I flew into the house loaded with my camera gear, late from a photo session with an unhappy newborn baby. Christmas season is always insanely hectic for family photographers, so I knew that in the middle of it all I needed to protect a little slice of time for our family. I ditched my gear, herded the children into the car, and we set off for our annual Christmas lights tour.
We swung through Starbucks to pick up the mandatory hot chocolate, and my husband Todd tuned the radio to that station that, starting the first of November, plays only Christmas music 24-7. We pulled out of the parking lot over a small dip, and my six-year-old began to cry: hot chocolate had splashed onto her clothes. Thankfully, the drink was not hot—but as those three brown spots seeped into the fabric of her shirt and began to spread out, her hysteria over the mess grew with it.
The next moments filled with the frenzy of passing napkins back and forth and trying to soothe the drama—all the while insisting that we did not have time to go home and change clothes. Little sister felt left out, so she decided to cry, too, throwing her sippy cup of milk onto the floor so that it rolled under my seat. With immediate regret, she screamed for it back. I stretched my seatbelt as far as it would go and contorted myself—half in the front seat, half in the back—trying to find the stupid cup. I sat back down in my seat to completely unbuckle so I could reach further, when my husband hit the brakes and the cup came rolling out.
Finally, with everyone settled, we turned into a neighborhood, excited to ooh and aah over an amazing spectacle of lights. The first block was everything we had hoped for—multi-colored outlines of houses, like Lite-Brites from my childhood. “Oh, look at all of those reindeer!” one child bubbled. “It’s Santa on the roof!” my husband pointed out.
We turned the corner to the next block, and everything was dark. “I’m sure there will be some more lights up a little further,” I reassured.
Another block, and more of nothing. A few scattered lights thrown on bushes or red and green floodlights pointed at a house. But otherwise, bah humbug.
Complaining from the back seat started at the same time as it did in my heart. I felt like a total Christmas failure. Every year I have good intentions of opening Advent calendars, lighting candles, moving Mary around a wreath, reading nightly Christmas stories, as well as incorporating all of the latest Pinterest holiday crafts during our time off from school. But by the first week in December, our schedule is overflowing and every spare moment is spent editing one more photo session or cramming in one more errand—and the idyllic Advent season gets postponed until next year. Again. I mean, how could I possibly orchestrate joyful traditions this Christmas season when I couldn’t even locate some decent Christmas lights?
I wanted to whine and cry out my disappointment, just like my girls.
I’m not exactly sure what instigated the next moment, but my older daughter made a noise that sounded like an animal, eliciting a tiny giggle out of her sister. The crying paused. Tentatively, big sister tried again. This time, the laugh was louder. She tried a different animal noise and was rewarded with a full-on belly laugh. Todd and I began to smile as well.
Emboldened, my elder launched into a song full of animal noises, Santa references, and a clunky Christmas bell that went “dong, dong, dong.” A different type of hysteria spread through our car. We drove home to encore after encore, and all chimed in for the big finale as we drove into the garage: Dong! Dong! Dong!