Having just returned from a family trip to Las Vegas, I think it’s safe to conclude we will be staying in the tri-county area for the next ten years or so. It seems as if going on vacation causes me to lose things. Little things, like time and money. Oh, and kids.
It wasn’t my fault (exactly). I really do look after my kids (mostly). The goal has always been to keep my children safe and fed and relatively well groomed. Sure it’s a lofty goal, but most of the time I succeed. However! There is something about vacationing with children that turns me into a frenzied, absentminded nit-wit, despite my excessive planning and deep breathing techniques.
On the second night of our trip, I found it difficult to sleep. Perhaps it was because our hotel was under the flight path of a very busy airport, or maybe it was due to the Mary J. Blige song performing incessantly—live and in concert!—in my head. Whatever the reason, my eyes stung and my head ached and still I couldn’t sleep. I suppose it didn’t help that I snuck out of bed all naughty-like and stumbled down the shabby hallway into the casino to locate the Krispy Kreme doughnut shop I had spied earlier. I felt I would finally be able to relax after yielding to my craving. Instead, I just felt a little chubbier.
Later, as I maneuvered my way back into bed between three snoring bodies of various shapes and sizes, I wondered why I had ever agreed to this trip. Carly was so annoyingly active these days. I mean seriously, it bordered on rudeness. She was impossible to keep track of in a small, padded room, let alone in a city of over 500,000 smoking-drinking-doughnut-eating people. It had taken all of our energy to just get here. As soon as we boarded the plane she had begun acting like a crazed caged orangutan hunting for small bugs and I realized, with great hostility, that I could kiss my vacation (and I use the term “vacation” in the loosest possible way) goodbye.
On the other hand, Paige was a traveler’s dream. She’s my little pleaser. Sweet as a lollipop, that Paige. Always aiming for perfection. As Kenny and I wrestled with Carly in the airport terminal and in the hotel room and in the casino lobby and in the bathroom stall and in the buffet line, Paige was always happy to help. She retrieved fallen binkies and thrown sippy-cups, she held doors and elevators, she followed instructions without question as we frantically bellowed them out.
So imagine my shock, dear readers, on the morning of day number three when I opened the door of our hotel room to find Paige staring back at me from the hallway with a disturbingly blank look. I was groggy from my sleepless night and I gaped at her, motionless, for a long while. I thought I was dreaming, and I noticed that her polka-dot nightgown blended nicely with the gaudy wallpaper. She looked like a lost baby bird. Next to Paige stood a woman who I took to be an infinitely more accomplished mother. She was dripping with scorn and contempt. “Is this your little girl?” she asked. (It was really more of a demand than a question.) “She’s been knocking on your door for a REALLY … LONG … TIME.”
I didn’t even answer that woman, the more worthy mother, who just maybe had read a few more parenting books than me and almost certainly remembered to fasten the dead bolt of the hotel room and all that other dumb stuff. She’s probably the type who gave her children real baths last night, with soap and everything, instead of taking them for a quick dip in the hotel pool. Of course I found myself wanting disaster and calamity to rain down upon this other mother—that is, as soon I called child protective services to turn myself in. I grabbed Paige’s bony little shoulder and hustled her into the room with such intensity that she started to cry. I hadn’t even realized she was missing.
We all piled onto the bed, and as Kenny wiped Paige’s tears with the thin hotel sheet, she described in great detail how she had gone next door to visit grandpa and grandma. Come on over anytime! they had said. So Paige did what she had been taught to do: she followed directions. While Kenny and Carly and I were still sleeping, she left our hotel room, silently, so as not to be a bother. The only glitch was that grandpa was on an early-morning walk and grandma happened to be taking a shower and Paige became locked out of both hotel rooms, shivering in the hallway, in her yellow polka-dot nightgown, holding her stuffed gecko and needing to pee. She had knocked and knocked. Sweetly. Politely. Like one might tap on the glass of an aquarium. With gentleness and great care, lest you risk disturbing the fragile environment or causing any inconvenience to the sea life.
Paige’s tears stopped but still we stayed on that hotel bed, each of us heavy with the thought of what almost-kind-of-could’ve-might’ve happened. Eight legs and eight arms, all accounted for, tangled together in a heap. We hung on tight and longed for home, listening to the sound of airplanes flying overhead to faraway tropical destinations.