Magical Thinking

The secret to surviving a road trip gone awry? Just pretend.

Pack the baggage with care     Photo: Photograph by Hannah McCaughey

PRICE TAG $480
MY HUSBAND, Stephen, and I, in a rare moment of spontaneity, had decided to skip town with our one-year-old son, Wyatt, and our dog, Biscuit. Stephen and I aren't exactly experts on traveling with a little guy, but we did our best to avoid all potential booby traps in the war zone that is family travel by setting up some basic guidelines. Number one: The destination had to be easy to reach and could not involve large public spaces, such as an airport. Two: It had to welcome not only little kids but also hairy four-leggeds—even in the nonsmoking, non-360-views-of-the-dumpster rooms. Three: We needed a balcony to help pass the hours of inevitable stuck-in-the-room time. Four (important): A kiddie pool, which would serve as our base camp during 85 percent of Wyatt's awake-but-not-eating hours.

That's a lot of rules. But we found a destination that satisfied all four: Taos, New Mexico's luxe El Monte Sagrado resort, which, serendipitously, offered a screaming online deal. Soon we were zooming north with a little naive optimism and a lot of baggage.

I'm learning there's a lot of fantasizing involved in parenting, and not just the running-off-to-Paris-with–Javier Bardem type. I've become so adept in my imagining that some of the details of our weekend are hazy. I have some vague memory of driving the High Road to Taos, passing through alpine meadows with the snowcapped Truchas peaks in the background and the new Mumford & Sons CD turned up. But I also hear a small child screaming his nuts off in the backseat. I can see us eating blue corn pancakes in the hotel's restaurant, but that image is conflated with a recollection of projectile vomit. I can see myself mountain-biking the South Boundary Trail, between Taos and Angel Fire, with the wind whistling through my helmet, but that's tangled up with visions of me running back to the room with a writhing kid at arm's length in pants looking as if they've been dipped in chocolate. There's me and my son in a snuggly embrace by the pool, but the vision morphs into me being repeatedly slapped in the face by my own sunglasses. Did I slip away for a hot-stone massage at the spa, or did we throw rocks into a used Starbucks cup for an hour? Was there a reservation at Joseph's Table, the most coveted eatery in Taos? Or was Saturday night spent holed up in the room, eating peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches and wrestling with our nap-deprived, lunatic son to put him down for bed? Does it matter? No. What matters is that we tried to travel as a family, and we made it home alive.

EXPENSE REPORT Two nights at El Monte Sagrado: $350. Nonrefundable dog surcharge: $75. Lunch at Antonio's, in Taos (antoniosoftaos.com): $20. Peanut butter, jelly, bread: $11. Breakfast burritos at El Taoseño (taos­eno.com): $13.50. Tip to the chambermaids (double, due to lingering diaper smell): $10. Total: $479.50

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