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Revisiting the Family Vacation -- With Baby

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As a kid, family vacations meant only one thing: Cape May, New Jersey. Friends visited different shore points each summer, or might go to the mountains, and my lucky (and wealthy) best bud actually went to Europe every year. I couldn't get my mind around that. When he came home he would teach me the swear words he picked up, but I barely asked about his travels. They sounded so, well, foreign to me.

The pleasure of The Gresko Family Vacation was knowing what you were going to get. Year in and year out, we laid our blankets at the same spot on Philadelphia Beach, a stone's throw from the jetty. Mornings meant bike rides; nighttime was for browsing and re-browsing our favorite shops. Toward the end of the week we ate at the posh Washington Inn, followed by a horse and buggy tour through Cape May's Victorian downtown, playing audience to long familiar tales of madwomen in their gingerbread trimmed mansions pining away for lost seamen. It got so that we could've lead the tour ourselves.

In college I declared liberation from The Gresko Family Vacation. After 20-something years of routine I wanted to journey beyond the Jersey Shore, I wanted to see the world! In the years since, my parents have continued their pilgrimages to Cape May with a standing offer for my wife and me to join them. But aside from my brother's wedding several years ago, no amount of free booze, ice cream and skee ball could lure me down.

Until they threw in babysitting.

As an expectant parent I heard over and over to kiss sleep goodbye, along with personal time, afternoon matinees and spontaneous midweek benders. But no one told me I'd never travel footloose and fancy free again, maybe because that's such a dire, hopeless thing to contemplate.

In fact, in those early weeks of the newborn, the thought of a vacation--my wife and I jetting off and leaving the constant cries, frequent feeds and the foul, rancid cheese smell of baby poop behind--was the carrot that kept me going. Then I realized we would have to bring our son, Mr. F, with us.

And though born of two expert tourists (the kid was even conceived while out of the country!), this baby did not travel easily. Even jaunts to the grandparents, where we were made comfy and treated like royalty, disrupted Mr. F's routines, naps and night sleep--leaving us more exhausted than before we left. Maybe next year we'll travel, we told ourselves, when he's older.

But this past summer, with Mr. F a toddler, we ended up saying the same thing--maybe next year. Because whether home or away, Mr. F rose with the sun, demanding breakfast, and not long after became agitated, ready to hit the park or the playground--hard. Breaking from routine held no pleasure for him, and rest and relaxation were concepts he had yet to grasp.

Vacation's out, we thought. Forever.

Until my parents floated the idea of Cape May, this year with the added incentive of watching Mr. F in the early morning hours, and again after his nap, and in general just being around happy to occupy him throughout the day. They said they'd bring their dogs with them, and anyone who spends a couple of minutes with Mr. F knows this kid loves him some doggies. Suddenly, the prospect of The Gresko Family Vacation didn't sound half bad. Beggars can't be choosers, I told myself.

But as we cruised down the Garden State Parkway to our vacation, I kept up a running stream of silly jokes and pleasant conversation, prompting my wife to point out, "You're really looking forward to this, aren't you?"

And I found I actually was, for the first time in over 10 years, excited to visit Cape May. Sure, there was the possibility of QT with my wife and luxurious mornings of sleeping past seven, but I was equally jazzed about sharing my childhood experiences with Mr. F, the stores, the skee ball, Philadelphia Beach, all of it. Suddenly The Gresko Family Vacation had new life--though my pre-parental self would be throwing up in his mouth to hear me say it.

Once again I found that it's true what people say about having a kid. It really does change your life in ways you never imagined.

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