Family

I Lived In A Hotel With My Family And Dog For 3 Months And Survived — Barely

Photo: Courtesy of the Author
kids in hotel

I just got my period, which marks the third month I’ve been living in a hotel with my husband, Greg, two children (Archer, 6, and Isla, 3), and our dog, Duke. I used to think living in a hotel sounded romantic and glamorous when I’d read about writers and artists doing it.

Oscar Wilde spent his last days at a chic hotel in Paris, while many of Tennessee Williams’ plays were written out of his suite in a Manhattan hotel, and for God’s sake, what artist didn’t live at the infamous Hotel Chelsea in New York City?

And then there’s Russian con artist, Anna Sorokin, who pretended to be a wealthy German heiress (under the name Anna Delvey) and swindled her way into some of New York’s swankiest hotels for four years.

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And now there’s me and my brood. We live in Downtown Phoenix in a house built in 1923, so it wasn’t a big surprise when the water pipes broke a few months ago.

Easy fix, I thought.

And then, I watched as the plumbers cut holes in our kitchen floor and then bathroom floor, and then Archer’s bedroom floor in several efforts to reach the ruptured pipes.

I reached for the Xanax.

Meanwhile, the plumbers yanked out the toilet and stuffed it in the bathtub.

I stuffed more Xanax into my mouth.

Photo: Author

As you know, old houses are small. Our three-bedroom, one-and-a-half-bath Tudor home has one bathtub which was now unusable because of the toilet sitting in it. And the holes in the other floors created a safety issue, especially for our kids.

Dealing with the insurance company was a nightmare and after numerous back-and-forths — and a few hate Tweets — they finally agreed to move us into an extended-stay hotel. We asked for a house because of our dog and kids but they refused. 

So Greg and I packed a few suitcases and moved our family into the Hilton Homewood Suites, thinking it would be a week-long stay. Naïveté strikes again. 

As a person who thrives on structure, I was wildly annoyed — especially because our suite came without an oven, doggie door, or backyard.

But I also didn’t want the kids to be traumatized and blame me in therapy years later. I wanted them to have fun and think "hotel life" was cool. 

“This will be such a cool adventure,” I told the kids as we trekked four flights of stairs to our room (I’m terrified of elevators). “We are going to have so much fun!” 

Thank god the hotel had a pool and happy hour.

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While I was doing lots of self-talk and breathing exercises, Greg was pointing out all of the positives.

“We can turn the air conditioning down to 60 degrees!” he shouted. “And we get a free continental breakfast every day,” he said as if he were in a commercial. 

Photo: Author

Last week, we had to change hotels due to overbooking. The second Hilton Homewood Suites sucks.

It’s old with low, popcorn ceilings and a shifty elevator. Archer inherited my elevator fear and asked the concierge, “How old is the elevator?”

“Oh, I think it was built in the ’90s,” she told him. 

“Has anyone got stuck in there?” Archer asked. 

She smiled slightly and before I could stop her, said, “Yes.” 

We took the stairs to our room and walked in, “I miss my old hotel,” Archer cried. 

“Me, too,” Isla said. 

“Me, too,” I echoed. 

As the contractors continue to work on our house, I’ve been working on pulling myself out of my funk and trying to make our stay less of a Schitt’s Creek episode and more of a … well, whatever is better than that.

Below are some of the ways in which I tried to entertain and occupy my kids, along with ratings. If you anticipate being in a hotel with children, whether on purpose or necessity, you’ll want to read on. 

Activity attempts

1. Tie-dye shirts

This was my first, and most likely messiest, activity. Guess you could say I went in with guns blazing.

I bought a tie-dye kit from Walmart, along with two white t-shirts, and couldn’t wait to see my kids’ reactions.

As predicted, they were stoked. My husband, on the other hand, not so much. “Meghan, you always do this. You get these grand ideas and they go south. Your intentions are good, but we both know how this is going to turn out,” he told me before heading off to his side of the suite. 

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I knew he was probably right, but still, I was going to make this happen — for the children. And to my husband’s surprise, the three of us executed the project seamlessly. We even tie-dyed a pair of my husband’s underwear. So there.

Sure, it was messy but it was fun and even three menstrual cycles later, the shirts remain one of their favorites. Hotel staff even complimented us on them during one of our many continental breakfasts. 

Rating: *****

2. Fabric marker t-shirts

Still on a high from the success of the tie-dye shirts, I hauled my ass back to Walmart and picked up some fabric markers and two more white t-shirts.

Again, the kids thoroughly enjoyed this project and it was far less messy.

