Santa and I had a date that we were running late for.
Emma had screamed the entire ride home and was now refusing to eat and, with equal fervor, refusing to let me clean her up. Her daycare clothes needed to be changed and her pigtails had been pulled out throughout the day, leaving a tangled and creased nest scattered about her head.
Fred had asked for dinner and taken off with the dog as the microwave announced its meal. From downstairs, I heard enough to know he had stepped in the dog’s business outside and trailed it across the floor.
With microwave beeping, disgust proclaiming, and tiny hands clutching the side of a high chair, I looked desperately at the clock and then at my red-faced toddler. The tears spilling over those rosy cheeks mocked my building anxiety.
“This will make for wonderful photographs.” I sneered to myself.
Basement mess now clean, Fred joined me upstairs, commenting that Emma did not appear to be having a good day. It wasn’t my favorite observation though I knew he was right. Will I push us to misery trying to capture perfection? Would this be happening if I hadn’t waited until the very last session with Santa? Could this perfect picture I imagine replace my guilt over skipping family portraits and Christmas cards this year?
I can’t say what prompted Fred to push forward with my overreaching plan but he quickly cleaned off Emma and changed her into the outfit I had carefully laid out while I hid in the kitchen, eating my feelings. Perhaps he could feel the wave of angst threatening against my internal breakwalls.
I drove while Fred talked on the phone and just a moment before he would’ve told me to turn, I realized that the sippy cup he had given her was not meant to be leak proof.
“Are you kidding me?!” I snarled.
As he reached back to grab the cup, he pointed to our turn.
One violent parking lot turnaround and a few extra minutes later, we pulled up to the Gardens.
The line for Santa was out the door.
Panic and anger found their hold before resolution as we drove from the first parking area to the second to the third.
“Do you want to just walk around?” I asked in what may have been my first rational thought of the evening.
“Yeah!” Fred replied.
After one more flare of anxiousness was settled, we wheeled toward the overcrowded entryway where the lungs of an angry newborn warned of expectations ruined.
I looked, half longingly and half incredulously at the bearded man in the sleigh as we passed him but he paid me no mind. He did not care that I had missed our date.
Emma did not care either, nor Fred. And in the end, I have decided that I don’t care as well.
This year, I traded in the card-worthy photo for some grainy shots from an iPhone on the move, the uninhibited joy of a toddler surrounded by lights, and a walk in the crisp, cool air with my husband.
Lord, thank you for refocusing me in this moment. Thank you for calling me to appreciate family during the very season in which you came to us in human form, an infant King. And thank you for calling me daughter and heir. Amen.