Sitting in a hot tub in Arizona and I can't stop thinking about how shit could go terribly wrong at any moment. Did you know that over ten years ago the Department of Defense put climate change on the list of America's most compromising issues? Yeah, this night in the hot tub with the kids running amuck is just years away from chaos. Pant-shitting-microbe-that-we're-not-used-to-living-in-warmer-waters-fucked-to-the-hilt chaos. People all over the globe suffering, warring, with a vengeful side eye to the country that should be the goddamn catalyst for change. But we're not. And I'm in a hot tub. And ten years from now my teenage daughter could be stick fighting with a family of twelve who wants the last drink from the neighborhood drought puddle.
But I'm in this hot tub and I'm doing my best to enjoy good times without getting tangled in what should be a completely avoidable apocalypse. I splash myself across dimensions; forward, backward, liquid and, in the transparency of the stretch, get a good look at just how much of a douchebag I am. This is not new, but is an important self-check that all men should do. Not unlike that thing in the shower where you roll a ball around with your thumb and forefinger feeling for a lump, you also need to contort yourself in an introspective tumble of internal mirror gandering. There are things you can worry about, I realize. One of them probably should be your kids drowning while you space out about the future of water availability. Because, goddamn, you drink in the good times as soon you could be stick fighting the neighbors for water.
I'm done with that little lecture thing. I think there's an unwritten rule that invoking testicle checks is the immediate end to a conversation.
So I'm on the other side of the hot tub epiphany and pretty certain I need to write. Fuck you I know I'm a terrible writer fuck off. Important disclaimer for anyone who thinks they're good but have to spend a monthly fee to publish on a blog.
So, on the other side for eff's sake.
Yeah, I hate me too. Bitching about being in a hot tub.
But on the other side isn't some story about playing with kids and finding the true meaning of life. Of course that happened and if I write about that again I swear I'll stop paying this monthly fee and never bother you for as long as we both shall live.
So we're jumping around the pool and crashing the bella sera of every couple who thought they'd enjoy the palm tree sunset with a dip in the jacuzzi. It's a family meme that we destroy quiet settings. I was mostly alone in the destruction until we brought on our daughter, who just this afternoon was shouting vagina in a breathless staccato as she ran from one side of the hotel room to the other. I was bloated from too much beer and Otto was informing me on what his sister was saying.
"Eliot," I said with the kind of weariness associated with ingesting gluten but magnified by the frustration of doing it despite knowing I shouldn't.
"We got it kid. But I love your personal pride."
Or at least I did. On the other side of the cathartic jacuzzi moment, we had this very real experience where she refused to go from the cold pool to the hot tub. Freezing in the newly darkened desert (it thinks it's all badass but without the sun it's just as chill as anywhere else,) I had to abandon the "heated" outdoor pool and run for the warmth. Eliot refused so I told her to sit on the step of the cold pool and I'd watch her from the hot tub.
One of the advantages of being from cool climes is that when you go anywhere in the winter you're going to be the only one in the pool. This was the case for the Ewy family in January of 2018. We owned an acre foot of water while half a dozen others reclined under blankets on beach chairs trying their best not to be distracted by our Petri of familial anarchy.
Their efforts would die a terrible death as the only way to communicate in the courtyard at the Embassy Suites Phoenix Airport is shouting over the Top 40 XM/Sirius playlist and surrounding jet planes. The distance, approximately 20 yards, would soon be a tiny trail of tears--not at all like the real Trail, but luckily I only get to live this lighter version with a screaming tot tearing people from their 140-a-night hopes for hotel bliss.
I'd told her no less than ten times that it was time to go to the hot tub, but she refused. The four stories of desert hotel was throwing shade from the setting sun and I was done with cold. And when there's a hot tub twenty yards away, you go to it.
During times of insurgency, I get these little panes of reflection of how I should handle a situation. Yes, a father should courier a kid from the cold even if they don't want to be. Yes, a loved one, genetic or not, should see that one another are safe and secure. So, yes, I abandoned her.
