Walking through Founders Hall with my boys on our way to Belk Theater, I realize it has been years since I’ve been here. I’ve forgotten the beauty of the timeless design and the classic marble floors. Christmas lights twinkle and “Jingle Bells” fills the atrium.
“Mom! Look at those singing bears!”
And it hits me. Why I haven’t been here since 2008. For this is the scene of a hideous crime – an epic toddler meltdown that literally brought me to my knees.
I only remember bits and pieces – dressing the boys in red Christmas sweaters to go see the Leonard Bearstein Symphony Orchestra, computerized bears that play music in a winter wonderland. The perfect holiday outing with Mommy.
And then … my 2-year-old grabbing a fistful of cotton snow, throwing it at his 6-year-old brother. Then squealing – lots of running through the crowd – a dare to climb the protective fence.
A frantic attempt to exit before we hurt someone or got arrested – my youngest screaming, suctioning himself face down to the floor – a decision to utilize the slick marble to drag him, pulling his sleeve out like a rope – my shopping bag ripping – dropping to my knees sobbing, the atrium carrying the commotion high into the vaulted ceiling …
“Mom, can we sit down and watch? How come we’ve never been here?”
I never came back. I couldn’t do it. I didn’t even try to write a funny column about it, I couldn’t find the humor in it back then. There was something sad about it, like, what kind of mother can’t take two little children to a Christmas show without it falling apart?
Sitting with them now at 8 and 12, both enjoying the show, I realize what I felt back then was fear – fear that I wasn’t giving them the perfect Christmas experience. And failure – that their childhood wouldn’t be this beautiful montage of holiday events and lights and music, with Mommy in a Christmas apron with a tray of cookies, singing “Joy to the World.” But rather being dragged 10,000 square feet to a parking garage in a stretched-out sweater, while strangers holler, “Do you need help?”
“Oh we’ve been here,” I confess. And I tell them the story of Christmas fear and failure. And they laugh their heads off. And I laugh, too. Happy they find it so amusing, but thanking the North Star they don’t remember any of it. And just like that, the singing bears become a nice memory.
So … I go into this holiday season with a few thoughts: It won’t be perfect, so don’t try to be perfect. Don’t plan every minute, and you may be gifted a moment. Dragging children is actually a lot faster than getting them to walk.
And whatever kids don’t remember? Well – then it never happened.