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Girl-bonding at the spa

Nothing says "girl bonding" like a spa day. This time, I did the bonding with my flesh-and-blood girls in the middle of a family vacation to Cape Cod.
Image: Mother and daughter at the Beach Plum Spa
Isabella Critchell, left, and Christine Conklin enjoy a girl's day out at the Beach Plum Spa at Cape Codder Resort in Hyannis, Mass.Samantha Critchell / AP file
/ Source: The Associated Press

Nothing says "girl bonding" like a spa day. This time, I did the bonding with my flesh-and-blood girls.

My girls are young — ages 4 and 7 — which might seem too young for such indulgence. What stresses could their little bodies need to release, after all?

But in the middle of a family vacation to Cape Cod, which is filled with lots of high-energy beach activities, Mommy liked the idea of visiting the Cape Codder Beach Resort and its Beach Plum Spa — with its specialty mother-daughter services.

The girls were game and they liked what they heard on the spa-services menu: The toughest choice would be deciding between the strawberry ice-cream or chocolate milkshake pedicure.

The Beach Plum began catering to this crowd when it opened seven years ago. It now has two other locations with Kids Spa Menus at inns in Massachusetts. When I got back to my desk in New York, I also found a press release announcing Eloise-themed mother-daughter treatments at the new Warren-Tricomi salon in Manhattan's reopened Plaza Hotel. Statistics from the International Spa Association confirm the trend, showing 17 percent of U.S. spas offer packages for children under 13.

It seems my theory holds up: The only way moms get to have pampering done on a family vacation is to take the kids with them. It's not cheap — each pedicure is $45 — and I also don't think of myself as one of these moms who treats her children as entitled equals, but, honestly it was a great way to spend the day.

Before entering the actual spa facility, we had lunch at the hotel restaurant, which had lots of young diners. The host stand was surrounded by a baker's counter selling oversized cookies, and the kids received crayons along with their children's menu. Their drinks even came with lids. The girls felt comfortable here.

The spa is across a courtyard — home to a playground unit and a volleyball net.

Once inside, the mood instantly mellowed with sounds of the sea coming through speakers. The decor, soft leather chocolate-colored chairs and a ceiling dotted with subtle sparkles, is inviting to guests of all ages while not screaming "kid-friendly."

This undated photo released by Cape Codder Resort & Spa shows two young girls getting manicures and pedicures at Cape Codder Resort & Spa in Hyannis, Mass. (AP Photo/Cape Codder Resort & Spa) ** NO SALES **Cape Codder Resort Spa / Cape Codder Resort & Spa

I put on a plush spa robe and sipped an herbal tea. My girls didn't fare quite as well; maybe they're younger than the typical "daughter" clients — although I was assured they were not when making the reservations — but the best that could be done for a robe for 7-year-old Isabella was one of the strapless half-robes that women typically wear for facials. Little Ava just stayed in her T-shirt and skirt.

The lack of pint-size robes didn't discourage the girls, though.

It seemed best to separate the two sisters if I were going to actually get any relaxing done, since when they were together, they were positively giddy. For our first treatments, I decided to take Ava with me for side-by-side, 50-minute massages, while Isabella had her toes done with our close friend and vacation host (who happens to have an 8-year-old son who wouldn't be caught dead in a spa).

We went into the dimly lit massage room and nestled into preheated sheets on the massage tables. But at that moment when I should have let out a long sigh of relief, panic set in.

Would my always-on-the-go, constantly chattering daughter sit still for 50 minutes?! I couldn't believe I hadn't thought of that before we got to this point.

"Ava," I reminded her, "you have to sit still."

She giggled. Oh great, I thought.

But I need not have worried. The masseuses I feel like if we're going to say female masseurs, we might as well say masseuses, or massage therapists? got to work, with reassuring words at first explaining that they'd start by applying some heavenly lavender-scented lotion on our backs and then move to our arms and legs. If anything tickled too much or was too much pressure, they said we were to tell them right away.

Ava said OK and that was the last I heard from her. I turned my head when I could to steal a peek of her and one time I broke the silence asking if she was asleep. She was not. Turns out, she can relax and be calm under the right conditions.

When we were done and the lights back on, Ava was still on the massage table. She liked the warm sheets and wanted to know if we could get them at home.

On to the pedicure room, where Isabella was finishing up her chocolate-themed treatment. The best part was the fizzy chocolate ball (a Me!-branded moisturizing ice-cream ball that's catching on in the beauty business) that made the room smell good and her feet feel better.

Her freshly painted toenails were jazzed up with a faux-jeweled toe ring that she couldn't wait to show off for her sister. She also noted — several times — that she sipped hot chocolate during the treatment.

That's pampering.

Isabella then trotted off to the massage room after Ava talked up those heated sheets. Ava, meanwhile, settled in for a slathering of strawberry moisturizer while asking me if she could get more toe rings. She wanted to match them with her outfits.