“This is the last Christmas we’re all going to be together!” my mother-in-law opines each year. This year, it was finally true. My parents left upstate New York last summer and my in-laws will be moving out West in the spring. So we had to make the most of our final holiday season in our hometown.
Here are a few memorable scenes from our Christmas vacation, both good and bad:
Sprout is playing on the floor with Grandma’s “singing people.” He presses the animatronic girl’s hand, then the boy’s, then the girl’s again. The figures start swaying and moving their mouths, singing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” Little Bird turns his head, distracted from trying to chew on a shiny package. He inchworms over to his brother. Just before getting there, Sprout shoves his hand and yells, “No, Little Bird! These are for three and up!”
[Repeat ad infinum]
Little Bird is sitting in the living room, looking at the coffee table. He reaches up, hands scrabbling. Finding an edge, he grabs and pulls. Shannon and Chris are leaning forward in their kitchen chairs, watching him. “You can do it!” Shannon yells. “Come on, Little Bird!” Chris says. He pulls – and he’s up! Everyone cheers! He lets go and falls on his bottom.
Shannon and Sprout are on a real-life “Polar Express,” sitting together on a bench seat. A tall, thin young man in a chef’s hat bounces over and asks, “Hot chocolate?” Shannon replies, “Of course!” He hands both of them cardboard cups adorned with tiny mugs, which they take with both hands. After another “chef” comes by with cookies, Shannon says to Sprout, “Do you want me to show you something?” He nods. “You take your cookie,” she gestures, “then dip it in your hot chocolate!” He takes the hard sugar cookie, dunks it partway into the cup, and shoves it in his mouth. His mouth, dripping hot chocolate, spreads into a huge grin.
The family’s car drives into the airport to welcome Aunt Melissa and Uncle Steve. Sprout trudges out of the car. “Come on, don’t you want to see the planes come in?” asks Shannon, waving. Shannon and Sprout meet walk up the observation deck stairs, where Grandma and Granddad meet them. “Look, Aunt Melissa’s plane is already here!” Grandma exclaims. “And that truck has a Santa hat!” Shannon points out. “Where are the planes coming in?” Sprout asks. “There aren’t any right now, honey,” Shannon replies. Sprout frowns. “Aunt Melissa and Uncle Steve are getting off the plane – we’ve got to go meet them,” says Granddad. “Nooooo – I want to see a plane take off!” Sprout whines. Shannon sighs and maneuvers him downstairs. As Aunt Melissa and Uncle Steve stride through the gate, he declares “I’m gonna hide” and runs behind Chris’s legs.
On Christmas Eve, the family is sitting around the glowing tree. Chris is pulling out the traditional Christmas Eve presents from under the tree: pajamas for the Sheas, books for the Breschers, and books and pajamas for Chris, Shannon and the kids. He looks behind the tree, moves a few more packages, looks again, and then gestures to Shannon. “Sprout’s pajamas are missing!” he whispers. “Shit. You sure they’re not under there?” she asks. He runs to the basement, while Sprout rips the wrapping paper off of his book, a version of The Nutcracker illustrated by Maurice Sendak. “Let’s start reading!” Shannon squeaks. A few pages in, Chris reports back. “I still can’t find them!” They both retreat to the basement, where they stare at a wall of wrapped boxes. “Maybe we put the wrong tag on it,” Shannon wonders as Chris starts shaking random boxes. Finding one that sounds like clothing, he rips it open – to find a pair of pajamas! Not the Christmas Eve pajamas, but they’ll have to do. After rewrapping them, he returns upstairs and presents it to Sprout. “Thomas pajamas!” he cheers. Chris and Shannon breathe out in relief.
Christmas morning: Piles of presents spill out from under the tree. The stockings are on the fireplace, too full to maintain their balancing act on the mantle. Shannon, Chris and Grandma are sitting on the living room couch, sipping tea. Shannon is holding a smiling Little Bird, standing him up and sitting him down. Sprout runs downstairs and everyone yells, “Merry Christmas!” After a brief wait for Nana and Pop (my parents), the family passes out the overflowing stockings. On the top of Sprout’s is a small package wrapped in red tissue paper. He rips it open to find – a kazoo! He immediately sticks it in his mouth and hums, getting a surprisingly pleasant sound. “That’s great, Sprout! Why don’t you put that aside and open some more presents?” says Shannon. Sprout just looks at her and goes back to playing his kazoo. Everyone stares at him.
The family is sitting around the television, watching the classic A Muppet Family Christmas. The special is wrapping up with a carol medeley and Sprout wanders out of the room. “The show is almost over, honey! There’s only five more minutes,” yells Shannon. When he keeps going, she shrugs and goes back to watching the TV. In a few minutes, he returns, yelling, “Go back! Go back!” Shannon raises an eyebrow, before spotting his new harmonica in his hand. After she rewinds the video, he holds his harmonica up, blows into it, and plays a tune that has nothing to do with the music but is nonetheless not bad at all for a three-and-a-half-year-old.
The streets of Saratoga Springs are dusted in snow, accenting its essential quaintness. Shannon, Chris, Sprout and Little Bird are standing outside an old-fashioned used bookstore, its window decorated for Christmas with a full set of the original Thomas the Tank Engine books on display. “This is one of my favorite bookstores!” she exclaims. “Let’s go inside!” After warning Sprout to “look but don’t touch,” they start down the bookstore’s winding hallways. There are too many books for the shelves, with many piled randomly on the floor. “Where’s this one go?” Sprout asks. “Let’s see!” Shannon exclaims, following him as he rounds another corner.
Snow is falling. Chris, Shannon, and Sprout are bundled up in thick jackets; Little Bird is nearly immobile in his puffy snowsuit. Grandma is bouncing Little Bird on her knee, whose eyelashes flutter for a few moments before he falls asleep. Chris, Shannon and Sprout head outside, where Chris starts rolling up snow into a ball. Before long, he has three balls stacked up, one on top of another. “Go find two sticks for arms!” he says to Sprout, who heads off to search through the snow. Sprout pulls out and returns with a stick far too big for the task at hand. While he’s looking the other way, Chris breaks off part of it and sticks it in the snowman. “What can we use for a nose?” he wonders out loud. “There aren’t any carrots left.” Sprout responds, “An orange!” “Yes, carrots are orange,” responds Shannon, not quite paying attention. Sprout heads back in the house, grabbing a mandarin orange out of a bowl on the counter. As he comes back, Shannon realizes, “Oh, an orange! Like in The Snowman! What a good idea.” Sprout just smiles.