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A world of wonder at a cheap motel

A world of wonder at a cheap motel

When you’re a kid, there’s something magical about hotel pools. 

I’ve written before about growing up in a dance studio. Some of my fondest memories of dance competitions and conventions are the hours spent splashing and laughing in the hotel pool after all the formal events were over.

Once the performances ended and the awards were given, we girls would pester our moms half to death about swimming. We would return to our rooms, hurriedly pull on our swimsuits, run down the stairs or jump in the elevator and cannon ball into the cold water, blue eye shadow and mascara smearing all over the place. A rather liberating feeling, I must say. 

The adults would order pizza from Domino’s and sit at the tables on the pool deck chatting and gossiping about the day’s events while a gaggle of oblivious little girls used their dance and acrobatic skills to somersault and leap into the pool. 

All this flooded my memory this past weekend during an overnight stay in South Carolina. 

Our 8-year old had a two-day swim meet in Spartanburg. We’ve now entered the long course season of swim. As someone who knew virtually nothing about swimming before my child entered the sport last summer, my learning curve has been straight up a cliff. 

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When the coaches began talking about short course vs. long course seasons, I assumed they were referring to the length of the season and not the length of the pool. I quickly learned otherwise. That distinction is merely one of the many lessons I’ve learned over the past year. 

Smoky Mountain Aquatic Club (SMAC) offers various programs, so to try something new, our son participated in Summer SMAC last year. He loved it so much, he’s now a year-round swimmer and I’m a full-blown swim mom. 

Until last weekend, we’d never spent the night during a swim meet weekend. The only other two-day swim meet we attended was in Charlotte so we stayed with my in-laws. Even last weekend, we were going to drive to Spartanburg each day but when I found out Saturday’s races didn’t end until around 7 p.m., we decided to get a place to stay. 

Because we would only be in the room to sleep, I jumped on and quickly reserved a relatively inexpensive hotel near the airport. It had decent reviews so I figured we were good to go. 

When we pulled up, my eyes narrowed with skepticism. 

It was an old school place where you enter from the outside. Somewhere I read when the doors are on the outside of the building, it’s a “motel” (term stemming from motor lodge) and when the doors are on the inside of the building, it’s called a “hotel”. I have no idea if this is true or not but it sufficed when my boys asked me the difference between the two. 

As a mom of small children, I don’t love a hotel/motel where the window is completely exposed to the parking lot, so when we pulled up, I groaned audibly with annoyance at the same moment the boys yelled with excitement. 

The polar-opposite reactions were rather comical, and I realized if I didn’t let it be known the place freaked me out, they would never know. 

In true childhood fashion, they made the motel room their playground. With only plastic cups, an ice bucket and a combination safe, they entertained themselves for an entire hour. After that, they jumped from bed to bed until I started to feel dizzy watching them. We got back late that night from the meet and only had time to sleep. 

The motel offered continental breakfast, something the boys think is very cool. They love twirling the thing to dispense dry cereal and that they can get up and down to get their own food and drink. This makes them feel very mature. In stark contrast, I’m not at all a fan of continental breakfast for several reasons. 

After breakfast, the boys asked if they could swim at the motel pool. It wasn’t so much asking as begging. And at first, we said no because we wanted to walk around downtown Greenville before the meet. 

But when I saw their pleading expressions, I was immediately transported to my own childhood after those dance competitions when I thought swimming at the hotel/motel pool was the most amazing experience in the world. 

Minutes later both of them were jumping, diving and throwing a ball back and forth. When we finally got them out, they looked utterly joyful. 

As we drove away from the motel, our little one said, “That place was awesome!” And his brother enthusiastically agreed. 

It made me realize how adulthood skews our perception of so much. When I looked at the place, I saw danger, germs and bland, overly-handled food. The boys saw adventure, novelty and potential. 

Watching them last weekend and remembering the way I was all those years ago, I realized a motel can be a metaphor for many areas of life. It’s not simply the thing itself that necessarily matters but the way we perceive and experience it. 

And as I seem to learn more and more every day, my own children are the best role models in the world. 

(Susanna Barbee can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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