My kids laid stretched out on beach chairs recently, soaking up the sun on the deck of a cruise ship, with (virgin) pineapple drinks in hand.
My son played around with his snorkel and swim mask, getting ready to dive into the micro-size pool, which was filled with college students on spring break. At 7, he didn’t seem to mind. He liked practicing his “skills” and swimming the short distance from one end of the pool to the other, sometimes accidentally splashing water on some of the college kids, apologizing in the process.
Our 9-year-old daughter wore my oversized black sun hat and her pastel striped sunglasses. She also proudly wore a bikini for the first time. It was a battle she had finally won.
We aren’t overly conservative people. But as someone who has had skin cancer, we are extra careful when it comes to sun exposure. Our kids usually wear rash guard-style swimwear, which covers their arms and back. They know about sunburns, although they’ve never had the kinds of sunburns I experienced as a kid. But they know why they wear the kinds of swimwear they do.
But every summer, it’s a battle when it comes to swimwear with our oldest child. Our soon-to-be preteen daughter wants to dress like a teenager. The cruise didn’t help.
The last time I was in the Bahamas, it was 2002 and I was 20-years-old. My college roommate and I bought one of those packaged vacations marketed toward college kids. We flew on an outdated, cramped charter plane filled with other spring breakers. We stayed in a nice but slightly run-down hotel on the beach and survived on pizza, casino buffet food and nothing but Bahama Mamas for the week. I don’t remember much about the trip except that we spent most of our days laying out on the beach and most of the nights either at a club or sitting at the nickel slots of the casino, because that way we could get free drinks but not actually spend much money.
It was fun, one of those spring break trips you take once in college, but not something I’d want to do again.
Two weeks ago, it was spring break again, and I was heading back to the Bahamas, again, only this time it was on a cruise ship, this time with my husband and two oldest kids in tow. Our 3-year-old daughter stayed back for some quality time with my in-laws.
When I booked the cruise - our first - I imagined the all-inclusive dining on-board, the family time we’d spend on the beach, the rare “kid-free” time my husband and I could spend together while the kids played at the ship’s kids zone.
But I quickly realized soon after we boarded the ship that our spring break trip was going to be a lot more like my first trip to the Bahamas than I probably would have liked. The main deck of the ship looked like a tightly packed version of “girls gone wild” with thong bikinis galore. I’ve never seen so many butt cheeks - or knew those swimsuits were in style - at least, they aren’t at the kiddie pool we frequent. My tankini top and matronly swim skirt seemed to shout “MOM” more than ever before. Pretty sure the crowd knew I was a minivan-driving soccer mom without even asking.
The pool deck was initially so loud my daughter needed earplugs, as a live band blasted out music in between the “belly flop” and “hottest man” contests. While my son seemed oblivious to the lack of clothing on most of the college girls, our daughter definitely noticed, and that worried my husband especially.
Despite being on a booze-cruise with half of the sorority and fraternity members from the University of Georgia, we made the best of it. We ate great food. We enjoyed time on the beach and at a waterpark, and my kids relished in winning a scavenger hunt on the ship. We did the bungee-jump trampoline, the rock wall and, despite using a lot of sunscreen, got a little sunburned. But we had a great time.
Being surrounded by college kids on spring break was a constant reminder that I am definitely not in college anymore. And as my family made our own memories together, I realized - I’m definitely OK with that.
Lydia Seabol Avant writes The Mom Stop for The Tuscaloosa News in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Reach her at email@example.com.