I cannot, in any kind of spirit, let a kid ruin shit with a tantrum. As a matter of fact, I love a kid throwing a tantrum. It's the one time as a parent when I see the solution as clear as day: let them be a dick on their own. I will not be aiding and abetting dickdom. Sadly, I may be hampering their chances at success, as we've all seen that dicks are winning these days. But eff it all to hell: I'll guide my kids down the path to poverty as long as their tantrums don't win a goddamn thing.
"We're cold, let's warm up," I said to Eliot. "Nature's kind of decided this for us. Your frontal lobe hasn't even developed so I quietly, gently request that you move your tiny buttocks."
Anyway, clearly on the other side of exhibiting first-world inadequacy in a hot tub, I'm now struggling for supremacy in a battle with a four year old who knows her emotional throat punches. She's a manipulative ninja, mostly positive and smiling me into submission. But sometimes she breaks and goes rogue. Earlier today she'd had a vision of pizza delivered directly to the hotel room. I get it. I like that kind of convenience, but we needed to get out. We're low-budget travelers but too much time with a family of five in a small place and you've got to give up on pizza in bed and get outside. She pushed her agenda hard, and even when we got to the restaurant she still believed that pizza was coming to the bedroom. The hostess asked "five?" and I said yes and Eliot threw her hands in the air "We're having pizza in the hotel!" The hostess looked at me as to her role in the situation and I really really wanted to cock my head with a, "well, what are you going to do for my client?" But we managed a smooth lunch with boys brilliantly distracting her room service fantasies.
And here's where I pause to say that Eliot is really one of the best kids I've come in contact with. Tonight she spent the evening delivering snacks from person to person. Instead of a handful of potato chips, she brought one every few minutes. Perhaps saving my life from the jaw unlocking fistfuls I backhoe into my head. Sarah and I glanced at each other and smiled because we know she's good and we also know we have a very limited time before she figures we're simply flesh and bone and easily crushed. We got a glimpse of the future when she recently announced with flight attendant enthusiasm that when she's 11 she'll get whatever she wants. Christ, does she have blueprints for this kind of stuff? Are these single-serve potato chips adding up to some kind of debt?
My point is that these tomes to her occasional insanity are thumbtacks to my brain. A reminder to myself of the good times and a constant training of staying in the neighborhood of parental success. It's also like when Luke Skywalker saw the frightening potential of Kylo Ren and wielded his laser sword at the Jedi camp.
For now, however, I watched through the hot tub railing as my four year old treated six or so hotel goers to an uncomfortable protest by the cold pool. She crawled out and unfolded to her full height like a tiny robot sent from the future to kill me.
She screamed, "Dad I need your help!" which sounds dire and rife with reasons for a parent to respond but I'm in the hot tub and warm and she needs to figure out how to get that way.
Quin and Otto implore me to get her, but I tell them I'm not caving to her demands. She can walk. I shout the same to her. The book readers are rapt into the conversation.
"Eliot, just get over here--"
"But don't run!" lobs Otto.
Quin adds that running by the pool is dangerous.
She's cold, I can tell. And I'm so warm in the hot tub.
"Dad, I need your help!" she shouts again. It's a trap. I'm not helping. She can walk, I'm telling myself as I fight back every fleshy inch of my fragile self.
Quin gets out of the hot tub and makes a move to assist her. I pull him back into our bunker. "Dude," I say, "I feel like a jerk, too, but I'm not teaching her she can screw up quality hot tub time." Two women among the beach chairs are particularly interested. One is younger and seems kid free. The other is older with a knowing smile. It seems I'm simultaneously entertainment and birth control. It's as if we're in some kind of modern vaudeville. Maybe a series of allegorical plays. Kirk Cameron will play me.
It's taking so long. I'm feeling genuinely bad. "Honey, if you'd just walk instead of yelling at me, you'd be here," I yell.
