The days are long (and loud, and sometimes involve messes in resort lobbies)

Grace ventured out here to the Wild West a few weeks ago, and we finally got to meet in person. I was going to drive down to her hotel and show up at her room whether or not we had anything arranged, so the fact that she actually invited me avoided a potential run-in with security guards.

fulwilerpatton1 The days are long (and loud, and sometimes involve messes in resort lobbies)

Grace has three kids under age four; I have six kids under age ten. I brought four of mine to our meetup (though the crazy toddler was in the group, and she counts as five normal children), so let’s just say that we had our hands full herding our minions around the fancy resort where her husband Simon’s OB/GYN conference was being held.

When my crew of merry pirates and I first came bursting into the lobby, I saw two women sitting in front of a floor-to-ceiling window, admiring the views of the misty Texas Hill Country as they sipped from glasses of wine. They looked my way, and their faces contorted into expressions that either contained mild horror or deep pity as I frantically spun around, trying to keep track of my swarming kids. In the brief moment that our eyes met, I was struck by the contrast between our current situations.

Them: having uninterrupted conversations, enjoying the view, drinking fine beverages, presumably smelling of high-end perfume.

Me: meeting a friend with whom I would have not a single uninterrupted conversation, cannot take my eyes off the kids for even one second, just drank some stale apple juice from a sippy cup, smelling vaguely of urine (due to an unfortunate diaper incident on the way down).

I was struck by this thing, this ball of thoughts and emotions that I couldn’t even begin to unravel, a crazy, messy mix of jealousy and satisfaction and frustration and hope and a bunch of other stuff I couldn’t articulate.

I was just beginning to unpack it all when two of my girls got into a wrestling match on the Persian rug, signaling that it was time to wrap up the resort lobby philosophizing and go look for Grace’s room.

fulwilerpatton ig1 The days are long (and loud, and sometimes involve messes in resort lobbies)

After some brief hellos — which was kind of surreal, since I think of Grace and her kids as living inside my computer — we headed down to the resort’s family area which boasts bouncy castles and a kid-friendly pool. I had talked it up to the kids as if we were going to a My Little Pony ranch, which made it a little anticlimactic when we walked through drizzle only to see piles of deflated canvas, all of it having been shut down due to rain.

This left Grace and me needing to figure out — and figure out quickly — how to amuse seven young children for the next few hours.

We walked back to the room, thinking we would hang out there, but when we arrived at the door we realized we were locked out.

fulwilerpatton room The days are long (and loud, and sometimes involve messes in resort lobbies)

We then headed to the lobby — and I say “headed to the lobby” in the same way one might say she “headed to the summit of Mt. Everest.” Evidently the architect of this resort had a Darwinian vision in which this would be a hotel for the strong, since only the fittest guests would survive the trek from the lobby to the rooms in the far wing. It involved stairs and multiple elevators and winding through approximately twelve miles of labyrinthine hallways. If it weren’t for Grace’s jogging stroller to help with the transport of the littlest ones, we may have had to give up and call for an airlift.

We got a new key and went back through the stairs/elevator/labyrinth. When we arrived back at the room, the key was gone. Lost somewhere along the way.

We made a plan to meet Simon back in the lobby to get his key, which of course meant another stairs/elevator/labyrinth run.

When we reached the lobby, I happened to spy a glass container of ice water infused with sliced cucumbers. I was thirsty — so, so thirsty from the long drive — and the thought of a cool beverage with a hint of cucumber made me swoon. But the water sat on a low table, the easy-pour spout well within reach of even the shortest people in attendance. So far, the kids had not noticed the water.

I had a very tough choice to make.

fulwilerpatton lobby2 The days are long (and loud, and sometimes involve messes in resort lobbies)

My will to survive trumped my desire not to be despised by the hotel management, and I discreetly slipped over to pour myself a cup. This immediately triggered some internal sensor in all of the kids — I could swear that even the ones who weren’t looking my direction snapped their heads around the moment my hand touched the spout — and they descended on the pitchers like starving wolves on a carcass, with my children leading the charge. Grace and I made a valiant effort to keep things under control, but we were outnumbered and had only tiny cocktail napkins to combat the mess. On the plus side, turning the lobby into a water park seemed to make up for the fact that the actual water park was closed.

Grace was on the phone with a concerned look on her face, and she hung up to report the news: there was a mixup, and Simon was actually back in the hotel room.

Stairs/elevator/labyrinth.

fulwilerpatton lobby3 The days are long (and loud, and sometimes involve messes in resort lobbies)

Back at the hotel room, an ominous realization dawned on us (by “us” I mean “me” — Grace undoubtedly already thought of this): we had seven young children to feed, and we were at the type of place where the grilled cheese is made with imported gruyere and costs $15.

