1. The lights of downtown Montreal.
2. A glamorous, modern ball at the nicest club in the city.
3. On a historic American field watching a Civil War era cannon fire a shot into the night sky.
4. Small, stinky feet jamming into my ribs in a cookie cutter hotel room.
Those are some of the impactful sights I have been lucky enough to witness on New Year’s Eves throughout my life. You have one guess to solve the mystery of which one of those examples came while with kids.
(Hint: my ribs are on the mend.)
No. 4 occurred this past New Year’s Eve. It’s a holiday that lost much of its luster for me once sleep became more scattered in parenthood. In an effort to revitalize the holiday, our family of four decided to grab a hotel room close to the coast so we could watch the first sunrise of the new year come up over the Atlantic Ocean.
Despite a cloudy morning ruining the sun’s first triumphant hello of 2022, the weekend was a complete success thanks to an unlikely hero: the hotel.
After spending three separate nights at three different modest hotels in the past six months, nothing has captured my two boys’ amazement and collective wonder as an overnight stay in a chain hotel.
Our rooms are hardly the high roller suites in a swanky Las Vegas casino. Nope. Just the ones where the smell of burnt lobby coffee collides with waves of chlorine hitting you when the door to the pool room opens and shuts.
The experience of staying at a local-ish hotel seems backwards: diverting money from my mortgage obligation of paying for the rooms in my building (Read: home) to pay extra for money to sleep in a different room of a different building.
After our third such overnight stay, it was clear how excited my kids get when staying at a hotel. Namely, the flood of tears that comes when it is time to leave is a dead giveaway. What wasn’t so clear was one question…
The things they were reacting so positively to didn’t help answer anything…
Them: “We have a bed!”
Me: “You HAVE a bed at home. And it’s bigger there.”
Them: “We have a weird, cool thing in this closet.”
Me: “That’s an iron. We won’t be needing to iron your Sonic the Hedgehog shirt today. Also, once again, we have one at home.”
Them: (looking at a single plastic cup in the room covered by a clear plastic bag) “It’s so fancy!”
Me: Fancy? We routinely buy 100 of these at a time for $3.
Them: (Gasp). “They have Starburst candies in the vending machine!”
Me: You have Starburst candies in your luggage right there! Remember that you begged me to get some?
They didn’t remember. Oh well.
Without question, the biggest attraction at the hotel is the pool. And I get it. To swim anywhere in New England before Memorial Day without a wetsuit is a lavish treat. But on one of our stay overs, the pool - declared swimmable and open by hotel personnel - sat cold and cloudy with a deep green film forming at the bottom.
Still, it was to quote two young goofballs I was staying with, the “best trip ever!”
Did the green-sludged pool fumes impact their judgment?
Their overwhelming joy couldn’t have been the allure of the Continental breakfast either. With their food allergies, other eating arrangements were made. So close to the do-it-yourself waffle maker, yet so far from an answer.
Why then? Why?
I asked them plenty of questions in the days that followed each trip to learn what I could. After listening to their answers, remembering their reactions and the answer became clear.
We broke our routine and created a new experience.
While it may seem a bit hilarious to think of kids needing to break free of the daily grind, that’s sometimes what everyone needs, age 4-114. We invested our time and energy and found a way to provide each other with a new adventure - even if much of the “new experience” was doing what we normally do in a different setting.
While our muse seems to be an occasional trip to a hotel, I could see other families finding similar new experience traditions - ones that don’t need to cost a dime. Just think, plan and go.
You’ll be rewarded, I promise. If you could see the reaction they got from a wrapped paper cup or a vending machine snack, you’d understand. These hotels might as well have been the twinkling Montreal New Year’s lights or the fancy ball in the big city.
Maybe even better. No, definitely better.
Taking a New Year’s Eve trip to a hotel is officially our new tradition. Here’s to hoping we see the sun this time around. Even if we don’t, there will still be plenty of coffee waiting for me in the lobby to keep me awake.
And that burnt smell? It’s just the scent of our one-night home away from home.
Josh Farnsworth is a husband, father of goofballs Cooper and Milo, goofball himself, and award-winning writer and columnist living in Worcester. He can be reached for column ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.