Hotel hideaways can be a mother's retreat

Posted: Friday, April 20, 2007

The feeling starts at check-in. "Hello, Ms. Prentice. Let's see if we can get you an early check-in today."

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I love that. I love my membership status that gets me into my room at 9:30 a.m. so I can freshen up for my workday.

"And how many keys will you be needing?" the clerk asks dutifully from across the counter, though my answer is always the same.

"Just one," I respond, trying to conceal my satisfied smile.

As I approach my room and slide my magnetic key through the lock, I see a flash of an image of my children when they were younger. My son, after retrieving his blanket from the clutches of his older sister, would hold the softness to his cheek pronouncing, "Mine. Mine. Mine." Well, kids, this is Mommy's room. Mommy's. Mommy's. Mommy's.

It's not a fancy place. I'm just after cleanliness, predictability and solitude.

Once a month or so, my job requires me to fly the familiar 600-mile flight Northwest to Anchorage. I used to dread traveling for work - restless nights in an unfamiliar hotel room, anxiety about the reliability of the wake-up call and that critical debate about whether to pack a blow dryer. I returned home feeling tired and behind.

Ah, but that was before I discovered the secret of successful work travel. I have mastered the technique and I reap the benefits. Now I'm an honors member of a chain hotel where the three M's await me - microwave, mini-fridge and Mr. Coffee. Not to mention the blow dryer.

I place my socks and underwear in absolutely empty and clean drawers. I luxuriate in the spaciousness of my closet where each shirt and pair of slacks gets its own hanger. My toiletries I arrange on the uncluttered counter in the bathroom, gazing in anticipation at the three unstained, unfrayed absorbent bath towels, three white hand towels and three matching washcloths that are mine, and mine alone.

My eyes fall to the tray holding various complimentary items. I stash all but one bar of soap away in my cosmetic bag, with the thrill of receiving a free gift. Four clean glasses sit on the counter. No one has used them since they were last sterilized-not for paintbrushes, or a science project, or hair dye.

My nesting needs met, I turn to my workday ahead with the satisfaction of knowing I can return to my private oasis. After my day of meetings, I make my usual stop at the local Safeway for my microwavable dinners, yogurt and fruit for breakfast, milk for my coffee and Alaskan IPA. As I load my provisions into the mini-fridge back in my room, I debate momentarily about a trip to the mini-fitness center.

"If you go to the gym, you can use the vending machine tonight," I bargain with myself.

That's the clincher. I throw on my gym clothes and head downstairs feeling self-righteous (or at least less guilty about the beer and vending machine treat).

Back in my room, the supreme pleasure of hotel life awaits me - a hot bath. Here I am the Calgon woman who slips into a hot tub, complete with her favorite bath salts and People magazine, candles casting a romantic glow and a glass of wine balanced on the tub's edge.

Warm and relaxed, I call the front desk to set my wake-up call which, by the way, isn't a child crying (as in the old days), or a teenager sneaking in past curfew (as in the new days) or a cat throwing up (which is nearly every day). My wake-up call is just the phone ringing at my request. So I can drink coffee and read the complimentary paper. By myself. And I don't even have to clean the mug.

Tasks complete, I'm ready to pop that Amy's veggie lasagna into the microwave and snuggle up on the king size bed. I grab the remote and surf the channels, hoping for reruns of Sex in the City.

Just as I finish my main course and am about to open my bag of vending machine Cheetos, the phone rings.

"Hi, hon," my husband coos into the phone. "Just thought I'd give a call and see how things are going."

"Oh, you know, just work."

• Carol Prentice is caught in the middle of life, work and family in Juneau.

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