Grace ventured out here to the Wild West a few weeks ago, and we finally got to meet in person. I was going to drive down to her hotel and show up at her room whether or not we had anything arranged, so the fact that she actually invited me avoided a potential run-in with security guards.
Grace has three kids under age four; I have six kids under age ten. I brought four of mine to our meetup (though the crazy toddler was in the group, and she counts as five normal children), so let’s just say that we had our hands full herding our minions around the fancy resort where her husband Simon’s OB/GYN conference was being held.
When my crew of merry pirates and I first came bursting into the lobby, I saw two women sitting in front of a floor-to-ceiling window, admiring the views of the misty Texas Hill Country as they sipped from glasses of wine. They looked my way, and their faces contorted into expressions that either contained mild horror or deep pity as I frantically spun around, trying to keep track of my swarming kids. In the brief moment that our eyes met, I was struck by the contrast between our current situations.
Them: having uninterrupted conversations, enjoying the view, drinking fine beverages, presumably smelling of high-end perfume.
Me: meeting a friend with whom I would have not a single uninterrupted conversation, cannot take my eyes off the kids for even one second, just drank some stale apple juice from a sippy cup, smelling vaguely of urine (due to an unfortunate diaper incident on the way down).
I was struck by this thing, this ball of thoughts and emotions that I couldn’t even begin to unravel, a crazy, messy mix of jealousy and satisfaction and frustration and hope and a bunch of other stuff I couldn’t articulate.
I was just beginning to unpack it all when two of my girls got into a wrestling match on the Persian rug, signaling that it was time to wrap up the resort lobby philosophizing and go look for Grace’s room.
After some brief hellos — which was kind of surreal, since I think of Grace and her kids as living inside my computer — we headed down to the resort’s family area which boasts bouncy castles and a kid-friendly pool. I had talked it up to the kids as if we were going to a My Little Pony ranch, which made it a little anticlimactic when we walked through drizzle only to see piles of deflated canvas, all of it having been shut down due to rain.
This left Grace and me needing to figure out — and figure out quickly — how to amuse seven young children for the next few hours.
We walked back to the room, thinking we would hang out there, but when we arrived at the door we realized we were locked out.
We then headed to the lobby — and I say “headed to the lobby” in the same way one might say she “headed to the summit of Mt. Everest.” Evidently the architect of this resort had a Darwinian vision in which this would be a hotel for the strong, since only the fittest guests would survive the trek from the lobby to the rooms in the far wing. It involved stairs and multiple elevators and winding through approximately twelve miles of labyrinthine hallways. If it weren’t for Grace’s jogging stroller to help with the transport of the littlest ones, we may have had to give up and call for an airlift.
We got a new key and went back through the stairs/elevator/labyrinth. When we arrived back at the room, the key was gone. Lost somewhere along the way.
We made a plan to meet Simon back in the lobby to get his key, which of course meant another stairs/elevator/labyrinth run.
When we reached the lobby, I happened to spy a glass container of ice water infused with sliced cucumbers. I was thirsty — so, so thirsty from the long drive — and the thought of a cool beverage with a hint of cucumber made me swoon. But the water sat on a low table, the easy-pour spout well within reach of even the shortest people in attendance. So far, the kids had not noticed the water.
I had a very tough choice to make.
My will to survive trumped my desire not to be despised by the hotel management, and I discreetly slipped over to pour myself a cup. This immediately triggered some internal sensor in all of the kids — I could swear that even the ones who weren’t looking my direction snapped their heads around the moment my hand touched the spout — and they descended on the pitchers like starving wolves on a carcass, with my children leading the charge. Grace and I made a valiant effort to keep things under control, but we were outnumbered and had only tiny cocktail napkins to combat the mess. On the plus side, turning the lobby into a water park seemed to make up for the fact that the actual water park was closed.
Grace was on the phone with a concerned look on her face, and she hung up to report the news: there was a mixup, and Simon was actually back in the hotel room.
Back at the hotel room, an ominous realization dawned on us (by “us” I mean “me” — Grace undoubtedly already thought of this): we had seven young children to feed, and we were at the type of place where the grilled cheese is made with imported gruyere and costs $15.
We ventured out to a Chick-Fil-A in a nearby mall, and when we arrived I thought it was appropriate that REM’s The End of the World as We Know It was playing. I’ve never understood the lyrics other than slamfughbrightwipe feelin’…pretty…psyched! but it’s always struck me as the ultimate “happy chaos” anthem, and so it was the perfect soundtrack for the two of us walking through the door to a fast food joint with a herd of wired and hungry kids.
My children got the party started by spilling a newly filled drink all over the table just as Grace’s toddler Sebastian made a break for the door, but overall it went surprisingly smoothly.
Back at the hotel, Simon made the very generous offer to watch most of the kids while Grace and I had a glass of wine down by the pool. I think we might have said thank you before bolting for the door.
We settled in at a poolside table and finally got a moment like the one I’d seen those women enjoying in the lobby. Granted, we had my two-year-old with us and we only had a few minutes since I needed to get back on the road and we were concerned for Simon’s sanity, but it was a glorious half hour. It had been great to have sporadic conversations as we led the kids on the hotel death march, but now we could finally speak without having to interrupt ourselves to apologize to the other people in the elevator because a certain child (cough-cough lastnameFulwiler) just pressed the buttons for aaaallllllll the floors. Grace is even more witty and interesting and hilarious than she seems on her blog, and it was one of those occasions when I think we could have talked until 1 AM and I would have felt like we were just getting started.
On the way home, after my toddler screamed herself to sleep, I thought about that strange mix of feelings that arose in me when I first saw the folks lounging in the lobby.
Being able to enjoy fine beverages and adult conversation, unencumbered by the needs of small and noisy people, is a real treat. If Grace and I could have spent our whole afternoon that way, it would have been nice. But there’s this paradoxical truth of the universe, one that I only learned in recent years, which states that a bunch of nice moments do not necessarily add up to a nice life — and, conversely, a bunch of really difficult moments can add up to a beautiful life.
In the heat of the moment, when I was dragging travel-weary kids around in a place that was not exactly set up to accommodate travel-weary kids, it was tempting to feel like Grace and I and all the other mothers of little ones would have better lives if we could hire a staff of nannies and go spend all our hours enjoying fine beverages and nice views. But as I thought about it again, driving through a downpour on the outskirts of Austin at 10:00 at night, I heard my daughters talking about their big day from the back seat. Their words were filled with wonder as they recounted watching birds play in the rain from the balcony in the room; they bubbled with excitement about having chicken nuggets and ketchup at the “fancy westaurant.” Things that I saw as nuisances, they recounted as great adventures; details that I hadn’t noticed at all seemed vivid and fascinating when viewed through their eyes.
“Thank you for taking us to Miss Gwace’s house, mommy!” my four-year-old exclaimed, evidently perceiving that the Pattons have done quite well for themselves. I told her I was glad she could come, and I meant every word of it.
There’s that old saying that when you have young children, “the days are long, but the years are short.” This trip reminded me of a similar truth: the days are hard, but these years are so, so blessed.