I Took My Daughter on Our First Girls' Trip and This Is What I Learned

Grand Cayman Islands
Photo: Brian Caissie/Getty Images

We rose early, my daughter Liv and I, heading down to the beach every morning at 7:30 to swim before the Caribbean sun grew too strong, and before other guests snagged the glass bottom kayaks and paddleboards we were keen to use before breakfast. For three days in August, we stayed at The Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman, our first mother-daughter trip, and I hope one of many.

For a family of three, traveling as two creates a new dynamic. When the three of us visit a beach, my husband Jason tends to do more of the activities with Liv. They'll spend hours playing Frisbee and trying to beat their personal bests in paddle ball games, leaving me the luxury of time for a distance swim or to read a book. At home, we are busy New Yorkers, juggling school, work, and family obligations, grappling with current events, and never quite finishing our to-do lists. With just the two of us traveling, and our only ambitions to try a new beach activity each day, Liv and I found an elusive equilibrium, taking turns reading aloud, playing cards, and enjoying leisurely conversations.

"This seems like your natural habitat," Liv said to me the first day, as we swam to a water hammock, our arms and legs gliding through the pristine azure sea.

Perhaps it is, as I'm deeply in love with the ocean, and on this trip, grateful to share it with my daughter. We come from a long line of swimmers. My dad's mother swam in the Atlantic Ocean into her 90s, holding on to my uncle for support and declaring, boisterously, "Ah, this is a machaya" – Yiddish for something that gives great pleasure. During my childhood summers, my father and I used to swim across Gull Pond in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, and later, when I had summer jobs in Philadelphia, we swam after work at a local pool.

Jackie Cooperman and her daughter on vacation
Jackie Cooperman

My late mother, Liv's beloved grandmother, wasn't as attracted to the water, but she used to applaud as I swam my mile of laps, and nicknamed me "the motor." I think of her always when I swim, I hear her cheering me on, and I miss her. I think of my grandmother too, and wish she had had a chance to swim with Liv.

These are tender moments, all of them, and finite. Liv is 11, heading into sixth grade, but I remember when she couldn't swim, and I know how fast time goes. I watch Liv's strokes now, strengthened from daily lessons at sleepaway camp, and I delight in her new confidence, in swimming alongside her, in the rhythm we find in the water.

The most memorable moments were the ones we didn't photograph: when we were floating on the plush rafts we'd placed on the water hammocks in the crystalline sea, creating a luxe aquatic lounge; when we sheltered from a violent and unexpected lightning storm, consoling ourselves for a canceled snorkeling trip with jokes and gelato; or when we discovered my previously unknown foosball talents. In our group of three, Jason or I will usually photograph the other two. As a duo, we documented fewer moments, but we lived them deeply.

One evening, we dined at Blue by Eric Ripert, the Manhattan-based chef's exquisite Caribbean outpost.

I confess that had Jason been with us, he and I would have likely gone ourselves, having a date night, and leaving Liv with a sitter. As a pair, Liv and I relished our girls' night out, the meal unfolding in a series of delicate dishes, solicitous waiters offering five kinds of bread and suggestions from the menu. We toasted with a Shirley Temple and a glass of Perrier-Jouët.

Liv gasped when she tasted the powerfully concentrated cherry tomatoes on her shrimp fettuccine. Her exuberant "wow" drew the attention of our waiter, who sent the chef de cuisine out to discuss how to make them at home.

A week later, on a hot August day, Liv and I returned to our kitchen, slowly dehydrating tomatoes in our oven, savoring the succulent souvenirs of our island adventure.

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