I was reluctant to get into the holidays this year. With two little ones and another on the way, life was so hectic that I knew the season would fly by in a whirlwind of parties, shopping and cooking.
I expressed that concern to my husband as we prepared for a Thanksgiving road trip to Chicago to begin the holidays.
"Are you looking forward to the trip?" Phil asked as we packed.
"Yes and no," I said. "I know we'll have fun, but I feel like it's already over."
Whenever we visit Chicago, it seems we try to cram in so much sightseeing that we never get a chance to relax. I feared it would set the tone for the entire season.
By the time we returned home, I was in no mood to switch gears and decorate for Christmas. While we sat in standstill traffic in Kentucky, most of my neighbors had used the holiday weekend to put up their Christmas lights and get some shopping done. I couldn't bear to think of dragging out the decorations when I had a week's worth of laundry to catch up on.
But that Friday, the children had a chance to meet Santa Claus at a tree lighting in the garden of one of our favorite places, the Sherrills Ford Library. It was having a tree-lighting ceremony in the outdoor garden, and Santa was going to make an appearance.
So I put dinner in the oven, bundled up the kids and headed down the road. When we got there, a dozen other families were waiting for Santa's arrival, too. After a week in the Windy City, I had never thoroughly thawed. At first I hoped Santa would hurry up and get there so the kids could rattle off a Christmas list and go home.
But then I realized: If I spend the entire season wanting things to hurry up and be over, then it really would be over before I got a chance to enjoy it. Santa seemed to understand this: As if by magic, he was about 15 minutes late to the event.
Meanwhile, the kids turned the little garden into a playground. Some balanced, arms outstretched, along the winding pavers that bordered flower beds. Others played hide-and-seek among the trees. Within a few minutes, almost all the children broke into a spontaneous run around the entire area. None of them seemed to notice that they were waiting for something.
Unlike us fussy grownups, standing around with our arms folded, thinking about dinner or what to buy for Grandma, the kids made the most of the time they had.
Then, from behind the trees bordering the library property, a glimpse of flashing red lights appeared. It was Santa, aboard a huge fire truck. He dismounted and made his way to the gazebo.
One brave boy approached and shook Santa's hand. Then a flitter of camera flashes erupted as kids scrambled to get in line.
"Is that the real Santa?" one whispered. I had to admit it seemed possible.
Before anyone could take a turn on Santa's lap, there was one last thing to do: Light the tree. Two young volunteers stepped into the gazebo to flip the switch. The crowd counted down: "10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1."
Just like that, Christmas had begun. I won't let it end without taking time to enjoy it.