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Roughing It with a Toddler in a Desert Hotel

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Whoever said you can't go home again should have added that you also can't go back to a same beloved getaway spot with a toddler and enjoy it nearly as much as when you used to go before she was born.

This was evident over the weekend when our family went to Moab so my husband Rick could run a race in which we have both previously participated three times over the past seven years. The former visits were a mix of hard work (the race) and about as much fun as is legally allowed in Utah (3.2 percent, to be exact). Returning with a 2-year-old proved to be a blast for her (almost every cup of water she drank from came with a straw), if not even more hard work for Rick (the race and then the toddler) and me (the toddler and then the toddler). There might have been some adult fun, save for the lack of a bottle opener.

"Hi, Mommy," my daughter said, innocently enough, from her Pack 'n Play just before 7 a.m. on Saturday morning, soon after Rick tiptoed out to the starting line. I've learned from past experience that once eye contact is made, it's all over, so I carefully kept my eyelids sealed shut. But I forgot that the preschool equivalent of James Bond was in the room with a view to a kill as she spied me for any slight twitch of a lash or brow. The second she detected the white of my eye, our day began in earnest.

How every hotel doesn't offer a family suite or room-divider standard to anyone traveling with a 2-year-old is beyond me. Even though we stayed at the nicest place we've ever stayed in Moab -- which isn't saying much for the lodging options in Moab, or the place we stayed last weekend -- it was still evident immediately that the weekend in a hotel with her would not be a vacation. You'd think the hotel would want you to leave happy, but it's nearly impossible when Dr. T. J. Eckleburg keeps a stern watch over your every toss, turn and trip to the bathroom.

Of course, the aggravations of the weekend weren't all her fault.

"We need some extra towels, please," I said to the woman at the front desk, shortly after checking in. "The ones in our bathroom have been used by someone other than us, apparently."

"Oh," she replied, looking at me blankly.

"We also reserved a Pack 'n Play, but there isn't one in the room."

"What room number are you in?" she asked. "I don't recall that we have you signed up for that tour."

"What tour?" I said, confused.

"Huh?" she said, equally, if not more confused.

"A Pack 'n Play is the brand of portable crib that you carry at this hotel," I explained gently. "When we called, you said you had them."

She shrugged her shoulders.

The next night, Rick went down to the front desk and asked for a bottle opener.

"Nah, we don't have them. You can just use your lighter though. That's what I do," she said to him.

"I don't have a lighter," he clarified. She stared at him incredulously.

On the drive to Moab, there's one rest stop that has always signaled to us that we're almost there, and therefore almost officially at our mini-escape destination. This time, the sight of that same visitors center was a relief, only in that when we stopped to use the rest room our daughter relieved herself just outside the rest room. Twenty-five minutes, a fresh pair of Dora panties and a Dora Band-Aid later (for the emotional booboo sustained by not making it inside the rest room), we were just over 30 miles outside of Moab, where, as it turned out, the 72 and sunny forecast turned out to be 54, cloudy and windy.

Of course the trip wasn't all bad. She discovered a love of Fruit Loops. For a kid whose diet is limited to three food groups -- bananas, spaghetti and peanut butter and jelly -- it was a relief to see her expanding her culinary repertoire, although Rick and I might have preferred that she add something like grilled cheese or carrots before a breakfast food that scientists haven't actually proven dissolves at any stage of digestion. But still.

She also spent a good deal of time entertaining us, particularly in the middle of the night, when she'd shout out things like, "I want to put on the pants," and, "Daddy goes to work." Sometimes she'd just count to six in Spanish.

And she loved exploring in Arches National Park to such an extent that we literally had to drag her out kicking and screaming when it was time to leave, and make all sorts of promises about the timing of our return trip -- which, at this point, will be when the desert and places far deeper underground freeze over. Unless, that is, the hotels in Moab start offering family suites as a standard amenity sometime sooner.

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