We ventured out to a Chick-Fil-A in a nearby mall, and when we arrived I thought it was appropriate that REM’s The End of the World as We Know It was playing. I’ve never understood the lyrics other than slamfughbrightwipe feelin’…pretty…psyched! but it’s always struck me as the ultimate “happy chaos” anthem, and so it was the perfect soundtrack for the two of us walking through the door to a fast food joint with a herd of wired and hungry kids.

fulwilerpatton chickfila The days are long (and loud, and sometimes involve messes in resort lobbies)

My children got the party started by spilling a newly filled drink all over the table just as Grace’s toddler Sebastian made a break for the door, but overall it went surprisingly smoothly.

Back at the hotel, Simon made the very generous offer to watch most of the kids while Grace and I had a glass of wine down by the pool. I think we might have said thank you before bolting for the door.

We settled in at a poolside table and finally got a moment like the one I’d seen those women enjoying in the lobby. Granted, we had my two-year-old with us and we only had a few minutes since I needed to get back on the road and we were concerned for Simon’s sanity, but it was a glorious half hour. It had been great to have sporadic conversations as we led the kids on the hotel death march, but now we could finally speak without having to interrupt ourselves to apologize to the other people in the elevator because a certain child (cough-cough lastnameFulwiler) just pressed the buttons for aaaallllllll the floors. Grace is even more witty and interesting and hilarious than she seems on her blog, and it was one of those occasions when I think we could have talked until 1 AM and I would have felt like we were just getting started.

fulwilerpatton pool The days are long (and loud, and sometimes involve messes in resort lobbies)

On the way home, after my toddler screamed herself to sleep, I thought about that strange mix of feelings that arose in me when I first saw the folks lounging in the lobby.

Being able to enjoy fine beverages and adult conversation, unencumbered by the needs of small and noisy people, is a real treat. If Grace and I could have spent our whole afternoon that way, it would have been nice. But there’s this paradoxical truth of the universe, one that I only learned in recent years, which states that a bunch of nice moments do not necessarily add up to a nice life — and, conversely, a bunch of really difficult moments can add up to a beautiful life.

In the heat of the moment, when I was dragging travel-weary kids around in a place that was not exactly set up to accommodate travel-weary kids, it was tempting to feel like Grace and I and all the other mothers of little ones would have better lives if we could hire a staff of nannies and go spend all our hours enjoying fine beverages and nice views. But as I thought about it again, driving through a downpour on the outskirts of Austin at 10:00 at night, I heard my daughters talking about their big day from the back seat. Their words were filled with wonder as they recounted watching birds play in the rain from the balcony in the room; they bubbled with excitement about having chicken nuggets and ketchup at the “fancy westaurant.” Things that I saw as nuisances, they recounted as great adventures; details that I hadn’t noticed at all seemed vivid and fascinating when viewed through their eyes.

“Thank you for taking us to Miss Gwace’s house, mommy!” my four-year-old exclaimed, evidently perceiving that the Pattons have done quite well for themselves. I told her I was glad she could come, and I meant every word of it.

There’s that old saying that when you have young children, “the days are long, but the years are short.” This trip reminded me of a similar truth: the days are hard, but these years are so, so blessed.

fulwilerpatton polaroid2 The days are long (and loud, and sometimes involve messes in resort lobbies)

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Enter the Conversation...

36 Responses to “The days are long (and loud, and sometimes involve messes in resort lobbies)”
  1. Lynne says:

    My 2 yo highly enjoyed the photos, but insists on knowing, “Why is dat bee-bee mad?” In fact, I was unable to read most of the rest of the story because of this person insisting “Do back to da bee-bee!” whom she couldn’t see when I scrolled to the bottom to read. So I finally read your reflection on moments and nannies and decided to give up and read this at another time…like 6 in the morning, which is essentially my only quiet-alone time all day. Thanks for the wisdom!

  2. LPatter says:

    I love when you make this point. (If I recall you’ve made it in a few different ways a few different times before…it is always such a refreshing and welcome thought!) I think I take it as “extra” meaningful from you since you led more of the classic 20’s successful young professional chasing/living “the dream” life – which I generally had rejected early on – but I also didn’t marry and settle down in the neat & clean way early enough to make it totally foreign, either. My friends who did that soon after college seemed to jump into home life on purpose and eeek out all their selfishness (I know, what we don’t see and don’t know about others…) early on. I think I hung onto a lot of mine! I think I’ve been out of city life long enough for hotels and wine and travel to sound appealing – until I think back to the loneliness and emptiness (in a sense) that accompanied my 20s. I knew I was headed toward family ultimately, but it felt like slo-mo and my heart ached for the intimacy of permanent-self-giving. It is an awesome life. It demands so much sometimes. And the lack of control is sometimes the hardest. But I loved the mixed emotion complexity of your first reaction – it was telling that even in the immediate moment your hope and satisfaction were right there in your envy and wistfulness – like, your soul is learning/has already learned the lesson you articulate here with such confidence. What a beautiful thing.

