It has been over a decade since we brought our kids to a hotel. Actually, the last time we had only one child. One unsettled, fractious nine month old, allergic to travel cots, any unfamiliar highchairs and settling to sleep for more than two hours at a time. I was an anxious, first time mother whose constant fussing ensured none of us slept or relaxed at any point that weekend. The only sane thought I had then was to realise that hotels and babies are not a great mix.
On arrival at the hotel for our mid-week- mini-break last week, it all came flooding back. We were greeted by dads walking slowly around the lobby pushing buggies with blankets draped over their (hopefully) sleeping passengers, mammies asking for bottles to be warmed, granddads escorting red faced toddlers and grannies rocking new-borns with fierce looks on their faces. You know the look that says “I’m trying to get a child to sleep here.” Pointing out that it was a hotel lobby and there was no other way for us to get to our room without walking past her would have made sense but I don’t think anyone would have been brave enough to say so.
As our youngest is two, I was optimistic that if nothing else, we would get through two nights without wanting to kill someone for coughing at the wrong time, or letting a door slam beside a reclined buggy.
I’d forgotten the excitement of that hotel feeling. Running down carpeted hallways to our room, (not me of course, the kids, I managed to restrain myself), checking out the bathroom, the wardrobes, the TV. channels, the hairdryer and the view. “Look! There’s our car!”
The next morning it occurred to me that I hadn’t really considered that even though there was a soft indoor play area, two playgrounds, farm animals, go-karts and a swimming pool, none of our kids were keen to attempt much of it unaccompanied. So of course, we ended up doing it all too. God, the dust in the hidden corners of those jungle gyms needs to be seen to be believed.
I watched all the other Irish families on mini-breaks, checking out the mammies jeans and boots, eavesdropping on the conversations with their husbands (craning as close as possible if things seemed a little tense), trying to overhear the kids names to see if any of them were interesting or awful and all the time biting my tongue to stop myself saying “Do I look older or younger than her?”
My husband has one learned response to this. After sighing deeply in exasperation he says “Ok, what do you want the answer to be?”
I did end up catching the eye of one of these mums by the swings, but as I opened my mouth to chat, I realised my toddler (who I was carrying) had managed to move in such a way that his curls were caught between my two front teeth. Which, as you can imagine, was an odd position to find oneself in, and all the conversation left my head as I concentrated on untangling him.
There was so, so many kids. In the restaurant it seemed like everyone was pointlessly trying to eat a meal in peace, while toddlers climbed out of high chairs, leaned precariously off ordinary chairs, retched up carrots and cried. In the pool, all the same people were there, bobbing around in swimming hats, saying encouraging things and again, there they were in the playground, wiping off wet swings with tissues and bracing themselves against the cold November wind.
I think it was worth it though. Even with all the playing and tumbling and getting hair out of my teeth, we still had that hotely feeling. That “I’m a resident” smugness as you click a card in the door and wait for the green light, and then walk in to flop in the bed, lie back on loads of clean, crisp pillows and grab the remote to watch a bit of telly before dinner (even if it is just Scooby Doo).