia’s highlights – Coconut Bay’s southerly location made a convenient launching point to visit the drive-in volcano, Diamond Botanical Gardens, Soufriere and the Pitons. The third criteria was a little more problematic for me.
Intellectually, I know I deserve some time off from parenting duties. A little personal downtime is necessary for keeping one’s mind, body and spirit refreshed. I know that, I espouse that, I just don’t necessarily live it. I’ve been a hands-on, full time, stay-at-home mom for over five years now. The fact that I moved 5000 miles from my nearest friend or relative two months before giving birth to my first child meant I didn’t have a trusted support network to lean on during that transformative time.
Having two children within two years, both of whom adamantly refused to take a bottle, meant that physically I could never venture too far away and so babysitters were a rarity. My girls were my constant companions. That was our norm, and for the most part it worked for us.
I dived into my parenting role with the same focus, determination and diligence as I did my various professional jobs throughout the years. Only this job was 24/7, no weekends, no vacations, no pay, no positive performance reviews, and two very demanding bosses (some great benefits, though).
Now that the girls are a bit older and have started attending school, I have a few kid-free hours a day (two and a half, to be precise). Grocery shopping is a breeze now without a toddler in tow, but I do find myself chatting to a phantom child in the shopping cart from time to time, it’s so ingrained. We have a trusted babysitter who the girls adore, so my husband and I make a point of enjoying the occasional night on the town (though we rarely make it out past 10:00 – if only the sitter could stay for the early morning wakeup shift too…).
I see light at the end of the intensive parenting tunnel, but for the most part I’m still consumed with kid-rearing duties. So when we decided to island hop over to St. Lucia, some pure, lazy, self-indulgent vacation time for me was in order and a resort kids’ club was the key to achieving this.
CocoLand had wonderful facilities, activities and programs for children aged 3 to 14. Clean and colorful, it had arts and crafts tables, toys and games galore, a large wooden pirate ship to play on and a water park complete with wading pool, fountains, sprayers and splash buckets. Friendly councilors welcomed my girls with warm smiles and promised a few fun filled hours before we picked them up for lunch. The girls barely waved goodbye. They were safe, content and engaged, already making new friends before we could walk out the door. What more could a parent ask for?
My husband and I strolled down the path away from the clubhouse and immediately felt a sense of freedom resonate through us. There were no responsibilities to attend to, no nagging chores, no pressing errands – well, at least not for me. As a self-employed internet entrepreneur, my husband is obliged/compelled to log on periodically in case some virtual issue arises. We arranged to meet at the hammocks in an hour, so I had the rare luxury of idle time on my hands. Alone. No noses to wipe, no squabbles to referee, no snacks to prepare. Just me, my book and a pina colada (albeit a virgin one – this was 10 a.m., after all).
However, families were frolicking all around me and so my thoughts continually flashed on the girls. What were they up to? Were they okay? Did they need me for anything? Were they feeling abandoned? I couldn’t help feeling conflicted that the intended highlight of my family vacation was getting away from my family. I had to force myself to refocus on the bliss of solitude. This was what I craved, what I deserved, what I needed to recharge my depleted batteries. Why couldn’t I relish it?
Just like my husband can’t completely disconnect from his motherboard, I guess I can’t completely disconnect from motherhood. I’m always online, so to speak. There’s no unplugging from the concerns of parenting. No on/off switch to that irrational guilt that seems to come with the territory.
With 20 minutes left till hammock time, I thought I’d just subtly poke my head through the window at CocoLand and see how the girls were getting on – then I could truly relax and get into vacation mode, I told myself. Who did I bump into on the path coming back from the kid’s club but my husband. Seems he can’t disconnect either.
It turns out the girls were fine without us – something I knew in my head but had to confirm for my heart. We managed to loosen up for the rest of the trip and, sandwiched in between plenty of quality family togetherness, enjoyed a few hours of restorative kid-free peace and quiet each day. I think there were a few guilt-free seconds in there, too.
p.s. Check out my tips on picking an all-inclusive family-friendly resort.
When we traveled to the Dominican Republic, I was very wary of leaving my kid with the “Kid’s Club” at our resort. These were people we don’t know, in a foreign country… But it was there, it was really close to our room, and my daughter wanted to go (they did crafts!)… So we checked it out.
We needn’t have been worried. The location was enclosed, the kids were well supervised (ratio: 2 staff with 8 kids), the staff were diligent and in control. When we arrived there were 5 other kids there, including some her age that we had already met many times over at the pool, whom we knew by name.
The club had a time limit of 1 hour, but when I came back to retrieve our 5yo daughter, the older kids were lying on mats with pillows, lights dimmed, watching a quiet Disney movie as the younger ones partook of a mid-afternoon siesta. They actually shooed me away and said to go enjoy the alone time, and come back after the movie was over.
I love my children. But sending them away for just one hour – is wonderful! We used the service every day from then on, for a while each afternoon. She kept asking to go back!
There was an unfortunate incident when our daughter pushed one of the heavy steel baby swings (with no one in it), and when it swung back it struck her square in the face. She had a giant swollen black eye, and to my dismay when I returned to pick her up there she was, crying, and I found that the staff there had no First Aid supplies – not even any ice! Their response to the quickly-growing black bump below her eye was to sit with her saying “aw… there there… it’s OK”. They didn’t even ice it!
Luckily we always travel with Witch Hazel distillate in our emergency bag, and it took about a minute to run to the beach bar to get some ice. Applying a compress of witch hazel took the swelling down quickly. She had a wicked black shiner on her eye which lasted a few weeks, and a small hard bump on her cheekbone which took another month to dissipate.
All in all the Kids Club was a very worthwhile service, though I’m still wary of the idea of leaving my children with strangers. I guess it’s the sort of thing where you have to go and check it out and get a feel for whether you are comfortable with their security, care, competence… oh, and before you leave check if they have a 1st aid kit and know how to use it.