Monday, December 19, 2011

holiday lights and happy tears

 Saturday night we strapped the kiddos into the car and drove them to Alum Creek State Park to see the Festival of Lights. Oh. My. God. Breath taking. It was a wonderful night. It was more wonderful than I could have imagined and I was totally filled with the holiday spirit. And knowing how that night have could have gone oh so badly makes the memories even better.

Maybe we take too many trips back home to Cleveland. My husband has a large family- two sisters with seven kids between them. With holidays, birthdays, football games, baseball games, extended family in town - there are times that it seems we are constantly driving up and down Route 71. And so maybe, just maybe, this is why my big four and a half year old distrusts us when we say we won't be in the car very long, this time. He is tall and solid for an almost five year old but he is very slim and let's face it, he's a little bony. And so he is probably not exaggerating when he tells me his "bum bum" hurts. So maybe this was why he didn't want to take a drive to see holiday lights. He started complaining about it the moment I mentioned it and didn't stop for an entire week. His whining drove me to this statement:
"You WILL NOT ruin this for me. I will see Christmas lights with or without you, and if you come and whine the entire time you will not watch TV until you are 10!"

I know. Crazy. Totally over the top. But seriously. This kid was driving me crazy. Who doesn't enjoy Christmas lights? He LOVES them at home. Our battle raged all week. And then, the night arrived. As we sat at the breakfast table talking about the day ahead he cheered when I reminded him he would be going to China School later that morning. He clapped when I mentioned that China School also meant martial arts class. He smiled when I talked about how he and I would need to make the home made hot cocoa mix for his teachers. And he folded his little arms across his chest, stomped his foot, and stated. "I DO NOT want to go look at Christmas junk!", when I mentioned our planned drive that evening. Sigh.

I fed everyone an early dinner and shoved little feet into little shoes and little heads into hats. I pushed the big four and half year old into the bathroom to "try before we go", even though he was positive he didn't have to. He did. I changed the tiny toddler's diaper. I dug out the entrance money to the park. We strapped everyone in and programmed Bernice, our GPS. And the "when will we get there" questions started before Bernice even got to step "four". And let's face it- we all know how to get out of our own neighborhood, which takes about four steps. So my big four and a half year old was subscribing to the "complain early and often" theory. Sigh.

We get close to the park, which is not too far from where my husband used to work, and my husband, God bless him, refuses to follow Bernice's directions. She has access to satellites full of up to the minute information, but he was stubborn convinced he was right. He didn't know where the park was, but he knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he knew it was not the way we were being led. Sigh.

In our house we measure time by Special Agent Oso. Special Agent Oso is a strange little yellow panda bear who, frankly, is just a mess. How this bear manages to even get his special agent vest on every morning, let alone solve problems like how to eat with chopsticks or how to brush your teeth is beyond me. But Oso comes on in fifteen minute segments, so we tell time in fifteen minute segments too. "We will be there in less than two Oso's.", is often heard in our car. And we were less than one Oso away from fulfilling one of my holiday traditions, seeing the lights.

We never hung lights on our little home in Kent when I was a kid. We had a tree and stockings and we hung the cards we received on the stairs, but we reserved our front yard for our "bag people". I loved our bag people. I wouldn't be caught dead with a large plastic baby Jesus in my front yard now, but as a kid, I loved them. I called them bag people because when they weren't gracing our front yard they were living in bags, stored in the rafters in the garage. I always have a flood of warm holiday memories sneak up on me when I see my beloved bag people in some one's front yard.

And along with the bag people we also took drives to see the lights around town. We visited the store fronts in downtown Akron, checking out the annual Christmas displays. We drove around town looking at individual homes lit up like Christmas trees. We drove my grandparents into Cleveland to see the large power company lighting display. And we often drove to Oglebay Park  to drive through their light show. My dad loved his Christmas light drives. And I love them too. And no one, especially no child of mine, was going to ruin that for me. We were less than one Oso away!

The questions continued. "Why are those guys standing in the middle of the road, Mommy?" (They were collecting entrance fees.) "Where are the lights? I don't see any lights." (Be patient!) "Alex doesn't want to be here either, Mommy. Why is he crying?" "When are we going home?" (Oh. My. God.) The questions continued to be lobbed at my ears like little missiles, broken only by the occasional complaint about bums and the quiet whimpers from the tiny toddler. Whimpers that threated to escalate into full blown screaming at any moment. And then we turned the corner and our entire front windshield exploded into light. The entire car went silent as though enveloped in a warm, magical blanket. And then one word floated breathlessly from the backseat. "Wow."

And then the backseat erupted into cheers and applause. Score!

My big four and a half year old did not stop cheering and chattering excitedly the entire drive through that park. He pointed to every display, asking me what words the lights were spelling and pointing out out the ones he thought his little brother would enjoy the most. "Look Alex, look over there, a school bus!" "Alex! A train! No, Alex, not over there- look over here, Alex, a train!"

one of my favorite displays- a snowman band!

As my husband concentrated on driving through the muddy campground with the headlights off I sank down in my seat, tears in my eyes from the joyfulness of my kids. I had really wanted this. But I had wanted it for me. I wanted to see the lights. I didn't think I really cared if my boys enjoyed it or not. They had plenty of other holiday fun going on- this drive to see lights was for me. Or so I thought. But as I squinted to see the lights through my tears I understood. I know how my husband felt when he took our big four and half year, then about three years old, to his first Cleveland Browns football game. My husband loves the Browns. And seeing his son start to feed his growing love of all things football had to have been a very special moment for him. I understood. My favorite holiday tradition, one that reminds me of great times with my own dad, was being thoroughly enjoyed by my own boys. And I learned that seeing Christmas lights through happy tears makes them look even more beautiful. 

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