The biggest problem when traveling on the road with kids is that you don’t want to stop much. What would be a short potty break for adults ends up being an hour-long play time with kids. So, when you do finally take a rest from driving, you realize that it has been a really, really long time. In our case we went farther than we had planned—almost 800 miles.
We pulled off the first exit that listed a selection of hotels and drove to the nearest one. The first bad sign was a full parking lot. Regardless, Marc got out of the car and hobbled stiff and sore to the entrance. If he had had a medical alert bracelet, comfy support shoes and a walker, it would have been a picture of his future self at 80.
His rather prompt return to the car was the second bad sign. When he told me that there was no room at the inn, let alone in the whole town, my heart began to race and I silently screamed in my head: “no, no, this cannot be happening.” It was already getting late, we had to get the kids bathed and fed, and I couldn’t be cooped up in the car any longer—I was a woman on the verge.
Then, as if an angel had been looking down upon us, the hotel clerk stood from the lobby entrance and motioned for Marc to go back inside. A few minutes later, he returned with the address of another hotel nearby. Apparently, the clerk had felt sorry for us, made a few phone calls on our behalf and found an available room—bless his cotton socks.
After driving around for 20 minutes, with delirium misguiding our judgment, we finally gave up looking and circled back to clarify the directions. When the clerk reiterated that the other hotel was “just around the corner,” he wasn’t exaggerating. We left with our heads hung low in stupidity, and in minutes we found the place he had referred us to.
Under normal circumstances at check-in, Marc always asks if there are any great deals we can get on a room. This time, however, tiredness trumped penny-pinching. He simply paid the rate and took the key card for the room.
The way to a hotel room is by far the kids’ favorite part. Once Marc piles our suitcases onto the luggage cart, he places Boots and Button on top and takes them on a ride—all three are easily entertained.
We wound our way through a labyrinth of long hallways with our luggage cart, which was jinxed with a rogue wheel, until we finally found the room opposite the humming vending and ice machines. Marc inserted the key card into the slot, but it didn’t work—I was not amused. Instead of one of us staying behind with the kids while the other sorted out the issue, we decided the best thing to do was for all of us to go back to the front desk. That way, the kids would stay contained and not end up running amok out of boredom.
Once we resolved the technical glitch, we made our way back to the room and entered what we thought was going to be a double, not a single. At that point, I wanted to jump out the window. Although, that would have been in vain because we were only on the ground floor.
So, it was back to the front desk—again. Of course, the kids were having the time of their lives sitting pretty on their magic cart ride—Marc and I not so much. Those carts aren’t really easy to maneuver around corners when they’re laden with luggage. It almost flipped over once on a turn, and a headline on the front page of a tawdry supermarket magazine flashed through my mind: “Mom Cripples Kids While Recklessly Pushing Luggage Cart in Cheap Hotel.” Mind you, I’d probably turn to the article myself while waiting in the check-out line.
In the end, we got the right room, gave the kids a bath, which invigorated them enough to race about switching the lights on and off and flipping through TV channels. In other words, it was a normal evening. After we ate our 40-dollar take-out dinner, which consisted of soggy pasta and limp lettuce dripping in what was supposed to be a vinaigrette dressing, we drifted off to sleep and chalked up the day of traveling to be a pretty successful one.
I woke up the next morning feeling surprisingly fresh and effervescent. While Marc was finishing with the packing, the children were already dressed and quietly watching a morning cartoon show—obviously, there was a “disturbance in the force.” As much as I wanted to cherish this tranquil scene, I had to roll out of bed and get ready for another long day ahead of us.
To avoid repeating the dramatic events at breakfast in the previous hotel the other day, Marc and I each grabbed a cup of coffee to go, two croissants for the kids and located the closest playground on our GPS. When we arrived at the nearest one, we were stunned by what the directions had led us to. The navigation system doesn’t usually pick a winner in these cases, but this playground was heaven on earth for the kids.
