Hotel Hell

Kids are fun when you can get them moving. Moving is a kid’s natural state — his whole being is committed to it. Just ask a kid to sit still for more than a minute or two, and nature’s perpetual motion machine becomes apparent. So when our power went out last week and we had to move into a hotel for a couple of days, then began our not-so-slow descent into madness.

This story features two characters. The first is Jack — one year old, fully mobile, and possessed of a need to touch, open, pull, push, twist, pinch, grab, shake, and rub snot on everything. True to the nature of one-year olds, all the toys we brought for him occupied his time for about fifteen minutes before his curiosity about his new surroundings could not be ignored. In wonder did man sail the seas, craft wings to fly, and strap himself to a bomb pointed at the moon; and in that same spirit of wonder, Jack nearly pulled a lamp down on his head within the first hour of our stay. How we ever evolved to this point is a bloody mystery.

The second character is Joshua — four years old, armed with a sizable vocabulary, an obsession with letters and numbers, and a chronically acute case of Ants in the Pants. Joshua was entertained by a workbook and some blocks for most of the first few hours. And since we didn’t move into the hotel until the afternoon, this got us through the majority of the first day. But this story is really about the second day.

Jack slept in the bathroom. Jack is a pretty terrible sleeper as one-year olds go. He’s the polar opposite of Joshua, who slept reliably, quietly, deeply, and at great length from just a few months of age. Jack peeps and cries and jabbers in his sleep, wakes up early, refuses to nap, and is generally opposed to the idea of Beds. Because of this, we placed his pack-and-play in the bathroom which would be both the quietest and darkest place available to us. He went to bed around his usual time. He began his assault on us around 3:00 am — also his usual time.

At first, in the unstill silence unique to hotels, he let out one or two lonesome moans, followed by nothing. We didn’t even get out of bed to check on him, but we were now awake. And because we’ve done this so many times, we remained awake as we waited for the real show to begin, as it always does. Then, for the next hour-and-a-half, culminating shortly before 5:00 am, began The Struggle. Diapers were changed, soothing words spoken, backs rubbed, cuddlies re-deposited under anxious arms. But every ten or fifteen minutes was a new alarm from our bathroom, and like the groggiest firemen, we stumbled in, blindly sprayed our comfort water* wherever it seemed most needed, then stumbled back to bed. All without the fun of going down a fire pole.** Once this session was over, Jack finally settled back in for about 90 more minutes of sleep. We got less than that as we waited for subsequent cries.

Joshua’s first night was a night of adventure. For he got to share a hotel room with Grandma, who’d come to visit the very day the power went out. Now, Joshua’s relationship with Grandma is the envy of Grandmas everywhere. Her presence is that of a new sun in his sky, so bright that all other lights are futile jabs at the dark. And so they shared a room. Grandma left the next day, but graciously let us keep her room another night. And so our four-year old had his own hotel room while we bunked with Captain Fussbucket.

When the morning came, we went out for breakfast, and then to pick up some snacks for the hotel room(s) which would be our prison for the next 24 hours. This was also the day of the great Snowpocalypse which covered Richmond in six or eight inches of snow.*** Once we’d returned to the hotel, our prison sentence began in earnest.

Joshua was very excited to try out the hotel pool, as his swimming ability has finally gotten to a point where he can play in the water without fearing death. So he and I donned swimsuits as Jen stayed with Jack while he napped. Joshua and I discovered that the hotel pool was an indoor/outdoor pool with a passageway joining the two through which you could swim. As it was 26 degrees F outside (-3.33 degrees C for my non-American readers), they had closed this passageway by means of a thin sheet of plexiglass. This rendered the pool, which was already unheated, the second-coldest body of water I’d ever entered, voluntarily or not.**** Our pool time was less than 60 seconds. So we went back up to Joshua’s room, started a bath, and just played in that for a while until he was too cold to continue even this.

Once Jack woke up, Jen and I traded children frequently. One of her arms has been rendered a useless flesh wad by repetitive stress injuries from work, so she can only carry or pick up Jack on a limited basis. Neither child had any real interest in playing with the toys we’d brought or reading books, so a grand hotel exploration began. Joshua’s turn was first.

Joshua and I went up and down the seven flights of stairs twice, and down each hallway at least once. We walked all over the lobby, past the meeting rooms, into the fitness center*****, and past the front desk enough times to look suspicious, or at least as suspicious as a four-year old and his dad can look. This great wanderlust occupied about 45 minutes. We capped it all off with good, old-fashioned shuttle runs, sans shuttle, down and back the hall. Joshua’s best time was a surprising 6.6 seconds. His worst time was 10.9 seconds because he stopped to pick up a hairpin that someone had dropped. This was our day.

Jack’s turn was next. He walked all over the hall, but had his greatest time trying to walk into the open room where the cleaning staff were doing their work. Of course, my efforts to shoo him away and redirect him only further convinced him that a Great Mystery awaited within. After about half an hour of this, it was, mercifully, snack time.

Joshua, meanwhile, got to watch a movie, a treat as rare a shark biting you whilst getting struck by lightning. In a field of four-leaf clovers. Seriously, we’re terribly restrictive parents who don’t let our kids anywhere near screens for fear of death or something. Anyway, he got to watch a movie, so he was over the moon.

So it was that by the time we checked out of the Overlook Hotel, both Jen and I had considered the murder of nearly every one of our family members, including each other, my mom, and some distant cousins I found while updating our family tree. I suppose that these will be funny memories in a decade or two, as we swig chardonnay by the box and chain-smoke Parliaments in our PTSD. In fact, as I remember Joshua running back and forth down the hallway, Jack chattering away in the bathroom, and discovering 60 degree F water passing itself off as a civilized pool, already arises a smile from my otherwise grousey demeanor. It doesn’t really make me anxious to check in to another hotel any time soon, and neither does it inspire the sort of Trip Advisor rating the hotel would hope for, but I do know that these will be memories I’ll have the rest of my days.

So I’ve got that to look forward to. Yay.

*This metaphor got out of hand, but it sounds dirty, so 12-year old me wants to keep it.

**True fact: everyone has had a dream about installing a fire pole in his home at some point, whether as the most expedient means of getting downstairs, or just for recreation. The fire pole’s beauty is that it can serve both these functions so fully.

***We Southerners are absolute pansies about snow. Some skyscrapers in Boston are covered in snow and the people are still going to work and school. Six inches of powder falls on Richmond and it’s the End of Days.

****First-prize goes to a spring-fed pool at a summer camp I went to as a kid. This pool was a brisk 55 degrees F (12.78 C) which might seem nice on a hot summer’s day. But the first task required of the campers was to jump in and swim the length of the pool and back as part of a swim test. The real test, I think, was not to judge swimming ability, but to resist hypothermia and survive the initial shock of entry (that’s what she said).

*****If you’ve never had the treat of seeing an American hotel’s “fitness center,” you should put it on your bucket list. They’re some of the least-conducive places to fitness you can imagine. They’re small, for starters, and usually dominated by one or two massive treadmills or elliptical machines. Through some clever geometry, this hotel managed to cram four of those machines in its fitness center, along with a yoga mat and some free weights. There wasn’t really room to use either the weights or the yoga mat, but I suppose you could just do exercises where you stand still and clench various muscles, or lift things over your head.

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