She growls. A deep, guttural didgeridoo bubbles up from within her. The younger woman whips her head in my direction. A-ha, who are you more worried about now, kidless vacationer?
Quin vocalizes his concern again, but this time about the growl. "I know, I know" I say, confidence cracking. "She may kill us all."
She moves. She starts to walk. She's wet and standing in winter shade for god's sake. If she doesn't know to move from that, I think we might be getting some subsidies for her education. This is a test for all of us.
Every upright burst moves her about five feet before she folds up to get warm. I'm using my outside voice to get her to safety. The older woman is still smirking but the younger lady has alerted her boyfriend. I can't tell if she's mouthing "this is why we shouldn't have kids" or "this is why he shouldn't have kids."
Again, I'll interject with the honest-to-goodness sustenance of a small girl who rainbows outward like I've never seen before. Twelve times a day she announces that she loves me. She skips instead of walks. And I stand on the highest rock and thank the skies for allowing me to be appreciated by tiny beasts still so close to god/good. This is a young lady who once woke me up to say that boys have penises, girls have vaginas, but WE ALL HAVE THE SAME BUTTS! It inspired my friend to make a shirt.
Back at the Embassy Suites, Quin and Otto are close to breaking. I'd later recount to Sarah, who'd made the smart choice to go shopping in an unfamiliar urban area, that it was five minutes that felt like an hour.
Eliot looks up from something like a standing fetal position. She needs me to get her she pleads. I held the boys' shoulders and repeated my stance. No. She'd have to get to the hot tub herself. I mean LISTEN TO WHAT I'M SAYING this is a family crisis that involves a bubbling bowl of comfort. Water, warmed to 104 degrees, and poured over little sitting nooks so you can post pictures of your toes. We're not making this any easier.
It's about now when my mother interjects. "Are you making a big deal out of this because she's a girl?" No. I swear. I've written about Quin going ground zero on me and Otto, well, Otto has other issues.
"So you're sure you're not another man talking about women like he knows what he's talking about?" Asks my mother, who's vibrancy has appeared in a puddle between pools.
"I actually don't know, mom," I mutter out of the corner of my mouth as to not draw attention to the conversation. I've always wanted the kids to meet their grandma but this would be weird.
"But I have this theory," I continue unwisely."
"Oh, you all do," rolling the words with her eyes. "Heavens to Murgatroyd."
"I think that very early on guys knew that women were far more powerful. And then we were like, 'let's build this entire structure around elections and not let them vote'."
"Curious. I'm really curious as to hear where you're going with this. But not for too long." From somewhere beyond the puddle I could hear hooves thumping and the giddy shrieks of children. She'd long ago traveled beyond her body to chaperone cancer kids on fantastical creature tours. I could understand the time constraint what with her wet son mansplaining oppression while dripping hotel pool stew on faux adobe flooring.
"And so the women were like 'eff this stupid alternative to sanity, we have to gather nuts--
"We always end up with nuts. Haha," she gave herself some laughs.
"--great work mom--and while the women were dealing with reality this whole scaffolding of trickle down bullshit was built to the stars and they had to reluctantly climb this thing to be equal in a world of dip--"
"That needs work, honey. Focus on what you can do because I'm sure then you could do it."
"How soon before we're stick fighting?" I ask desperately, but it was too late. She escaped my peripheral whisper, the muscular hindqaurters of a centaur clip-clopping her away.
I turned back to the boys who may have noticed me talking to a puddle.
"She's coming, dad. She's coming!" Otto was ecstatic.
"It's like your not talking to her made it happen," snarked a ten year old simply riddled with teenager warning signs.
With a surge that will bring joy to me during the dark post-11 Armageddon, Eliot booked it. She didn't run, as the boys had rightly requested. She did that quick scamper perfected by generations of kids seeking post-pool refuge.
I relished the moment. The victory. The children safe. My demands met. Eliot scooted into a seat at the top step of the tub, and asked when we were going to have pizza delivered to the room. "Probably tonight," I said. Probably tonight.