Several months ago, long before we knew we would be temporarily moving back to New York, we dreamed about spending Christmas in New York City.
Escape the Florida heat. Stroll around the city as fluffy snowflakes landed on our noses. Watch our kids exclaim over the lavish Christmas decorations adorning the city we love. Dance across the giant piano at FAO Schwartz with an oversized grin because my life, and my family, are just so wonderful.
It was a lovely thing to dream about.
Then we found out we would be in New York for several months, including the holiday season. My hopes began to rise. Friends of friends offered for us to house sit for them and in exchange for feeding their cat twice a day, our Christmas dream would become reality.
As Christmas approached we planned and talked and researched the best way to spend our time. There were lists and budgets and anticipation. Two days before Christmas Eve we told Ezra that we would be going to the city and that our first stop would be Santaland.
In Herald Square.
The largest department store.
In the world.
Because we are insane.
But when his eyes doubled in size, and his jaw dropped, and he literally blushed and had to hide his face in his hands while he did a little jig, I knew this was the best idea I’d ever had.
Enter Christmas Eve.
The morning of Christmas Eve I was greeted by two of the grumpiest kids I’ve ever met. While I tried to simultaneously shower, pack, prep breakfast and hold my pants up while the cranky two-year old tried to pull them down, my husband packed the car full of the ridiculous amount of luggage and gifts and groceries I told him had to go. Because I bought more groceries than normal and told him it was so we could pack lunches and dinners and not have to spend money on expensive city food. He would thank me later, I promised.
We finally walked out the door and as it locked behind us I smelled the poop. Sent my husband back inside to change Hudson and I took Ezra to the car. Running to the car, so excited to be heading to Santaland, he tripped and slid on the concrete. His hand skinned open, I yelled to Johnny, who was locking the door for a second time, to grab band aids and neosporin.
Five minutes later we were finally on our way.
Traffic was light and we arrived without incident at our friends house in Harlem to pick up our key and to meet their newborn son.
Hudson proceeded to show them every single thing in their house that will need to be child proofed and for his grand finale he pulled a mountain bike over, onto his face, and proceeded to cry hysterically, hyperventilate and nearly pass out. We decided it was time to leave.
We arrived at the Subway station and were immediately THAT obnoxious family. You know the one. There’s a massive crowd of people and the one family carrying their enormous stroller, complete with child inside, down the stairs, creating a great big bottleneck.
Merry Christmas Harlem!
We got to the ticket counter and two seconds later Ezra was jumping up and down, holding himself, gritting his teeth, and yelling, “I have to go pee! SO BAD!!!”
Of course you do.
Johnny took him back to our friend’s apartment to use the toilet, and we taught them yet another valuable parenting lesson. (You’re welcome guys.)
Two trains, and approximately six staircase bottlenecks, later, we laid eyes on Herald Square. I wish I could say how much I enjoyed the sight, but in reality I was too focused on not clipping anyone’s ankles with the stroller and making it to Macy’s before the Santaland line closed. In fifteen minutes.
We rushed past the gorgeous window displays and the shady, fake Santa Claus trying to get people to take photos with him for tips, and in the Macy’s doors. So close!
I don’t have adequate words to describe the chaos that is Macy’s on Christmas Eve. Chaos is actually the only word that comes to mind. I found an employee as quickly as possible and was pointed towards the elevators. Eighth floor here we come. The internet said seventh but I took the employee at his word.
I knew it.
Annoyed at the cheerful employee who led us on a wild goose chase, we got on the elevator again. This one only stopped at even floors so we returned to the main floor and waited for an elevator that visits all the floors.
The Santa line closes in five minutes. Stress.
We finally got on the elevator and a helpful employee heard where we were going and said we actually want the eighth floor. What?! We were just there. He assured me Santaland is on the eighth floor. I silently apologized to the previous helpful employee as we disembarked.
We found Santaland this time, right there on the eighth floor as promised. As we approached the sign, two minutes shy of four o’clock, a cheerily dressed employee bellowed, “The line to see Santa starts here! The wait is THREE AND A HALF HOURS!! No I am not joking but I do know some good jokes if you want to hear them.”
Three and a half hours? I could fly from New York to Orlando in less time than it would take to see Jolly Old Saint Nick. I was totally prepared for a wait, I even brought snacks. But in all of my internet research, an hour and a half was the longest I had read. There’s no way we’re staying.
