There, I’ve said it. Go ahead with your heckling and bah-humbug jokes.
It’s not that anything traumatic has ever happened at Christmas to make me dread it. It’s mostly that there’s this weird thing that happens: if you do something once that turns out to not suck, you try it again the next year. If you do something two years in a row, it’s tradition, and suddenly, God forbid you buy your tree from any other lot, or miss the Real Santa, with the Real Beard and the Big Laugh who hangs out only at this event on this particular day.
When you’re a parent, there’re a whole lot of those traditions to pass down to your own kids, and then all kinds of new traditions that somehow take root. It’s like OCD, holiday edition. Don’t forget to set up the holiday model train that never works, or use those tree-shaped hangers that always seem on the verge of falling off the mantle and stabbing someone who’s grabbing at a stocking.
I am so grateful the Elf on the Shelf thing was never a phenomenon in our home. I bristle a little bit when I’m told what to do, and figuring out what to do with the dang Elf on a daily basis would have probably driven me to drink.
I won’t say who started this, but a certain person in my family (alright, it’s my mom) got a bug one year to establish a new tradition. It might have had something to do with my grandmother moving to Boise and our having had kids – four generations for whom new holiday memories must be made every year. I thought that was what the whole presents, parties, celebration of the birth of our savior thing was for, but why not pile something else on?
Among the family traditions that failed to catch on was a visit to the Botanical Garden’s Winter Garden Aglow. This is a lovely event for appreciative older children and adults who can stand and walk for a while and don’t chill easily or burn their tongues on hot chocolate. Didn’t work for grandma or the boys.
Another no-go was dressing up to see Ballet Idaho’s The Nutcracker. I loved it. So did my mom and sister. Big thumbs down from the boys in the family. Grandma fell asleep. Overall approval rating: less than 50 percent.
Another year we decided (or the person who shall go unnamed, who initiated this whole holiday tradition stuff in the first place, decided) on the Holiday Lights Tour. This is an event where one boards a charter bus/trolley vehicle, with benches along the walls. The bus/trolley vehicle makes its way through random neighborhoods so its passengers can gawk at everyone else’s holiday trimmings.
The kids were still young enough that we packed a diaper bag.
We met up and purchased some lukewarm chocolate and loaded the bus/trolley thing, which was full with about a dozen people on board and the heat blasting. The windows immediately steamed up. We drove around some Boise neighborhood that would have been indistinguishable from any other neighborhood except that it was supposed to have a large concentration of homeowners who competed each year for the most awe inspiring lights display. There was an abundance of curvy roads and cul-de-sacs in this particular borough.
Did, um, I mention that several members of my family tend toward severe motion sickness? Jack used to not give us much warning about his urpy tummy, so in self defense our Jedi parent senses became finely tuned to his silent puke-tells.
So we’re in this dark, overheated bus/trolly contraption, and the driver is saying something titillating like: “In 1994, when this neighborhood was under the auspices of the Mid-Boise Bench Neighborhood Association, light up holiday trolls were forbidden. They frightened the kiddos, you see ….”
I heard my sister say “Jack, are you going to look at the lights? Why are you so quiet?”
I whipped the diaper bag from under the bench, drew out a plastic shopping bag, and shoved another one inside that (you DON’T want leaks in the barf bag), and covered the lower half of Jack’s face just in time for him to hurl all the lukewarm hot chocolate up without spilling a drop. Victory.
But that victory was going to be short lived if we didn’t act fast. Neither one of my kids is blessed with the one-and-done strain of motion sickness. We’ve had Jack get sick more than half a dozen times on a 70-mile stretch of highway between McCall and Horseshoe Bend. That’s almost once every ten miles. When the barf train gets rolling, it’s a local, baby. There was going to be more to this show.
Then there was the fact that I was completely humiliated. And the smell in the bus/trolley thing was making me woozy. Some guy in the back said “what happened?” and his wife said “the little boy got sick.” We had to get out of there pronto.
I turned to Mike and said “we’re going,” grabbed the baby, the diaper bag, and Jack’s hand after handing Mike the barf bag, and tromped to the front of the vehicle.
“We’re getting off,” I said.
“It’s just a little bit more, I can’t let you off,” the driver said.
He was going to hold us hostage on the vomit comet against my will? Don’t think so.
“We’re getting off, RIGHT NOW,” I said.
He opened the door and we stepped out into the brightly lit environs of the most award winningest, Christmas lightingest neighborhood ever. The doors closed and the bus/trolley thing drove off. I found out later that it was really distressing for my mom, my sister, grandma and Dad to sit in the bus/trolley and watch the doors close on part of their little family out in the snow. Nobody ever mentioned anything else about how the rest of the tour went.
I grew up in Boise, I guess I should known that at 7 pm on a week night in some random neighborhood it would be difficult to hail a cab. When Mike called a cab company we realized that first we needed to walk to a street corner to find out where in the hell we were, and after that it would take a full 45 minutes for a cab to reach us.
Edited to note: This all happened when we still used flip phones. No map apps or Lyft, so don’t @ me, all you people for whom technology has made throwing a temper tantrum in the middle of winter so much easier.
It was also written back when I used double spaces after periods. Times change. We are old. Carry on…
In retrospect, leaving the bus/trolley thing wasn’t so bright, but at the time it seemed the best thing to salvage my pride and my own stomach. Fortunately for us, Jack’s performance didn’t include an encore that night.
Unfortunately we were in the middle of winter, wandering the streets with a toddler, a baby, and a bag of puke. That was kind of a bummer.
We planned to find the nearest arterial road, follow it to the nearest strip mall, and sit in a coffee shop until the tour was over and someone came to pick us up. We weren’t able to find a coffee shop, or a strip mall or arterial road even. We wandered around that crazy circuitous subdivision until our toes froze. My arms locked up from carrying the baby. Somewhere along the way we lost the puke bag. We didn’t appreciate the Christmas lights.
My dad was eventually able to find us after driving around the neighborhood a few times. We climbed into his truck, not minding that he had the heat cranked up.
“Well,” he said with a smile, “that’s one budding ‘family tradition’ put to rest.”