IN WHICH A MOMENTARILY CHILD-FREE COUPLE INDULGE IN THE CLASSIC INN-GOER'S FANTASY: THAT THEY'RE RICH, SINGLE AND LIVE LIKE THIS ALL THE TIME.

WHEN WE ARRIVED AT THE ROMANTIC WATERSIDE inn for our long-awaited romantic weekend, my lovely wife, Kathleen M. Oehl, started unpacking her suitcase, revealing that she had brought along two of those how-to-parent books that have titles like Your Seven-Year-Old: Threat or Menace? and Raising Children Without the Kind of Guilt That Makes You Chew Your Fingernails Down to the Elbow.

Which just goes to show how badly we needed this romantic waterside weekend.

We have two kids, both of whom are going through the Terrible Twos, a highly obnoxious stage that begins at about 18 months and ends shortly after graduation from college. We hadn't escaped from their clutches for an overnight trip by ourselves since the youngest, Emily, was born four years ago. That makes more than 1,400 consecutive nights in their presence. But who's counting?

So when our saintly neighbor Mary volunteered to take the kids and the dog for the weekend, we zoomed off before she had a chance to change her mind. We had our bikes strapped on the back of the car to give the illusion that we were on a serious cycling expedition, but in fact, we really just wanted to do what most inn guests want to do: pretend to be rich, childless, single people having a torrid weekend affair. Assuming this role, we headed straight for the Wades Point Inn, near St. Michaels on Maryland's Eastern Shore.

We'd chosen the place for one main reason -- it had a vacancy -- but when we arrived we were happy to note another pleasing feature: It's beautiful.

There's a big old guest house, built around 1819, and a new guest building, built in the same style in 1990. Both are surrounded by fields on one side and the Chesapeake Bay on the other. We were ensconced in the new building, in a sunny room with two huge beds, seven windows and a balcony, all overlooking the bay. The room was even equipped with a little stove and refrigerator, just in case we wanted to cook. We didn't. That would have been much too real.

After unpacking, we took a stroll around the grounds, which consist of 120 acres of lovely lawns, flower gardens, woods and a little family burial ground. Along the shore, we breathed in the good salt air, spied on some herons and egrets, and watched crabs that scooted away from us as if possessed by some paranoid fear that we'd catch them, boil them, smother them in a tasty sauce and eat them, which was, of course, the furthest thing from our minds.

The closest thing to our minds, as it happens, was how much we needed a nap. Naps are a big part of the inn experience because they enable the parents of small children to do two things they cannot do during daylight hours back home: sleep and, ah, not sleep.

After doing a little of both, we had worked up a hearty appetite, so we drove about 10 miles to Tilghman Island for dinner. We ate the spe'cialite' d'isle, which is crabs that have been caught, boiled and smothered in a tasty sauce.

The next morning, we awoke late, due to the fact that we had left our two alarm clocks, and their dog, back home. We might have slept half the day if sunbeams hadn't tiptoed in through the windows and given us a gentle nudge. We moseyed on down to the main house, where a complimentary breakfast is served -- coffee, fruit salad, cheese and homemade muffins -- which we ate sitting on the sun porch, gazing out over the bay. It was a glorious, luxurious way to spend a morning, and within minutes, I lapsed into that dreamlike state so familiar to inn-goers, in which you fantasize that you're rich and you live like this all the time. I sank so deep into this reverie that I had to stop myself from getting worked up over the pressing moral imperative of lowering the capital gains tax.

After lounging languidly for a couple of hours, we hopped on our bikes and rode into town. It's a nice, easy ride -- only five miles and flat as a flounder, past pine woods and pastures of horses. St. Michaels is the kind of place that gets called "quaint" with unfortunate frequency, which means that it has lots of old buildings where you can buy T-shirts. It also has the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, which contains a great old lighthouse and lots of old watermen's boats and a collection of "punt guns," the now-outlawed duck hunting rifles that look big enough to bring down the Stealth bomber.

We wandered about town, ducking in and out of shops, looking for souvenirs to bring back for the kids. We ended up with T-shirts in a fish motif, and a little brick-colored pig with a candle in its back. (Don't ask me why. It seemed like a good idea at the time.)

Lingering over a delicious lunch at the Bakery, we read through a pamphlet that listed 69 "points of interest" in St. Michaels, including the Applause Hair Studio and Gags Center, which features "Matrix Va Voom," the "Family Tree of Rock" and "a variety of laughter-oriented items." It sounded great but we never got there, opting instead to ride back to the inn for another "nap."

That evening, we drove to Bellevue and caught the ferry across the Tred Avon River to Oxford. Our timing was accidentally perfect and we saw a psychedelic sunset on the way. In Oxford's Town Creek restaurant, we sat out on the dock, drinking gin and eating one of God's greatest gifts to the human taste bud, which is, of course, bluefish.

The next morning, we ate another languorous breakfast on the porch and took one last stroll along the shore and through the woods. Packing up, we realized we'd had such a good time that we'd neglected to even open our copy of How to Raise Children Who Will Never Become Satanic Psychopaths.

If we had, we might have read a sentence like this: For your own sanity, and your kids', get away for an occasional weekend in a romantic waterside inn -- and do it more than once every four years.

Wades Point Inn, P.O. Box 7, St. Michaels, Md. 21663; 301-745-2500. Double occupancy from $60 to $135, plus tax, per room per night, including continental breakfast; discounts on weekdays for senior citizens.