The train car is filled with pine garland– sprinkled with reflective red, blue and green glittering ornaments. White lacy tissue puffs hang from the ceiling, swaying to the rhythm of the coasting sprinter. It is our first time visiting the Holiday Express–a train transformed into a holiday cruise car– shuttling families along the San Diego coast, hosting Santa, carolers, elves, and even favorite Disney characters.
From across the aisle I watch my animated 15- month- old son, sitting with his Aunt and cousins pointing out the window at passing palm trees, beach cottages, stretches of sand and the water of the pacific ocean. My 3-year- old daughter sits close to my knees cradled in the sling of an umbrella stroller. I reach for the small backpack behind her seat– checking the feeding pump and the thin tube of vanilla flavored milk tucked along the side of her stroller– nestled near her leg leading to the tiny tube in her stomach that sustains her. She is bright eyed and curious; I watch her feet dance– showing her excitement. She extends her legs, bringing her head forward showing her interest in her own non verbal way. She watches a festive elf dance down the aisle of the train.
“I think Santa is on his way!” The elf exclaims.
Cheers of excitement erupt from our car and anticipation trickles throughout the seats. I watch as older children check their written wish lists and parents prepare their little ones, hoping for this year’s Santa photo.
Children begin to climb on seats as they see Santa’s signature colors of red and white fill the doorway of the train car. Parents crane their necks as Santa greets the crowd with a harty “ho, ho, ho!” Santa and his elf make their way down the train aisle as children line up to greet him, their wish lists in hand.
I ask my brother- in-law to help me lift my daughter from her stroller, hoping Santa might hold her and my son for a photo. Santa begins to make his way down the aisle – I ask him if he might sit on a wide bench behind us so all the cousins could be in a photo — he moves towards the bench and I lift my now suddenly clingy and crying son towards Santa. “Thank you” I say. My daughter sits near Santa and her cousins as we take pictures– she is a little lost in the chaos. The photo went as well as any Santa photo goes and Santa’s elf quickly moves him to the next car, where they are greeted with more cheers and wish lists.
As Santa’s back disappears, two glittering, bright smiling women emerge. Ana and Elsa from Disney’s “Frozen”. I grab my daughter’s hand, “Nora look!” It’s Ana and Elsa! Her eyes light up. Nora started watching Frozen during one of the first of many of her hospital stays– we knew all the songs and each character. As the princesses approached our car, they smiled at Nora– I asked “Can Nora sit with you for a picture? She can’t stand.”
“Of course!” Elsa exclaimed, cradling Nora beneath her arm. She looked at Nora, “ I love your noodle necklace!” Nora looked up at her, eyes wide and bright. Ana snuggled in tight with Nora’s cousin on her lap they smiled for a photo. “Do you like to sing?” Elsa asked Nora.
Nora sat up tall.
Elsa started to sing, “Let it go, let it go” Ana joined her, filling the train with song and light.
Nora was locked in– on every word– every moment.
Ana and Elsa continued to move through the train, they spent as much time with each child as they had with Nora and our group. Singing, smiling, enjoying each child– each person– filling the car with magic and the spirit of Christmas. A spirit that has nothing to do with wish lists, to dos and scheduling– a spirit of presence, of open and genuine availability.
I think about the older kids— the ones who prepared a written “wish list”. I think about my little ones and how their eyes light up with just palm trees passing by the window and their favorite Disney songs. I wonder about their “Christmas wish list” and what they would ask for from Santa. If I listen to the non-verbal voices of my children, my daughter’s wide eyes, her alert posture and dancing toes, my son’s smiles and cheers of delight, I think their list is simple: “More of this Momma”.
So often my hands, my heart and my head are so full of “to dos” that I miss being available to the little smile hovering on the corner of my daughter’s mouth or my son blowing a kiss out the window.
This Christmas I am tired. My hands are full. My to do list is overwhelming. But the greatest gift I can give these precious people of mine, is the gift of availability, the gift of taking a moment or many moments to “let it go,” to breathe and to remember to speak their language by entering their world.
I watch my daughter snuggle in tight with her Auntie, my son babbles and points at the passing window scenes. I wonder how many of us really just wish for “more of this”.
Photo Credit: Jessica Rice Photography