Last week we went to the Jersey shore for a family vacation. When I was growing up, my family visited Stone Harbor, NJ every summer and Husband and I decided to try this great family spot with the kids.
It was a big hit with a great combination of kids oriented activities such as riding waves, bicycling on flat streets with well marked bike lanes, playgrounds and, of course, a popular homemade ice cream shop.
What our vacation lacked was any planned, organized children’s activities run by other people. What it offered was the opportunity for Son and Daughter to stretch their perceptions of themselves. And ours as well.
We bought Boogie boards the morning after our arrival and after an awkward start, both kids started to get the hang of riding waves. Stone Harbor’s waves can reach five feet, which is great for adult riding, but fortunately they also then tumble into shallow water at a good enough pace for little kids to ride them safely, too.
Son learned to ride on the back of the Boogie board, thus maintaining his balance, so the waves could carry him all the way to the water’s edge. Daughter, on a smaller board, picked it up immediately.
But for Son, who just got comfortable putting his face in the water this summer, the true test was when he got tossed by the one rough wave to come along. It pulled him off his board and face down underneath the water. I was standing right beside him and picked him up. He was startled, but not as frightened as I would have thought. In fact, he was kind of thrilled by the force of the water. He got tossed once more before we left and picked himself up.
Son’s other foray into new territory was at the playground. Stone Harbor has several playgrounds and a welcome, non-beach activity was to walk or ride bikes to one of them. On our second day, we discovered a little playground near the ice cream shop with a paved basketball court next to it. I followed Daughter onto the playground but Son stayed on the court, eagerly watching a tall gentleman and his grandson shoot hoops.
After a few minutes, I looked over to see Son shooting, passing and dribbling right along with them. This from my “shy” Son in “new situations.” Our little town back home has few playgrounds and my kids are so used to hooking up with friends or play dates, they haven’t had much experience picking up friends or joining pick up games. (Maybe we mommies have gotten a little lax greeting mommy strangers as well.)
Son played for an hour with his new friends, an eight year old and his grandfather, who graciously passed the ball and coached him to shoot (although the hoop was too high for him to score anyway). Daughter, for her part, was mastering hanging onto the rings by herself then carefully jumping to the ground.
Later that week, Son also managed to join an informal football game with a father and his teen children on another playground. I was equally impressed with the strangers who willingly added a five year old to their game as I was with Son’s bold confidence to join.
Both kids discovered their ability to travel as we rode bikes around the town. Back home, the roads are too windy and hilly to ride bikes unless we drive to a flat cul de sac or school pavement. But in Stone Harbor, we could get to and from places on our bikes. I was an anxious freak when we crossed side streets and rode next to Daughter in the bike lane yelling, “Stay between the lines!” But overall, this was a great sport for all of us (wears them out and is an effective mode of transportation).
Daughter made a big leap forward on the home front. Upon arrival in our little rental house, she was excited about their twin bed set up and announced she wanted to sleep in the bed rather than our pack n play. Since we had already tried the big bed at home twice, and had to re-crib her each time since she was unable to actually sleep in the bed, I was skeptical.
But, we decided to let her go for it and promised a special toy from the five and dime store if she slept in the bed all night for three nights. We also set it up this time that the bed was like her crib and she couldn’t’ get out once she got in. She should call to us if she needed/wanted something like she did from her crib.
It worked! She was so proud of herself and excited to sleep in the bed, she did a great job. She fell out about once a night, since we didn’t have a rail, but we laid down padding and she was undeterred. She has now slept in her big bed back at home (with rail) for four nights. We’ve promised to remove the crib in her room if she makes it through the week.
I won’t deny that we had our frustrating moments when two energetic kids in a small house pushed our limits. But there was always a ready place to take them. Places they could take themselves. Where they could define, or re-define, their limits and play, just play, like kids.