To the untrained eye, I resemble most of the well-heeled executives who inhabit the lobby of Georgetown’s Four Seasons Hotel. In my DVF dress and aviator sunglasses, I blend easily into the surroundings, a neutral presence, like wallpaper.
What these guests don’t suspect is that I am really an international spy, trailing my target—who just happens to look like Javier Bardem—across the globe. But instead of secret documents and cyanide tablets, my satchel contains spare Huggies and a squished juice box.
I am not, you see, a Mata Hari in a wrap dress—I am a mother waiting to pick up her son from preschool.
In the few hours that Leo is ensconced in the Safari classroom in DC’s West End, I can untether myself and find, within a few blocks of his school, a bounty of hotel lobbies in which to try on a multitude of personas: a jet-setting business tycoon, an international drug smuggler, a senator’s mistress. In my head, and in the cool, marbled foyers, I can be anything, so long as it’s not a tired, stressed-out wife and mama. And I don’t even need to pack my bags or bring a change of underwear.
I like to imagine that, like some postmodern Eloise, I live at the Avenue Suites on Pennsylvania Avenue. It’s the ideal place for entertaining, if my own living room resembled a chic Buenos Aires bastion of Mies van der Rohe chairs and hide rugs—and if it were spotlessly clean. Presiding over the goings-on are huge glamour shots of George Clooney, Mia Farrow, and, in my favorite nook, Gong Li. From a giant dispenser with a gleaming spigot, I help myself to a glass of water with thick, floating orange slices and flip through Mark Seliger’s grand In My Stairwell, a gorgeous book that shows a bit more literary ambition than Are You My Mother? the bestseller that currently occupies my own coffee table.
Sometimes, I pretend I’m a high-powered London attorney and wait for the Good Wife herself in the lobby of the Fairmont, which looks set-decorated, the dessert-toned furniture and potted plants all in soft focus. The lighting there is so flattering, I wish someone would take a picture of me while I make a call on one of the hotel’s jade-colored princess phones. Everyone here looks like an actor playing the role of a pharmaceutical executive. One morning, there’s a Rihanna look-alike—save for the sensible shoes—sitting next to me. “I’m entirely convinced by the analytics,” she tells her hunky, Mad Men-esque colleague, who is nose-deep in the New York Times.
On mornings when I’m feeling nostalgic for the days before I had Leo, when my husband, Karl, and I were newly married, I visit the Embassy Suites. With its serpentine koi pond, perpetually muggy atmosphere, and all-inclusive vibe, it’s a suitable stand-in for the Dominican Republic’s Punta Cana, where I spent my honeymoon eight years ago, smoking unfiltered Marlboros and sleeping until noon.
Back then, back when you still could smoke cigarettes indoors, Karl and I would run the Kimpton gauntlet: Rouge, Topaz, Madera, Helix, Monaco. We were discovering each other and, in turn, our deliciously happy selves. Our lobby of choice was at the Washington Plaza Hotel, where you could just as easily be in downtown DC or Mexico City. In fact, the expansive walk to the bar—with its low-profile furniture and recessed lighting—always reminded me of the scene in The Matador when Pierce Brosnan saunters through the lobby of the Camino Real decked out in nothing but a Speedo and Cuban-heeled boots.
Motherhood hasn’t quelled my wanderlust—I just have to do my wandering along this time meridian and in under four hours, while the preschool shuffle goes on just blocks away. All this lobbying doesn’t just suit my purpose as a mother with time to kill; it also fills a creative urge that isn’t satisfied by a box of Crayolas and endless rewinds of The Lorax.
When I slip into a corner banquette, slide into a Barcelona Chair, or pretend my princess phone is ringing, I revisit a time when my days were my own, and I reboot my literary wellspring. Telling stories—about myself and the people around me—takes me farther than the limited environs of the Kiddie Academy (which, with its daily lessons in what they call “Kindermusik,” I like to imagine is in Bauhaus-era Berlin).
When it’s finally time to get Leo, I pack up my satchel and my imagined life as a spy and head to a reception area of a different sort, this one with tiny chairs and a striking Lego aesthetic.
“Mama! There’s my mama!” yells my son from the classroom as soon as he spots me. It’s good to be home.