End of a long day at the beach, we're soaking in our palatial suite's oversize tub, martini glass misting on its tiled ledge, tall cold glass of milk beside it.
We slip on robes, drift out to the long balcony where dusk is painting pink our personal swatch of sea and sky. Room service has draped the wooden table in white, laid out fresh pappardelle with saffroned scallops and prawns, rare steak, béarnaise on the side…
Whodathunk my first vacation alone with my three-year-old son could be like this?
A week earlier, in a panic, I'd almost canned the whole thing.
Are we plot fodder for a Seth Rogen movie?
In the two years since Max's mum and I split, I've managed to cautiously carve out a parallel existence as dutiful co-parent - dinner, diapers and lullabies - with single-guy thirtysomethingdom - travelling to make documentaries, hitting the bars - with the considerable help of Max's adoring granny in the flat upstairs and his daycare round the corner.
But when the custody gods decreed that we'd have a whole week away to ourselves, I knew my knee-jerk notions of "vacation" would need a rethink.
Backpack years behind me, I'd still normally opt for the gîte or the ashram over anything with a whiff of prefab.
But on the road? With a three-year-old? No nanny, no granny? And hoping to maybe, like, meet someone new?
Clicking on "Caribbean all-inclusive" finds deals abounding for couples with kids or singles without, but for single parents, the options are neither plentiful nor cheap. (Come on, travel biz, where are the Yummy Mummy Cruises? Daycare and daiquiris for Dad? Divorce rates not high enough to make it worthwhile?)
Well if this holiday wasn't going to be a steal, might as well make it one to remember. And hopefully not just as plot fodder for a Seth Rogen movie.
On the website for Half Moon in Montego Bay, the stunning ocean views from the balconies plus the words "spa," "yoga" and "children's village" drove my cursor toward "rates." While Half Moon is not an all-inclusive, it does offer packages that wind up at a price tag similar to the big name all-ins.
I picture myself in one of those vast beach chaises, sipping something booze-and-fruity, while at my feet, quietly sandcastling, my adorable pint-sizer - known for such precocious lines as "Daddy, I'm still a bit ravenous" - beckons irresistibly to the lovely sun creatures strolling by.
But as takeoff draws nearer, drastically different visions seep in. How will the reality of our mealtime dialogue: "Max, eat… Max, eat!" our still-in-progress toilet training: "Why didn't you warn Daddy?" and Max's plaintive "Daaaaadyeeee!!" really play in a luxury Jamaican resort?
Will we spend meals locked in solitary parent-child kvetch in a dining room full of happily still-married families or the candlelit and child-free?
Will I even have the time or energy for such metrosexual concerns as whether these trunks make me look fat, let alone concocting any poolside bons mots, or will I just feel like mainlining pina coladas and burying myself in my chaise when Max finally succumbs to his nap?
Stroller-snooze through check-in
One possibly untapped strategy for quelling revolution in the hearts of the young would be to make them single parents.
During the 10-minute drive that separates Half Moon from the Montego Bay Airport, when Max finally conks out in the cab, I feel as though I should feel guiltier about the rows of shanties lining the road. But after five hours of travel, I can feel only relief when Half Moon's wrought-iron gates open on manicured lawns, tennis courts, pools, a fleet of golf carts silently swishing.
Max stroller-snoozes through check-in at the resort's breathtaking post-colonial plantation house. I sense the gaze of a lone young blond woman with a Fendi bag thumbing unnaturally through some flyers. Then sense a husky husband hovering into view. Never mind; early days.
Max wakes up in time for the golf-cart ride to our room. One of the great pluses of Half Moon, rather than, say a clump of skyscrapers, its rooms are housed in a series of two-storey villas, set slightly ahead and back from each other, to afford each inhabitant a feeling that they have an exclusive slice of ocean.
After the golf-cart driver deposits our bags in our second-floor suite, it takes a moment to realize that this room is really ours: white marble floors, high ceilings, regal sofas, wing chairs - classic, rich and decidedly ungeneric - a cot for Max that will soon make its way from the living room ("Daddy, I'm scared" "Of what?" "Dinosaurs") to the bedroom, next to the massive four-poster freshly sprinkled with purple flower petals.
The strain of travel drains away as it dawns on me and Max simultaneously that in this lush setting, we will have each other's attention exclusively for a relaxed week, no rushing, no daycare, work, no obligations of any kind. Suddenly giddy, we launch into a raspberry-spitting, bed-bouncing, petal-strewing, pillow-fighting romp that lasts until a demure knock on the door signals evening "turndown."
Just the two of us
We're at the weekly beach party, taking in the tiki torches, a reggae band, and a vast buffet with every manner of surf and turf: "Just the two of you? Is mom in the room?"
"No, she's not"
I sip my drink and assess that there are really only couples and family present, which seems relaxing at this point. Meanwhile, Max wastes no time channelling his favourite animated car movie hero for the benefit of a dark-haired beauty his age at the next table.
"I'm Lightning McQueen, the famous racecar. Let's kick it into overdrive! Kachow!"
She looks terrified but interested. Well, as long as one of us scores.
The next day, after brunch (to the waitress's "Just the two of you?" Max happily says "Daddy, there's just the two of us!"), we take in the gorgeous Jamaican sun floating on mats along a long curvy pool, Max savouring his new pirate persona: "Move along scurvy dog!" We order daiquiris at the swim-up bar: his virgin, mine less so.
The days drift seamlessly together. I feel us becoming a familiar fixture, my frequently heard paternal cry doesn't seem to be bothering anyone - running down the lush, manicured walkways, "Maxie!," running along the beach, "Maxie!," transferring our pirate game to the ocean, "Maxie!"
In the dining rooms, Max is given special care by the staff, and the patrons all seem to beam with tolerance at the tableau of me chasing him round the tables.
And then there is room service, included in our package. You can also order from any of the resort's restaurants, including my personal fave, Il Giardino, featuring a chef from Verona.
In the end, I barely use the Children's Village, with its charming and caring staff, which had seemed such an important feature of the vacation. Okay, once or twice I avail myself for an hour or two to head to the spa for a truly divine massage - but by and large I'm actually having too good a time with my kid to feel like parking him anywhere.
"Daddy," my son says to me a few days in, "Can we not never go away from Jamaica?"
And as I look at them, the couples and the families, bless them for their tolerance, the nervous newly or not-quite weds in their 20s and 30s, the snoozy couples beyond, it dawns on me that Max and I might just be the happiest couple in Montego Bay.
Special to The Globe and Mail
Jamie Kastner is the producer/director of the documentary Recessionize! For Fun And Profit premiering this spring on TVO.