I spotted the boy first. A fair-headed toddler with the ambition –if not the arm extension—to reach the hand towels all by himself. Up on his tiptoes, he wiggled and stretched his fingers toward the sensor. His small grunts only rumbled out as giggles.
His mother and I watched for an extra heartbeat before she fanned a hand in front of the red light. The box whirred and dispensed a length of paper towel. The boy was elated. His mother and I exchanged a knowing glance: they first fall in love with their impact on the world at that age.
“How old?” I ask.
“Two,” his mother says, reaching for the bathroom door. “Let’s go, buddy.”
He slaps the paper towel until it submits into a loose ball and dunks it into the trash bin. He exclaims in an indiscernible cheer, but still his mother responds, “That’s right, buddy.”
The door closed quietly behind them, and I was still smiling into the mirror. Toddlers are a tumble of curiosity and courage. Cute ones are irresistible.
In the lobby lounge, I see the mighty half-pint and his mom again. There’s another mother and two girls seated with them on couches near the piano. I introduce myself and start chatting up the girls. Hannah is 10 and Tracy is nine. The little one, Oliver, is Hannah’s little brother. The mothers’ husbands are cousins, which makes the whole caboodle of them cousins.
“There are 10 of us on this trip,” Oliver and Hannah’s mother says.
“Seven kids and three adults,” adds Hannah’s mom.
They’re on the final day of a three-day excursion from Michigan. The mothers were content to let me talk with the girls (once their Spidey senses had given me the once over, of course) while they sipped on lemonades, seemingly relieved to be sitting still. The respite for Oliver’s mom was cut short, however. He squirmed and fidgeted until she scooped him up to walk the lobby and climb the staircase.
They need help expending all that nap-resistant energy at that time of day.
I learn that the girls are veteran travelers, as their families vacation roughly twice a year. I ask what they miss most about being away from their bedrooms.
“My bed,” Hannah says. “It’s very comfy.”
“I miss my chair,”Tracy says. “It’s got a big cushion and it’s shaped like a bowl.”
“What color is it, pink?” I ask.
The girls wrinkle their noses. “Zebra print,” Tracy says.
The girls are beginning to warm, relax and chatter. Tracy’s mother relaxes a bit too. I turn on the charm to keep the girls engaged so that she can slip into a mental escape for a few minutes. Moms get so weary at this point of the vacation.
The girls tell me about neon clothes, liking sports and dressing girly, swimming in hotel pools, new teachers in the fall, pen pals they have in Italy and Colorado. While they talk, Oliver is back and he’s trying to force feed me bits of trail mix. I continue to hold up my end of the conversation with the girls, but my non-note-taking hand is tickling Oliver’s side. They force your multitasking abilities at that age.
The girls have meandered onto the topic of Things I Was Once Afraid to Try. Hannah tells of how it took being called a chicken to get her on a rollercoaster.
“I guess I had height-o-phobia, or something,” she says. So accidentally clever at that age. “I’ll ride them all the time now.”
Tracy was nervous to stand on her first pair of ice skates. Now she’s a seasoned performer. In fact, one of the stops during their Milwaukee stay will be a fitting for a specialty pair of skates.
“What else brings you to the city?” I ask.
They told me about their ride on the S.S. Badger, the largest car ferry to sail Lake Michigan.
“If you have kids, you really should try it,” says Tracy’s mom. “We did it once before, when they were really little.”
“I don’t remember it at all,” inserts Tracy.
I turn my attention to the moms and repeat my bravery question. “What’s something you had to build up some bravery to do?”
The mothers exchange smiles weighted with fatigue. “Taking a boat trip across Lake Michigan with seven kids,” says Tracy’s mom.
Summertime, children and memory-making can make mothers so very, very brave.