Room with a slew: Susan Anspach on hotels with kids

As for staying in a hotel room with three kids, I have reservations.

Illustration by Matt Mignanelli

Seven blank squares march across our family calendar next week. We’re pausing soccer lessons, school pickups and a myriad of doctors’ appointments.

We’re out of town, for the second time ever, since having had our third child. The first time did not go well, when we stayed at my parents’ house over Thanksgiving and the baby woke up, on average, one billion times a night. I was exhausted. I was miserable, in the comfort of my mother’s care and the three meals she prepared for us daily.

Next week I don’t get any of that. Next week we stay in a hotel.

My kids are ecstatic about this. They claim to love nothing more than to stay in a hotel. How do you remember what a hotel is? I ask them. We haven’t stepped foot in one in three years. Intentionally.

Hotels are one of those points around which I can watch my own youth draining away, in tightening and quickening and intensifying little rotations. Because a shrinking part of me can actually relate to my kids—I used to love hotels, too. I loved everything about them. The anonymous art. The beds. The beige landline telephones. Who were we going to call? Nobody, in all likelihood. But the possibilities seemed limitless with it placed like a centerpiece smack dab in the middle of the room.

But all of that’s changed. Part of the problem is that I can’t stand spending money on something I dread, so as an adult I only ever book rooms at a less-than-average hotel. And you’re buying a lot with a stay at a less-than-average hotel. You’re buying a small cloud of fruit flies outside your balcony door. A layer of dust, and the echo of a stain in the bathroom sink. An allergy to something you didn’t know you were allergic to. You’re buying thin walls and the conversations going on in the room next to yours that you hope won’t stick in your memory years after you’ve left the hotel.

Only I don’t have any memories of those allergies or flies or thin walls from when I was a kid. And my kids won’t remember anything like that, either. So, I’m trying not to ruin this for them.

Because they are beyond excited. Paw Patrol fruit snacks excited. My son has a countdown going on our wall. My daughter has a duffel bag packed with nothing but hair barrettes and stuffed ducks. As casually as I could manage, I asked them what exactly they were wanting to get out of this. Was it the sheets textured like reptiles? My heightened stress? The metallic trim on the courtesy Bible?

No. It turns out it’s the mini cereal boxes at the breakfast buffet. They have more sugar than the stuff I usually buy and they know I’ll be too tired in the mornings to fight them on it.

Here’s what I remember loving from when I stayed at hotels as a kid: The thrill of sharing a bed with my cousin. Feeding ducks that had miraculously waddled over across the interstate. One time, at a lodge, a stuffed deer head that filled us with equal parts horror and captivation. The pool, the pool, the pool.

But really, I said to my own kids. Is that what all of this hinges on? Whether or not the hotel has Fruit Loops? The answer was unanimous and resounding: Yes. The Fruit Loops will cancel out the awful, hard base of the pack-and-play the hotel’s trying to pass off as a sufficient sleep space for a baby. Will negate the hotel’s lack of soft towels and its lackluster location, which is closer to a highway than it is to any good parks. Will paint the hotel in a light that’s less depressing, and more American kitsch.

Focus on the good stuff, was the message here, and the rest is just noise.

In other words, my kids were telling me, find your Fruit Loops.

You know what our hotel has that I’m really, really looking forward to?

Someone coming to make the beds every day.

Breakfast options that will be laid out for us by a person who’s not me.

A balcony off our room, the size of a postage stamp and probably overlooking a parking lot, but still.

The glass of white wine I will drink nightly out on that balcony.

The wine will not help with the fruit flies. But they are going to be so beyond excited, and I’m not trying to ruin this for them.

This post originally appeared in our June 2019 issue. Want more family content? Subscribe to our weekly newsletter.

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