It never fails. The 24-48 hours before a trip, I’m cranky. I make a list of what to pack, and I review it repeatedly. Jason and I discuss timelines, form strategies, and prepare what we can in advance. We reiterate with the kids what to expect and when to anticipate it. We categorize our packing into essential, preferred, and optional items. We think, overthink, and rethink. Trying to remember every necessity and memorize the itinerary leaves me exhausted before the traveling begins.
With four children, ages 11, 8, 6, and 3, a four-day trip to celebrate a relative’s wedding is memorable however it unfolds. Last week, my brother-in-law and his longtime girlfriend tied the knot. Jason and Baby #2 were both members of the bridal party, and we spent three nights in a hotel. As much as the six of us were excited to participate in the nuptial festivities, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a few concerns before we hit the road. These were my top three:
#1: What necessary items would be left behind, even with the most careful planning in place?
#2: How many times would the kids break down in exhaustion and create a scene, and would it happen at the most inopportune times?
#3: Would living in one hotel room for four days drive us all insane?
Most of the time I am cognizant of how uptight I can be. Traveling amplifies that awareness tenfold. I worry and I fret. I spend the drive to our destination hashing out multiple endings to a myriad of parenting scenarios so that I am prepared for just about anything and everything. A child refusing meals? Difficult sleeping arrangements? Eczema outbreaks? Projectile vomit? No more clean underwear? Wardrobe malfunctions? My mind brims with the possibilities.
Surprisingly, nothing of great importance was forgotten at home. Throughout our trip, however, the following items were misplaced:
- Baby #4’s left sandal
- Wolfie, Bun Bun, and Purple Baby
- A Nintendo 3DS
- Dress shoes
- The camera
- My glasses
- The room keys (multiple times)
- My phone
- Baby #4 (for just a few minutes, at least.)
We checked into the hotel with ease. The kids also behaved during the rehearsal, but it probably helped that we were a half hour late due to inputting the wrong address into the navigation device. During the rehearsal dinner, Baby #3 kept taking my drink tickets and passing them off to his uncle. Other than that, the kids were well behaved and respectful. Around 8:00, I told Jason I’d take them back to the hotel, and suggested he remain with his family.
“Are you sure?” he asked me a dozen times. “Do you think you can get them to settle down for the night on your own?”
“Piece of cake,” I replied with way, way too much confidence.
He helped me load the kids into the van and I drove the short distance across a main road to the hotel. I could see the restaurant from where I parked, and marched the kids into the hotel lobby.
“I need to stop at the front desk,” I told them. “You can sit on the furniture there for a minute.”
I asked a staff member for two extra towels and an extra bed sheet. While she cheerfully left the counter to fulfill my request, I looked over at the kids. Babies #1 and #2 had each seated themselves in chairs, and Babies #3 and #4 were sitting across from them on the couch. Baby #3 rose and went around the couch to the other side. I turned back around when the staff member returned to the desk. She then screamed.
In the melee, this was the best photo I could get:
Drywall dust filled the air, hardware and plastic hooks were rolling around on the floor, and a group of inebriated hotel guests were roaring with laughter. Baby #2 sprang from his chair and began brushing away the dust on the couch while collecting the drywall screws. Baby #4 was clapping in delight, and Baby #1 didn’t look up from her iPad.
When I examined the damage, I wasn’t so much upset with Baby #3 for pulling the curtain and its track down. It was secured with drywall screws and no brackets, and the holes in the ceiling were only as wide as the screws themselves. This told me that the entire setup wasn’t reinforced as it should have been. I had taken my eyes off of them for a few seconds when it happened, and he weighs a measly 45 pounds. I knew he couldn’t have done that much damage if the curtain had been secured properly to begin with, and I didn’t think his intention was to destroy the setup.
I wasn’t angry that an accident occurred, but I was angry because he was laughing. And not just giggling, but clutch-the-belly, can’t-stand-up-straight laughing. I wanted him to feel remorseful. I wanted him to apologize, not congratulating himself. Images of Alvin and the other Chipmunks flashed through my mind as a woman walked past us and shouted,
“They grow up, Mom, and it gets better. Hang in there.”
I called Jason, and two relatives drove him over to the hotel. The poor girl behind the desk called her manager, who told her to climb a ladder with a power drill and remove the final screw in the ceiling to bring the entire curtain down. Her hands were shaking as she climbed, and I braced the ladder for her. When she was back on the ground, she asked us when we were checking out.
“Um, not until Sunday,” I replied. “Can I still have those linens?”
The next morning, she was back at the desk, and she had coloring sheets and colored pencils waiting for Baby #3. I couldn’t decide if her thoughtfulness was a sign that she didn’t fault him too much for what had happened or if she was trying to keep him busy for the remainder of our stay.
Over the next three days, the kids had the moments of exhaustion I had been dreading. We made a stop to visit friends from college, and Baby #4 sobbed for a half hour because they did not have Mighty Morphin Power Ranger toys. He also crumpled to the floor in a bathroom stall before the wedding, because I suggested that I assist him instead of his grandmother.
“But I stand to pee now!” he wailed. I cringed as I watched her, in her gorgeous Mother-of-the-Groom dress, bear witness to a 3 year old learning to aim.
He also wailed during the wedding vows because it began raining. His shouts of “I don’t want to get wet, I want to go home!” forced me to tuck him under one arm and football-carry him indoors as we fled the second row. They only thing that consoled him was the Play-Doh my new sister-in-law smartly had on hand, which he expertly ground into the delicate, beaded tablecloths.
After dinner and while most of the wedding guests were on the terrace dancing, Baby #3 opened a mint in the dining area, and it fell to the floor. He promptly let out a guttural whine.
“Don’t get upset,” I told him as I looked around the mostly-empty room, “all of the tables have mints. There are plenty.” I walked over to another table and got him a replacement. I then left the room for a few minutes. When I returned, he froze still in place, his eyes fixed on me. His arms were laden with gold wrappers as he made off with most of the mints from around the room.
Baby #2 complained incessantly that everyone kept telling him he was a handsome ring bearer. Baby #1 burst into tears because she couldn’t stand the thought of sharing a bed for one more night with a little brother.
There are a few examples of our trip that my uptight nature bucked at. However, on that same trip,
- We gained an official member of the family
- Baby #3 cried one night at bedtime because he realized, on his own, that he had never said sorry for the destruction in the lobby
- Baby #2 entertained the flower girls and kept them from creating a disturbance
- Baby #1 enjoyed every aspect of the wedding, from the ceremony to the photo booth to wine glasses of soda
- Baby #4 was a fixture on the dance floor, showcasing his “moves”
- Throughout our stay, we spent time with extended family we don’t see often, made some new friends, and celebrated a blessed event.
At one point, I had taken the kids to a restaurant for lunch. We were laughing so loudly that the couple at the table next to us started giggling, too.
“I hope we have as much fun with our kids when we have them,” the woman told me.
I smiled at the naive but well-intentioned person before me. “Oh,” I told her in reply, “it’s a lot of work, and not everything is so much fun. But, if you aren’t laughing, you aren’t doing it right.”