    And ditto to the mad bee bee above – that is hilarious! I’m not with my kids right now but Theo looks PISSED! :) (And super cute.)

    Fun window into 2 of my fave bloggers’ hotel par-tay!

  3. Rosie says:

    Um, I kind of think that if this whole writing thing isn’t paying the bills for you, you and Grace should open up some sort of bouncy house my little pony playland for Catholic bloggers and their kids. You know we’d all pay admission to hang out with the Pattons and the Fulwilers.

    Just saying.

    Also, I so agree with all of this – the joy we experience would be nothing without the grief. It’s like the way that first baby smile is SO rewarding after the first sleepless, screaming, spit-uppy weeks. I appreciate the good in life so much more now that I have struggles more serious than the fact that my college roommate had her bass turned up to loud…
    Rosie recently posted..Words That Shouldn’t Be Said

  4. Grace says:

    physically shaking with laughter over the labyrinth descrip – and you left out the part where you wanted to kill me for somehow losing the key on marathon trek #45!!!! I would’ve.

    and I’m so glad you typed this all out with some introspection because I’m still feeling guilty about the bathroomless hotel room and the deflated toys.

    Let’s do it again next year!!!!

    • and you left out the part where you wanted to kill me for somehow losing the key on marathon trek #45!!!!

      It’s all due to my saint-like patience and holiness.

      And the fact that I think you might have given me the key.

      • elizabethe says:

        Ha! You’re going to find the key in your washing machine (or purse, or car) two weeks from now.

        Thanks for sharing this experience. It sounds wonderful.

        You’ve captured perfectly the feeling that I have all the time that if only I could spare just a second to think about something I might have an INSIGHT! At the end of the day I wander around going “what was that thing I was trying to think about earlier, where I was about to realize something profound and life-changing…. darn it!”

  5. Kris says:

    It’s so funny to read Grace’s version and your version and imagine the whole thing. With many of my close girlfriends, our conversations are start and stop, and punctuated by the needs/screams/noisiness of small children. We do get out as just adults every once in awhile, and I know we will enjoy our later years when the kids are older. But we wouldn’t trade our life now for anything – or our friendships!

  6. Rosemary says:

    I loved reading this. You guys are the best.

  7. This is my life. This is perfect. Thank you for the reassurance that I am not as effed up as I feel. And you both look super hot. ;)

  8. nancyo says:

    Love your reflections on this momentous encounter. The times when I’ve met my computer friends irl it’s always involved conversation until 1am.
    nancyo recently posted..Quick Takes: Christian Art

  9. Christy says:

    I laughed and cried at this. Because I know that feeling you describe and its so surreal. It really makes you value friendships that see you through these times.

    And what is with kids and spouts?! Also; I bet the your kids now think Grace has the biggest house ever.

    And, you’re both tall and beautiful and the two of you together is like Catholic-bog-fans dream come true. But you know that right?
    Christy recently posted..G.K. of the Day!

    • And, you’re both tall and beautiful and the two of you together is like Catholic-bog-fans dream come true. But you know that right?

      I guess we should go ahead and tell people that I paid you to say that, right? ;)

  10. Kara says:

    Love this. Relating your experience to the women you saw enjoying their drinks reminds me of an experience I had a few weeks ago. I took my three kids 6, 3 and baby) to a bakery to pick up some cupcakes for the oldest’s birthday. There were three older women outside chatting and drinking coffee when we arrived. After patiently (!) navigating a shirt wait in line, we left with me balancing the 6 month old in one hand and box of cupcakes in the other. Since it had just rained there were a few puddles in the parking lot, one large one in a parking space that was now open. I could literally see the wheels turning in my three year-old’s face…and in no time he crashed feet first into that puddle. And then proceeded to put his lovey blanket down in the muddy water. And then he sat on that, just for good measure. I took a deep breath and restrained my impulse to yell, mostly because I knew we had an audience, and reminded him his blanket would probably still be dirty and out of commission at nap time. I heard the women laughing and one of them called out, “we all have boys who are older now and every single one of them would have done the same exact thing.” “They are all older now but we remember those crazy days is well!” “You were so patient with him, what a good mom you are!” And we proceeded to have just the nicest exchange, just me and some strangers in the parking lot. It absolutely made my day and turned a crummy moment (knowing my car would end up muddy and wet, more laundry to do at home) into a really humbling and joyful one. I hope I remember to speak up and return their kindness to another mom in the future!

  11. Anne says:

    “But there’s this paradoxical truth of the universe, one that I only learned in recent years, which states that a bunch of nice moments do not necessarily add up to a nice life — and, conversely, a bunch of really difficult moments can add up to a beautiful life.”

