Our Happy Place

Dan, Ryan and I just returned from a relaxing five days in Cape May, NJ. If you’re not familiar with Cape May, it’s a beautiful beach town lined with old Victorian homes – some are Bed & Breakfasts (B&Bs), some are hotels, and others are houses you can rent for the week. There are shops, horse and buggy and trolley rides, ghost tours, mini golf, and a winery, among other things. The restaurants are amazing. It’s quieter than your typical beach town and we like it that way. We call it our happy place.

In July 2004, Cape May was our first family vacation spot. The boys were three months old, waking up every two hours (on a good night), colicky, and screaming constantly from reflux. I was at my wits end from exhaustion and suggested we move this party to the beach for a few days so I could get a change of scenery. I had been to Cape May once with my parents and sister and loved it.

“Are you sure?” Dan asked, probably mentally calculating all of the stuff we’d have to bring with us. “It seems like a lot of work to go anywhere.”

Yes, it was going to be ridiculous, but I convinced him three nights away would be fun. I had another month left of maternity leave and wanted to take advantage of being off in the summer. I also managed to get my mom and dad, grandparents (Mom-mom and Pop-pop) and Aunt Sue to book rooms at our hotel so we’d have lots of help. In the early days, we felt more comfortable going places with an entourage.

We loaded our car with two pack n plays, two bouncy seats, a double stroller, 20 bottles, two boxes of diapers, a tub of wipes, a changing pad, a play mat, two baby bjorns, suitcases full of their favorite toys, and enough clothes, bibs and burp clothes for several weeks.

“Is this really worth it?” Dan asked, surveying the car and the tiny open space in the back for him to see out of while driving.

“I have to take a picture,” Sue laughed. She sat in the backseat between the two car seats and entertained Jordan and Ryan on the ride down.

By the time we had unpacked our car, the sun was going down and it was safe to bring the boys on the beach. We put them in their baby bjorns and they experienced the beach for the first time – one boy strapped to each of us.

That night, Ryan slept in Sue’s room and Dan and I fell asleep around 9:00, right after Jordan did. The next time I heard Jordan crying, I woke up surprised to find myself feeling rested. It was 4:00 am – for the first time, Jordan had slept a seven hour stretch. How amazing! (Note: This was a fluke. I attribute it to the magic of Cape May. Jordan, although the first baby to sleep through the night, did not consistently do this until he was eight months old.)

The trip ended up being more than worth it. We had some fun meals with my family and took walks with the double stroller. There’s something about beach air that is immediately relaxing, and the stress of the past few months temporarily melted away when I dug my toes in the sand and felt the warm sun on my shoulders.

Fast forward to 2008. Mom-mom and Pop-pop rented the Ashley Rose – a pretty, yellow six bedroom Victorian home – for a week in August. There were 12 of us in total. The boys were four and while we had a lot of toys, we could pack like a normal family and Dan could see pretty well out the rear window. My niece, Shaina, was six months old, so the honor of lugging a crazy amount of stuff to the beach now went to my sister, Marni and brother-in-law, Dan. (But nothing could ever top packing for twin babies!)

Here’s what I remember about that week:

  • Jordan making everyone dance in circles to his music
  • Pop-pop playing the harmonica for the kids while they ran around the living room singing and squealing with delight
  • Daily happy hours organized by Mom-mom and Pop-pop that started at 4:00 pm promptly (“Be on time or we start drinking without you,” Mom-mom always warned)
  • Long family dinners with lots of laughs
  • Fun game nights after the kids were in bed with more laughing
  • Ryan locking himself in his bedroom on the last morning and falling asleep, immune to us frantically banging on the door and yelling for him to open it (We finally found a key.)

I also remember this was the week Shaina developed reflux – and screamed and screamed and screamed – thus beginning Ryan’s lifelong fear of babies!

The following year, Mom-mom and Pop-pop rented the green and red Ocean Victorian house for a week. It was just as much fun as the prior year. Shaina was a year and a half by this point, her cries long ago replaced by smiles and giggles. She and Jordan could make each other laugh for hours.

This house also had the added bonus of a room with a pool table. When I found out Pop-pop enjoyed the game, too, every day after coming back from the beach I’d ask, “Pop-pop, ready to play?” “Of course!” he’d always answer with enthusiasm. Sometimes the games were close, but he always won. As a former math department head and calculus teacher, I’m convinced there was something mathematical about the way he hit the ball.

In 2010, instead of a house, we stayed at the Marquis de Lafayette hotel. Mom-mom and Pop-pop rented an apartment on the top floor with a deck and full kitchen, which is where we had our happy hours. We took a whale watching boat ride and Ryan, who was going through an impulsive phase, threw my jacket into the bay. It was rescued but took several washings to remove the fish smell. Jordan wrote a song about the 50 states (he was six and very into geography) and made us all sing it over and over.

That was the last time the entire family went to the beach together. It was hard after that for my grandparents to go anywhere with a lot of walking.

Dan and I continued to take the boys if not every summer, at least every other. It was never quite the same as those special weeks with the whole family, but we made new memories and have grown to love the purple and white Inn of Cape May. Sue has joined us there a few times, too. Ryan learned to swim in the Inn’s pool when he was seven (Jordan had learned the previous summer), and pool time transitioned from me freezing in the water with the boys to sitting on a lounge chair with a book and/or drink in hand, watching them swim.

As the boys have gotten older and enjoy going out to eat more, Cape May has become all about the restaurants and negotiating where we’ll eat each meal. We often map this out a week in advance of our trips as everyone wants to go to their favorite places. This was the first year there were only three of us since Jordan spent the week in Europe as part of a school sponsored exchange program. There was a lot of room in the back of the car after we loaded our suitcases. It really hit me how much they are growing up and Jordan, especially, is starting to do his own thing.

The Ocean Victorian is two houses down from the Inn of Cape May, so we walk past it frequently on our vacations. If I stop and really listen, I can hear little boys’ high pitched voices singing while a harmonica plays; I can hear the giggles of a baby girl; I can hear many adults laughing till they cry at silly things happening during game nights; I can hear glasses clinking together, toasting the beginning of happy hour; and I can hear the balls breaking, signaling the start of a pool game.

Maybe, the family in there right now is lucky enough to have four generations spending the week together. And if that’s the case, I hope they are savoring every moment.

14 thoughts on “Our Happy Place

  1. Beautiful blog about family memories that will never be forgotten! I remember those car rides barely able to move my feet in between those two precious boys! Happy Hours that live in my heart along with the harmonica! Thank you for bringing back those special times! XOXO. Sue

    1. Thank you! Those car rides were legendary. All the Baby Einstein and Elmo videos and songs to keep the boys occupied!

  2. This is beautifully written, as always. It made me cry, but happy tears. Nothing stays the same, but the memories last forever.

  3. Beautiful memories, of course causing me to be a bit misty eyed! I remember Jordan watching the cooking channel (not sure why since he is not a cook) and teaching him Roman Numerals when he was perhaps six years old. And Happy Hour was always happy, glad to be shared by the great-grandparents!!

  4. Sorry, this posted before I finished writing and I can’t delete it! Meant to say above – that’s right, I forgot about the cooking channel and Jordan learning Roman numerals there! The Roman Numerals served him well at the quiz bowl competition (see blog titled ‘How you play the game!’

  5. Oh my goodness! I just love this! Very beautiful! I just cried in happy tears as I read this! I will not mind these beautiful messages! I love this and you a lot and Cape May is also one of my best happy places!

  6. Beautiful, thanks for sharing! Also, shed a wild and crazy tear or two from across the miles!

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