It was our second night in Jamaica, and I was sitting at a picnic table on a small, rocky beach in Runaway Bay. We were eating a buffet dinner and watching a talent show that combined sideshow stunts by performers — walking on nails and blowing flames into the sky — with gymnastics and G-rated jokes by guests, who included children and a few brave parents. When the crowd applauded, my 18-month-old daughter, Roxie, clapped excitedly with them. In the show’s final act, an otherwise dignified Canadian father with Justin Trudeau-like good looks thrust his pelvis across the makeshift stage as if possessed by the spirit of Elvis Presley.
I had somehow stepped into a scene from “Dirty Dancing,” transported to a Catskills resort, circa 1963. It wouldn’t be the last time, during our five-day stay, that I’d feel this sense of generational disorientation — of being not so much in another country as in another era.
Though my husband, Tim, Roxie and I had already been on the island for two days, we had not yet left the walled confines of our resort. Not only that: We had no plans to leave. Not even once.
It wasn’t that we weren’t interested in seeing the island, birthplace of Rastafarianism, home of reggae and land of rum cake and jerk chicken. But as the parents of an increasingly energetic (and exhausting) toddler, our primary motivation for this trip — I’m embarrassed to admit — was not culture or music or even the lush expanse of the Blue Mountains.
It was babysitting. Affordable, reliable child care and the possibility, at least, of a vacation that actually felt like a vacation.
To that end, we had maxed out our modest travel budget on airfare ($430 per flight) and four all-inclusive nights ($340 per night) before we even arrived. If the trip went as planned, we wouldn’t spend another dollar — beyond tips, of course — after takeoff from New York’s Kennedy International Airport.
The obvious question, and the one that invariably nagged at me when I considered an all-inclusive: Why bother traveling to another country if you’re going to spend the entire time at your hotel? It was a question I didn’t have an answer to.
And yet since I became pregnant, I had been hearing about Franklyn D. Resort & Spa, a modest, charmingly dated property an hour’s drive from Montego Bay, a cruise ship port and the country’s fourth largest city. I had noticed that it was mentioned in Facebook moms’ groups and family travel forums, where I did a fair amount of anxious late-night lurking. F.D.R., as it’s known among its many fans, had devotees — families who returned year after year. And I wanted to know why.
Then we met Lisa Dixon, our “vacation nanny.” And I had my answer.
Beaches Ocho Rios Resort & Golf Club
I had known, of course, that child care was part of the F.D.R. package. But I didn’t understand how it would work. Would I just leave my child with a stranger and somehow relax? I couldn’t imagine it. A year and a half into parenthood, Tim and I had hired a babysitter only once. A nanny — a word I associate with British period dramas — seemed impossibly luxurious, as out of reach for two working writers as a personal chef or a private plane. But at F.D.R., Ms. Dixon’s time and expertise was included in the price of our stay.
Having descended from a matrilineal line of women who were paid to care for other people’s children, I felt deeply conflicted about the “vacation nanny” concept before we arrived. I worried that it undervalued the work of women like my mother and grandmother. It seemed potentially exploitative.
But the balance between cost and convenience is something with which every parent on a budget must grapple. Most of us make choices, at least occasionally, that we aren’t entirely comfortable with — that raise questions we don’t have easy answers to.
I expected to feel uncomfortable in the hermetically sealed bubble of the resort, but the disorientation came as soon as we were on the airport shuttle bus. I felt uneasy at taking a vacation in another country with no intention of engaging with the people or culture, history or environment — or even just day-to-day life — of that place.