    Yeah!! Way to say it, Jennifer. Life would be so empty without my kids.

  12. Sarah says:

    Such a neat twist on this post. I love being able to see it through your girl’s eyes. I find myself digging deep to be present in the moments of exhaustion, discipline, and tears. It is a gift. Exhausting? Yes. Difficult? Yes. But so very worth it.
    Sarah recently posted..Apple doesn’t fall far

  13. Kim P says:

    I finally started following your blog recently, and took absolute delight in this post! I LOVE children, and I LOVE seeing young families with children. A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I were having breakfast at a local restaurant after mass. A family came in with 4 small kids. I would hear occasional loud voices and re-directions from the parents (“That’s your brother’s pancake”), and I found myself giggling. As we left, we walked past their table, and I said to the parents “Your kids are absolutely beautiful. I love seeing families with lots of kids” The young mom smiled.

    I have many friends with lots of kids…and they get so much heat from people around them. Breaks my heart. I try to counteract that. I had one son who was stillborn, and can no longer have kids. I have a great life, and am able to take great vacations with my husband, since there are no college funds…but yeah. I would have loved the chaos you just described. (Did spend 8 years as a foster mom). I don’t recent women with kids…families are too precious for that nonsense…but I want you to know that some of us watching from a hotel lobby find you and your kids to be a precious highlight of our day.
    Kim P recently posted..Top 10 List…WooHoo!

  14. If I had to choose I think I would’ve rather followed you two gals and your brood around and just observed in awe. How exciting could a hotel conversation over vino be? I mean really. ;)
    Martha@RomancingReilly recently posted..Under the rock

  15. I loved reading this…but it made me a bit sad.

    My children are all teenagers now and I MISS those crazy hectic days when they were running around having grand adventures every where we went.

    Thank you for making me smile and taking me back to days gone by. Enjoy every moment, before you know it, it’s gone.

    God bless!
    Julie @ Connecticut Catholic Corner recently posted..Why are so many people screaming about God?

  16. Julia says:

    This was beautiful; thank you for reminding me to keep perspective and to cherish each day for its own trials and gifts!

  17. Rosita says:

    Thank you for the beautiful reflection. It made me think of when we went to visit my husband’s family in Africa a few years ago. It included a very long road trip over very bumpy roads and in extreme heat. I was the one that was like “Are we there yet?” My boys’ favorite part of the trip is still “the fun bumpy car ride”.

  18. TheresaEH says:

    Theo is adorable with his “I am not amused” look on his face ;p (said in the voice of Queen Victoria)

  19. Nancy says:

    It’s so good to read this — we are at an “easy” stage of parenting, where our older kids are ages 6 – 13. And we’re about to go back into the fray by adopting a 2 year old, who will need surgery and hearing assessments and speech therapy. I’ve had these same thoughts about comfort/ease vs. alone time/freedom . . . and realized that often, the “hard” way is the far better way, and the way we are more conformed to Christ.

  20. Gina says:

    I don’t know which minion is standing next to you in the top photo, but she looks SO much like you, Jen!!
    Gina recently posted..A fresh look at ‘David Copperfield’

  21. Martha says:

    Awesome and so, so relatable. Have you ever wondered how life would ‘seem’ different if all married women embraced life like we do? If there were hoards of children with every frazzled woman, would we feel more comfortable? Would life seem easier? Would we have fewer of those emotional-ball of un-articulable moments of jealousy/frustration/satisfaction thingies going on?

    Interesting theme to ponder.

    Thanks for sharing your crazy! It makes us all feel more normal. :D

  22. Martha says:

    BTW… isn’t it, ‘slam dunk, bright lights, feelin’ pretty psyched?’

  23. Dear Jennifer,
    I tracked you down here because I miss you on NCR. Hope you will be back soon. Have loved your comments over the years.

  24. Lacey says:

    Ha! “Darwinian vision.” Sadistic hotel architects.

    And did Grace say “bathroomless hotel room”? Is that a thing??

    I loved your takeaway here. Something for us to reflect on even in the chaos (or perhaps more accurately, a few hours/days after the chaos).
    Lacey recently posted..Toddlers are Weird

  25. Sarah says:

    I am green with envy! You are both some of my favorite bloggers :) I am so glad you are both apparently as cool in real life as you are online ;p
    And thanks for your reflections about hard moments often making up a beautiful life. Needed that this morning…
    Sarah recently posted..Me, but more so.

  26. Ann says:

    Wisdom from the trenches! Thank you! Oh are these days hard, my crew in almost the same ages as the Pattons’…you’re so right, the difficult moments can add up to a beautiful life, and spurr me to a live a better one. Cheers to that post bedtime weekend wine!

  27. Smoochagator says:

    How I love this post.
    Smoochagator recently posted..Always something there to remind me.