Too much work and not enough downtime had left me feeling all used up. It had been unseasonably warm – one of those it-doesn’t-even-feel- like-Christmas years.
Factor in an ongoing battle with strep that December, and you’ll understand how Mom, Dad, and three little girls ended up standing in line to see Santa Claus on Christmas Eve morning. For us, the annual visit, with its obligatory photo, was something to cross off the to-do list as early in the holiday season as possible, mainly as part of my strategy to do reconnaissance on their wish lists, but also to avoid anything remotely resembling a mall down the stretch.
In any case, there we were, waiting in line to have a sit-down with Santa and present him with our traditional gift of Cinnabons. This wasn’t Legendary Santa. Or Victorian Santa. This was our Santa – the one at Willow Lawn – and had we made our pilgrimage just a few weeks, or even a few days earlier, we would have been in and out in a twinkling.
As the noon hour bore down on us, the only evidence of the sweet roll formerly known as Santa’s was a gooey smear in the corner of my youngest daughter’s mouth. The kid in front of us had melted down so many times that his mother had nothing left to give – or take away from him, for that matter. My husband checked his watch (for the tenth time), delivered what I later recalled as a very deliberate, “Humph!” and announced that it was time to go. Without a word of protest the girls summarily handed over their lists to the assistant elf behind the camera, grabbed Daddy’s hands, and walked with him toward the door.
Did anyone even care that we wouldn’t see Santa?
In the car, I pondered the year without a Santa Claus picture – our first one. It was just that kind of Christmas. My husband offered up a work-related excuse for having to abandon our place in line. I suggested lunch, but there was no time. “I’ve got work.” Blah, blah, blah. In the car, we were all quiet.
That all changed the moment we arrived home. As sure as we had forgotten to unplug the Christmas tree that morning when we left the house, there was a certain electricity in the air when we walked through the door. Everyone felt it.
The girls quickly set the master plan in motion, each assuming her part. Two of them whisked me off to the bedroom. I can’t recall under what pretense, but I went willingly. Next, the oldest raced down the stairs and came right back up again.
“Daddy says there’s a gas leak!” Sam proclaimed. “Everyone has to stay up here – for their own safety.” In a plastic tote, she carried enough craft supplies to keep us all merrily occupied through the crisis. We set to making tissue paper poinsettias and singing Christmas carols.
My part, of course, was to play along. I knew there was some sort of delivery in the works. Grunt! Clunk! Rip! And from the sound of things, it was something large.
It’s funny what I remember most about that day. Even ten years later. How their little faces shone with absolute glee just from the suspense of being in on a Christmas surprise. How when they blindfolded me and carefully guided me down the steps, the giggling was the contagious kind.
And mostly, how I wouldn’t have traded that Christmas Eve memory – or my new washer and dryer – for anything.
Not even a picture with Santa.