But my boys. Oh my sweet, excited boys.
I approached the joke telling employee, and her less amusing, suit wearing, coworker.
“Is there any way to see Santaland and not actually wait in line to see Santa? Even a peek?”
Man in suit didn’t miss a beat. “No.”
“Not even some of the decorations?”
Man in suit, “For that I would direct you to the ninth floor. Holiday Lane is there.”
Man in suit, “But ma’am, if you step off this line you will not be able to get back in line later.”
I headed towards my babies, wondering to myself if there was really a toddler in the world who could wait in line for three and a half hours for ANYTHING without a total meltdown. Maybe that two-year old exists. But I seriously doubt it.
I explained to the boys that we wouldn’t be able to see Santa but that we were going to see some really wonderful Christmas decorations. Ezra’s face fell but he was more brave than I had imagined. I was the one holding back tears as I watched his sad eyes and remembered his excited jig just days earlier.
We made it to the ninth floor. Holiday Lane turned out to be another name for Buy Your Boxes Of Ornaments Here Lane. We left.
As we bundled up to head back into the cold, I remembered the shady Santa outside. Somehow he didn’t seem so creepy anymore. I tried to take Ezra over to meet him, but he dug his heels in and wouldn’t budge. I honestly couldn’t blame the kid.
Six more staircase bottlenecks.
One elderly woman befriended by Hudson who jabbered her ear off for five stops.
One older gentleman playing Christmas carols on the accordion.
Two grapes rolling the length of the subway car.
Several loud screams of, “Oh no! Oh no! My gwapes!”
And we were back in Harlem.
We picked up the car, the kids screamed for five minutes and both fell promptly asleep. As we pulled up to our home for the week, we just sat in the quiet. Neither of us moved. We needed a break.
We finally unloaded, and entered the apartment. A cozy home, complete with a sweet cat and more knick knacks than I could count. Uh oh. We tried to stay one step ahead of Hudson as he explored his new dwelling, all while unpacking and settling in. That is until Johnny had to sit in the hallway, weak, realizing he’d hardly had anything to eat or drink all day. While he regained his composure, I navigated a tantrum, a broken Christmas ornament, repeated attempts at biting each other, and tried in vain to use my patient voice.
We rallied, with bedtime as our goal.
We fed the kids, they invaded the personal space of the wonderfully patient cat, and Johnny ran to the store for things I had left at home. So much for careful planning. While he was gone, Hudson slipped and landed on his face. He came up with a mouth full of blood, once again hyperventilating. Once I got him to breathe, and realized the blood was from a tongue bite and nothing more serious, I hid in kitchen and it was my turn to cry.
This was supposed to be fun.
I am not having fun.
My daydreams were so much prettier.
I just want to curl up in a ball.
Not because I think my life is supposed to be perfect or easy.
But because when stress overwhelm, loneliness, fear and self-pity threaten and I become my least favorite version of myself.
And there’s the lesson to be learned.
We were never meant to carry this load alone. We are not only supposed to share the pretty parts of us. Whether it be something as trivial as a stressful day in New York City with kids, or the deep heartache of a life altering hurt, we were designed to need God and each other.
On Christmas Eve I needed God to grant me peace and grace and, assure me that I am indeed strong enough to mother two very spirited young men. I needed him to acknowledge my heart ache and to remind me that nothing is too trivial for him to concern himself with.
And when my husband came home I needed him to stand with me in the kitchen while I made a late dinner. I needed him to crack jokes and hug me and remind me that two and four is a tough combination but that we’re in this together. And that they are so very worth it.
Those simple moments.
Moments spent pursuing intimacy with God, with my husband, with my boys.
Moments that bring peace and perspective, and return me to the beauty of life.
In those moments I am reminded why Jesus came to this earth so long ago. It was to pursue us, to serve us, to save us, to show how deeply he loved us by dying for us. Not just the pretty parts of us. All of us.
That is the pursuit of intimacy at its finest.
The Son of God desires intimacy with me. With you. And in that intimacy we can find the strength to endure the rain showers and the thunderstorms of this life. And perhaps even dance in the rain.
That is joy.
That is beauty.
We didn’t get to sit with Santa, but tonight, an old truth rings new in my ears. So I guess we got our miracle after all.
Oh holy night. Indeed.