The designers of it had thought of absolutely everything. The colors were bright and inviting, the padded ground was soft under foot, and there was plenty of room for the kids to run around. There were even instruments to play and mini water park features for hot, summer days. To be honest, Marc and I had as much fun as the kids. We played for hours and were just being young (at heart) again.
Alas, reality hit and it was time to go. The kids put up a small fight, albeit far from their usual Oscar-winning performances, but they knew by then it was pointless to take it any further.
We were already off to a late start, but Marc and I decided to pop into a local grocery store not only to pick up some snacks for the day, but also to save our sanity and buy a new DVD video for the kids. If I had to hear Dora belt out the same songs one more time—
After our quick little detour, we put on the new form of entertainment for the kids—a movie with a cute bunny called “HOP”—and headed on our way on this third day across America. The busy morning had tuckered the little ones out, and before long they were fast asleep. It also gave Marc and I time to relish this precious moment of peace and quiet. I occasionally peeked back at the kids just to make sure they were both comfortable, and that there weren’t any funky smells coming from either one of them.
The one thing I’ve noticed about being a passenger on a road trip is that it becomes tiring as the hours linger on. Perhaps speeding past monotonous scenery creates a hypnotic effect that makes me succumb to the heaviness of my eyes; for the next thing I remembered was waking up to Marc beaming at me with a smile. Did I look that sexy while napping? No. He was just happy about the time we had traveled without having to stop because of the kids. We had driven our full eight hours, and it was time to call it a day.
When we parked in front of a decent-looking hotel, Marc looked back at the kids to see them in a state that will be forever seared in his memory. I followed his gaze of horror and couldn’t believe what we were looking at.
Boots’ got his little hands on the bag of mini-Oreos and crunched them into hundreds of little pieces; he had pulverized the Cheetos into orange dust, and raisins had been tossed everywhere like confetti. To top it all off, he had also managed to dribble orange juice from a juice box to create puddles of mud from the crumbs. His accomplice, Button, had been in on it, too, and had helped to spread the remnants of what appeared to have been an atomic explosion of snacks—and that was just the car.
The kids were an even bigger mess. From the smiles on their faces, though, they were obviously proud of their creative masterpiece. Marc simply shook his head, mumbling “no, no, no … How? Why?” I don’t think I had ever seen Marc in a situation that had left him speechless. He’s always been so vocal when it comes to expressing his feelings, but this was by far too much for his brain to comprehend.
I must admit that it was also my fault. In my haste for us to get on the road, I had left the little bag of snacks between Boots’ car seat and the door—it was an invitation he couldn’t turn down.
Marc stumbled out of the car in shock and walked to the hotel entrance, leaving us to suffer in the silence. When he returned, he handed me the key and indicated where our room was located without saying a word. It was obvious that the kids had picked up on his unhappiness, because they remained completely quiet when I took them out of their car seats and led them away from the scene of the crime.
While “Bonnie and Clyde” were watching their dad clean his beloved car from our hotel window, I was trying to wipe the aftermath of the “Great Snack Attack” off them. They had bits of food in their hair, on their arms and faces and clothes.
When Marc finally arrived with the luggage half an hour later, he stood for a moment at the window and looked at Boots and Button, who appeared too afraid to move a muscle. Then, he got down on his knees with open arms, signaling to the kids to run out and give him a hug—all was forgiven.
Marc held up the “HOP” DVD, which we had bought that morning, and explained that the kids must have become completely bored by it. You’d think that a talking Easter bunny with a British accent would have been downright entertaining, but apparently the story was above the kids’ heads. It was no wonder they got into trouble.
To end the day on a lighter note, we took the kids to the pool not only to unwind but to clean them both up.
While I was watching the kids splash around with Marc in the water, I realized that we were three-quarters of the way through our arduous road trip. Each day seemed to be more eventful than the next, and it was anyone’s guess how it was all going to end.
* End Part III *