Elanor is quite the well traveled 14 month old. She has been to at least 11 states, the District of Columbia (Washington DC), Scotland and England. She has been on 7 planes, and driven more than halfway down the East Coast of the US and back again.
For the record, I was 20 the first time I flew.
Well traveled she may have been, but until 10 days ago, she had never gone on a trip with just one parent. Oh sure, on many of the trips we took last year Ravi would be off on business and she and I would explore on our own. Hell, there was one trip where she and I shared a room alone because we were traveling with my parents and Ravi was back at home. But doing all the travel with her, getting the luggage up to the room, and running herd on her alone? Didn’t seem like a great idea.
She hadn’t seen my grandfather in over 6 months, and the fall trip I’d planned got scrapped when our cat went into kidney failure, so when the opportunity for my schedule and various relatives’ schedules were all free at the same time, I jumped on it. We stay enough/spend enough money at a hotel chain that we have status, so I called the status line and set up a room using some of the hotel points we’ve accrued over the years. I packed one carry-on bag and tossed it in the trunk. We gave Ravi hugs and kisses and E and I were off!
We live in Massachusetts and my grandfather lives in Maine, so it’s not THAT big a drive. I guess it’s about the same distance as driving to New York, but Maine is far more boring (yes, it’s so boring that even Connecticut looks busy and urban by comparison). E slept (I think) most of the way…at the very least she was quiet.
Maine is short on full service hotels, so I had picked a budget hotel in our chain. The major drawback is that there is no valet, and no bellman. Which means I needed to park the car and then manage to get the carry-on, the diaper bag (and mine is ridiculously big), my purse, the CVS bags with snacks, and the toddler who suddenly doesn’t want to walk into the hotel, making this one of those times when, if the universe were just, parents could sprout additional arms/legs/whatever is necessary to get the job done.
Did I mention the wind was howling and it was a brisk 20 degrees before the wind?
Do I even have to say that I had forgotten my gloves in Massachusetts?
Or that I never for a second thought about doing TWO TRIPS?
I put the diaper bag across my chest, toss the purse on my shoulder, put the bags over the wrist that is hauling the carry-on, and hold the todder in the other arm as I ignore my low back scream out “WTF????!!!!!!”
Once inside the warm lobby of the hotel, the toddler wants down. This requires a delicate operation so that I don’t drop anything. She chases the carry-on to the front desk, and I’m thinking that I rock this traveling alone thing. Which is great until I look up from digging out my credit card and see the toddler disappearing around a corner. I leave the carry-on, drop the bags from my wrist and take off, calling “be right back!” at the front desk as if we’re all just playing a wonderful game. Toddler is nabbed before she can finish pulling tourist trap brochures (Come to the OUTLETS!, Come ski our MOUNTAIN! Come see a moose cross a ROAD!) and I replace the ones she’s already discarded on the floor (blah blah blah, isn’t nature gorgeous?).
Red-faced we return to the check-in where the clerk, in what I’m sure was meant as a nice gesture, offers E a cookie. Harmless enough, right? As I sign the form I notice a little red hand reaching for the pen. Wondering what on earth I turn my head to the toddler sitting on my hip and see jam smeared all over her face. It was a cookie with a jam filling. How absolutely wonderful. Then she reached for and grabbed my hair. Of course she did.
I put her back down and gather everything up. She stays in place because, DUH, cookie. I convince her to follow me, and consider letting her have at the tourist brochures with her jammy hands as a way of saying “thanks for the cookie!” but I refrain.
Upstairs we get the pack n play set up (the hotel’s), and I clean her up and change her into pj’s. I take her on a crazy adventure to the ICE MACHINE and SODA MACHINE and she is appropriately awed by the ice falling and soda appearing out of a door. We try to cuddle on the bed and I am denied. However, as a consolation prize, Elanor consents to play on the bed. Finally she goes to sleep and I am exhausted.
In the morning I call my cousin to find out if we will be able to surprise my Grandfather as planned. Not so much as he walked out the door 10 minutes ago and she couldn’t stall him without telling him. Luckily he goes back home and I am able to catch him on the phone to suprise him and make plans to see him and the rest of the family.
Breakfast goes relatively smoothly and I, as usual, leave a big tip as my way of saying “I’m so sorry about the food on the floor.”
Seeing my grandfather is a WIN. Introducing my daughter to the yappy demon masquerading as a Pomeranian? FAIL. She had the good sense to see it for the demon spawn it is and stay in my arms.
We drive my grandfather over to my cousin’s house so he can continue to visit with us. Along the way he points out a building.
“See that sign that says X farm?” he asks.
“I think I saw it,” I said, keeping my eyes on the road.
“We lived there when I was a kid. My brother burned the house down.” He says it calmly, matter of factly, as if he’d said ‘I see a dead raccoon on the side of the road’ (dead raccoons on the side of the road are kind of ubiquitous in New England as a whole).
“WHAT?” I am something of a purveyor of family stories, and my interest in said stories was the kernel of why I grew up and got a useless degree in History.
“My older brother was 8 at the time, I was six. He was out back behind the house and got a nice little grass fire burning. Wind kicked up and the house caught fire. Burned right down. My mother had just finished some laundry and our neighbor came in and told her t’house was on fire. He picked up that basket of clothes and we went out side. House burned right down.” Again, matter of fact tone of voice as if this happened to EVERYONE.
“What happened to your brother? Did he get in trouble?” If Elanor ever burned the house down, she’d be grounded until she was 150.
“No, was an accident. They understood.”
That was the story. I pressed for details, but he didn’t remember any. He’s getting up in years, having passed 80 a few years ago, and I find it a bit hard to believe that it’s the whole story, but I guess life is also a lot simpler when you’re 6.
At my cousin’s we hung out with my great aunt. Her daughter is in and out of the room as her work allows, and a cousin drops in periodically as well. A friend of the family is there with a baby (3 months) and I spend a good 10 minutes cuddling a baby who enjoys it as opposed to the toddler who has stuff to do instead. Pictures are taken, stories are told, and I treasure the memories that seeing things from my great aunt’s life stir. I remember staying at her house and loving it because she collected dolls and she always let me play with them. I remember putting a log into the wood burning stove. I remember all the kind things she’s said and done over the years, and I’m proud to know her and to share the gift that is her with my daughter.
Eventually we need to get going, so I drive my grandfather home. He does not drop any more “my brother burned the house down” stories and I’m kind of sad as I wonder at all the stories I’ll never hear, and all the things I’ll never learn about him.
Ella and I drive back to Massachusetts, and I am glad that she is out by the time we get home because there are too many stories to share with Ravi to want to keep her entertained.
It was hard. The logistics of taking a shower, getting gear from one place to another, and never getting even a 10 minute break were exhausting. But it’s also fun to have these memories and these stories that are just ours. I wasn’t going to do it again until she was much older, but there’s a reason to and it looks like I’m taking her to NYC on my own at the end of the month.
Let’s just hope they don’t hand her a cookie with jam in it.