I walk behind my eldest daughter Naomi on our way to daycare for the very last time, my five-month-old baby strapped to my chest. She does not hold my hand or wait for me to catch up. Her nose is in a book, awkwardly turning the pages while trying to avoid the overgrown native plants in our neighbor’s front yard, which she does because we’ve walked this same path for the last two years. Tomorrow she will start “big school” and clearly, she is ready, but I am not. In anticipation for this rite of passage I told my husband I wanted a family trip before the back-to-school madness begins. After all, we’ve never gone anywhere just the four of us yet. So, the final weekend of summer break we packed our swimsuits, snacks and other essentials and headed south.
San Diego has become one of our happy places, as I’m sure it is for many, with its year-round perfect weather, local breweries, sandy beaches, and my favorite, palm trees. Despite arriving at Town and Country Resort in Mission Valley very late on a Friday night, I still felt an instant sense of calm as we drove past the row of palm trees lining the entrance. The mid-century lobby was all vibes with couples at the Monkey Bar sipping cocktails, live music and tweens and teens soaking up their final days of freedom. As much as I’d love to disregard the girls’ bedtimes in the name of summer vacation, to sip wine around the fire pits outside the Monkey Bar and put our feet up, we have not reached that level of parenting yet. But that’s okay. We take the elevator up to our suite and that ride alone had Naomi excited. If that’s all it takes, then she’s in for a treat.
Photo-ops and fun in the sun
Seeing the 23-acre property in the daylight from our balcony we got our bearings. “Pink chair!” Naomi exclaimed pointing to the Instagram ready giant flamingo shaped chair against a colorful mural backdrop. “Twisty slide!” she said pointing in the other direction at the four-story 150-foot twister waterslide. In between, the property’s zero entry main pool glistened, rows of lounge chairs neatly surrounding the 10,000 square foot pool complex. As most parents of little ones know, just because you’re on vacation doesn’t mean you get to sleep in. Fortunately, the in-room coffee maker held me over until everyone was dressed to stroll over to MRKT, the hotel’s gourmet grab-n-go market featuring very San Diego fare like acai bowls, breakfast burritos and fish tacos.
After breakfast we had to have our own little photo shoot by the chair. As my husband was juggling our baby and the iPhone to snap a picture, a woman and her young son volunteered to take the ever-elusive photo of all of us. “They’re only this little once,” she said insisting on taking multiple pictures to get the right shot. “He was our do-over.” She ruffled her son’s hair who was being a good sport about this morning interruption. “We’ve got two in college and then—surprise! It was the best surprise.” She squeezes her son. “Enjoy this time.” I squeeze my baby girls a little harder. I know she’s right, how fleeting this moment can be despite the challenges that come with parenting little ones. After all, this was our last weekend before entering the world of packed lunches, permission slips and picture day. I try not to think of all that at lunch, a “mommy and Naomi date” as she likes to call it. I do my best to hold back tears as I stare at her across the table, sipping on sparkling apple cider out of a champagne flute. “Stop looking at me!!” she grumbles and breaks me out of my spell.
That afternoon, which happened to be Steel Drum Saturday, we snagged some poolside chairs in the shade, thanks to a local couple with young kids and a baby enjoying the resort for the day. The property was full of parents like them who “get it,” which is part of the reason we could relax a little unlike past vacations. I sat on the edge of the kiddie pool as I kept an eye on Naomi who was playing in the water with a little girl. The girl’s mom had three other children, she explained to me, ages 7, 10 and 12. “She was my surprise baby,” she said pointing to her 3-year-old. “I had an IUD that was supposed to last 10 years. But it lasted four. She was meant to be!”
Dinner and a movie
After an early evening stroll through San Diego River Park, directly behind our building, we sat down for dinner at Lapper Kitchen + Tap, the resort’s fast-casual restaurant featuring a full bar and kids menu. As dinner was winding down, Naomi asked if she could play on the lawn across from the Lapper. Shocked that she didn’t ask one of us to go with her, I said, “Of course.” We could easily see her from our table where we were still sipping our beers. She takes a moment to observe from the sidelines the older kids rolling down the small grassy hill. When she felt ready, she joined in on the fun. My eyes welled again; she is ready.
The sky was turning that gorgeous dusty pink as we walked back to our room. By the pool, a giant inflatable screen was getting ready to show the 2006 animated film “Happy Feet,” one of the many family-friendly activities at the hotel. But we were tired from a full day and even Naomi agreed it was time to go to sleep. The next day, after the daunting task of packing up a car with kids, I asked Naomi how she felt about the trip. I expected her to talk about the pink chair or the pool, or even the hotel elevator. To my surprise she answered, “Squeezed, loved, hugs.”
Our first family vacation as a family of four wasn’t all pink sunsets and relaxing meals, not with a baby and a four-year-old, but our time at Town and Country Resort was certainly full of love, squeezes and hugs.