"LA QUINTA! We want to stay at La Quinta!"
Uh, no. NO. Hell NO.
But then I began to wonder why. So, I asked.
Because they have waffles, they said. And hot chocolate! And biscuits! And a pool!
I realized that they had a whole different perspective on this hotel thing than I did- and perspective is everything.
We checked into a La Quinta hotel on September 22, 2011, in the wee hours of the morning for what would be a 13-day unplanned stay. Fire had ravaged our home and we needed immediate shelter for 2 adults, 5 children, and 2 dogs. (We also housed a rabbit, 2 frogs, a hermit crab, and a goldfish, but we didn't openly share that information upon check-in because we didn't think they would let the rabbit stay and we didn't know the smaller critters were even still alive at that point.)
We did not arrive at the hotel with luggage or vacation itinerary. We tumbled in looking like zombies; emotionally distraught, physically exhausted, reeking of house fire smoke, and covered in smeared soot. We were placed in three separate rooms- the boy in one room down the hall and the girls in another room even further down the hall with the Big Guy and I settled into a room with two separate too-small beds. This was not a vacation.
The hotel staff were incredibly helpful and supportive and as soon as was possible they relocated us into two connecting rooms with a room for the Boy directly across the hall. In spite of all of their wonderful efforts, I did not, for obvious reasons, enjoy my stay. At first, I was incredibly thankful there was a free continental breakfast. We were incredibly short on cash and we had no idea how quickly we would get the emergency funds check from the insurance company. We had 7 mouths to feed 2-3 meals every day with no access to a kitchen. Breakfast already cooked at no additional cost was a huge bonus. No matter- by the end of the first week I just couldn't look at another plate of biscuits and gravy.
I was also not overjoyed with keeping up with my herd in a hotel environment. Trying to get them from the car to the elevator and then to the hotel room, or vice versa, without disturbing 200 other guests was quite a chore. Getting a very toxic and sick dog into an elevator and all the way out of the hotel lobby to the small patch of grass beyond the parking lot was an anxiety-ridden mini-marathon for all involved. Sometimes we did not make it to the finish line.
I often teared up as we waited for cabs in the morning in the hotel dining area. The nice people around us would be discussing upcoming business meetings or the day's travel plans but we were just going about our normal day- getting the kids breakfast and sending them off to school. It was so very surreal. As I put my kids into cabs with school backpacks and waved them off, I knew that we appeared to be homeless- and we were. I cried every morning. Eventually the fear of sending our kids off with strangers became so overwhelming that we started driving them all to three different schools every day before we set about meeting with insurance agents and fire recovery specialists.
In short- I could not wait to leave. The Big Guy could not wait to leave. Tuna and the Boy could not wait to leave. Just 13 long and miserable days after we checked in, we loaded up the cars and said "see ya!" (We didn't really intend to make good on that.)
The littles though- they had a whole different experience.
We had taken a few vacations with a pull-behind travel trailer and we had camped in tents, but the younger kids had never stayed at a hotel before and the whole concept was super exciting. The hotel had a cook that adored my children. I think she just enjoyed having kids in the hotel every morning. She kept a steady supply of hard-boiled eggs and hot chocolate at the ready. My children worshiped her. They colored pictures for her that she proudly displayed in the kitchen.
There were no chores to speak of. I did enforce a regular clean up each night and each child was required to tidy up and make sure their personal belongings made it back to their personal storage bucket every night. But really, when everything you own fits into a plastic bucket, there isn't a lot of cleaning up to do. The housekeeping staff swept their room everyday and took the trash out and the cook cleaned up the kitchen and dining area so I guess that did feel sort of like a vacation.
The elevator provided great entertainment and every day there were new guests to introduce our giant dog to. There was a pool and a very gracious mother of one of my kids' friends (my memory of details from this time frame are so hazy I cannot remember who donated what) bought swimsuits for all of our kids so they could burn off some energy in the pool.
And then there were the free clothes. Knowing we had nothing but the dirty clothes on our backs, I had put out a Facebook request for clothes with our children's sizes and wow- our friends and community came to the rescue in a way that I could not have even imagined. Every time we arrived back at the hotel there were bags and boxes of clothing waiting for us. Since the Boy was not sharing his room with anyone, it became the central donation sorting and storage area. The two oldest kids were not impressed at all with piles of donated things that they did not pick out, but for the three younger kids- it was like Christmas everyday. The long-standing rule of washing all clothes before wearing was out the window. "Just pick something out of the bags and get dressed!"
For me and the Big Guy, and for the Boy and Tuna, this whole hotel stay was part of a very long nightmare. It is in the past, a memory, and we intend to keep it that way. I have stayed at hotels for travel and conferences since the fire and it definitely triggers bad memories for me.
For Fish, Rough Stuff, and Little Bean, the hotel stay was awesome and exciting. FREE WAFFLES! Unlimited hot chocolate!!
It's all in the perspective.