Plus, this activity was great for fine motor skills, spelling, and creativity. I helped them write their names on the shirts and they went wild drawing stars, hearts, Pokemon characters, flowers, and scribbles. They proudly wear these shirts everywhere. 

Rating: *****

3. Painter’s tape

What a godsend painter’s tape is. It’s cheap. It’s ubiquitous. It’s versatile. I gave the roll to my kiddos and told them to go nuts.

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“Make a house for your Pokemon characters,” I told Archer. “How about a doll house?” I asked Isla. I tore different sizes of tape and hung them off of the coffee table for easy grabbing.

Archer followed through on his Pokemon house, while Isla pivoted and made a prison for her baby dolls.

Either way, this project occupied them for a solid hour or so — even if it did raise concerns about Isla’s future. 

Rating: *****

4. Play-dough soap

Bath time can be monotonous so I’m always searching for ways to spice it up.

Before work one morning, I hopped on Pinterest and found a recipe for play-dough soap. It seemed easy enough and less messy than real Play-Doh so I grabbed the ingredients.

When the kids got to the hotel, I surprised them with a few different colors and tossed them in the tub.

They had a good, clean time. Downside: Clumps of the play-dough soap made their way out of the tub and all over the bathroom floor and remnants of the dough didn’t make it down the drain. Upside: The hotel has a cleaning service.  

Rating: ***

Mini golf: There’s a Dollar Tree next to our hotel, so after work one night I ventured in.

I spotted an outdoor children's golf set and thought it would provide some light exercise and entertainment for the kids. Apparently, Archer hates golf and Isla got frustrated after not getting a hole-in-one and threw the club. Duke ate the balls. 

Rating: *

5. Vision board

Sure this feels a little early 2000s but I was desperate and a little hopeful that maybe it would work.

I got a poster board, markers, and stickers and explained the premise of the activity to my kids. We decided on making a family vision board, incorporating all of our dreams and wishes onto one board.

They were excited but it quickly devolved into a toy wish list.

I drew a new house and a book with my name on it. Archer drew his favorite Pokemon characters and Isla scribbled. Hot take: My sights were set high. Clearly, this activity was a little above their age level but it did allow us to be creative together. 

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Rating: ***

6. Sour patch grapes 

My kids love Sour Patch Kids and grapes so when I found a recipe for sour patch grapes on Pinterest, I was in.

The three of us had a good time making them together, which took about 30 minutes. The novelty wore off, though, after eating about four grapes each. When you’re thinking about candy and biting into fruit disguised as candy, it kind of pisses you off. 

Rating: *

7. Snack necklaces

After the grape failure, I was determined to come out on top with a food activity.

I came across a snack necklace project and knew my kids would love it. Who doesn’t love snacks? Together, we picked up string and a variety of food items with holes. They had a blast and used fine motor skills to make the necklaces. Plus, the activity ate up about 45 minutes.

Rating: ***

8. Hideabed reveal

My kids have never seen a hideabed nor know what one is. That is until, one night when I revealed the bed that was hiding in the couch.

They were so impressed it was almost like I performed a magic trick. I made a big deal of it, popping popcorn and decorating the newly unveiled bed with their favorite stuffies and dolls.

They wouldn’t get off the damn bed. Insisting on playing on it, watching TV on it, and eating on it. I let them, too. Shoutout to Generation Alpha for being easily impressed.

Rating: ****

9. Pillowcase race

OK, here is where my ideas take a dark turn.

At this point, we are in Hotel #2, which we all hate. So I was feeling dejected but trying to be positive for the kids.

I thought a pillowcase race would make them laugh while they moved their bodies. They didn’t laugh and thought it was dumb. 

Rating: 0

10. Three-legged race

I should have quit while I was ahead, but wanted to bounce back from the pillow case idea. I grabbed a pair of Isla’s pajama pants and tied Archer’s right leg to Isla’s left leg. 

“You’re a three-legged monster,” I shouted to them. 

“We have four legs, Mama,” Archer retorted. 

“You know what I mean,” I said as I motioned to their tied legs as they stumbled around a bit before helping each other out of the PJ bottoms. 

“Well, I tried,” I sighed. 

“Thanks for trying, Mama,” Archer said. He took a beat and then added, “But you don’t have to. You should focus on your work.” 

Touche. 

Rating: 0

Photo: Author

11. Take kids to work day

I think the photo above says it all. 

Rating: 0

Meghan Ensell is a married mother of two — under the age of 5. She has a master's degree in clinical psychology and for 15 years, worked as a therapist in prisons and psychiatric hospitals.

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