The summer before last, J and I braved taking Riley to “A Day out With Thomas!” at the Illinois Railway in Union, about an hour drive from Chicago. We left Baby A, then three months old, at home with my mom. It was beautiful and sunny day, and while fun was had, our time would have been better spent at the beach, instead of walking around a dusty, hot-as-a-crotch railyard with representatives from every family in the state with a child under five. Riley had a blast seeing Thomas, and made out like a bandit with his indulgent, a.k.a. got-sucka-written-all-over-‘em, parents at the gift shop.
The day had its ups (looking at old trains and their routes), and downs (a port-o-john, pumping rock hard boobs in insane traffic on the way home), but our joy came from seeing our little guy so happy, and knowing that he’d remember this day for a long time. It was all worth it.
When I described the event to a good mom friend the next day, she seemed perplexed by our sacrifice. “You’re better parents than we are!” she remarked. “Jack and I don’t go anywhere for Sam where we wouldn’t have fun too.”
Her comment came back to me last Saturday, the last Saturday before Christmas weekend, as J, the kids and I stood in line to see Santa at Macy’s in the Chicago Loop. Once again we were with hordes of families with young children. Of course there were major pluses -- indoor plumbing, nearby Starbucks, the diversion of hopping off line to look at the children’s clothes and accessories situated nearby.
But the MAJOR minus was being held captive by a line that could give a Depression-era breadline a run for its money. You haven’t experienced hell until you’ve stood in a deceptively snakey queue for over ninety minutes with a three year old, an eighteen month old, four coats and a diaper bag on an about-to-tip-any-minute stroller, surrounded by other antsy families, some of whom had more control over the weather than they did their children.
A half hour in, I swore we’d see Jesus Christ himself more quickly than Father Christmas. I wanted to deliver our family to the Promised Land of the street. J and I were martyrs for these kids. At this rate, in a few years we’d be trading our organs for them to enjoy the hot toy of the season.
We tried everything to keep the kids calm while essentially having to stay still. Piggyback dancing, a pacifier for Aria, taking pictures with the displays once we were out of the children’s department and in Santaland, snacks, I Spy with Riley – we tried it all. If we as adults were losing it, how could small children possibly hold it together? And just as you thought you were getting closer, around the bend loomed twenty more feet of line. Just as my superego was going to give up, and I was on the verge of letting my inner diva bitch out, the door that led to Santa came into view.
Then it happened.
“I have to go to the bathroom,” he said.
“I asked you this before and now you wait until we’re at the end of the line?! Dear God!” Add this to the fact that it was 11:33, we had not yet taken our picture, and our metered spot on Wabash that we were super lucky to have scored would expire at 12:02.
This was the downside of having a potty-trained child. Although I had longed for R to begin his lifelong relationship with the toilet, right now I wished for the days when we could just slap a diaper on, and unless the thing had sprung a leak or smelled like raw sewage, could go on our merry way.
I scooped him up and we set off upstream. “Excusemepardonme, coming through, bathroom emergency! Ha-ha!” I muttered, pushing my way past families and strollers in Santaland's fallopian-tube-wide passageway.
Thank God I had seen the bathroom on the way in, I knew exactly where to run. Once in the stall, I didn’t bother to close the door. Did they have to make non-handicapped bathroom stalls, the ones without the mile-off-the-ground toilets, the size of a litterbox?
Last week on our excursion to family day at the Museum of Contemporary Art, we had big-time aiming issues. Obviously lacking the equipment, Mommy wasn’t so skilled at the whole point and shoot thing. The result was wet undies and jeans, a mom turned into Joan Crawford’s black reincarnate, and a shamed, weepy boy. And wouldn'tcha know it, mommy chose that day to forget extra pants. Ten minutes later our family day was over.
I lined the seat with paper. Maybe sitting would work?
It blew off as soon as I tried to sit him down. Shit. Tick – tock.
Next? Pants as far down as they’d go. Check. He let loose like a fire hose! And encore! Scolding. Weepy, shamed crying. Thankfully only a drizzle on his underwear. Whew! Although it surely wouldn’t be first time, Santa didn’t need a pee-soaked boy sitting on his lap. And I’d left the diaper bag with J. Regroup. Stream under control. Pull up intact pants. End scene!
Hands washed, I grabbed Riley and burst out of the bathroom. More “Excusemepardonme, bathroom-emergency-hahaha!” Some moms commiserated. A man told me he had no room to move.
“Find someplace,” I snapped.
We rejoined J and Little Mama, minutes away from the head of the line! There WAS a light at the end of the fallopian tube. Our spirits soared!
An “elf” took the kids names and led us in to the chamber, where the kids (Riley thrilled, and Aria uncertain) were seated on a very kindly looking Santa’s lap. Riley told Santa he wanted a car carrier. My little lady didn’t answer Santa’s question, but said yes to his suggestion that she wanted a dolly.
We bought a middle priced photo package, hurriedly bundled up and dashed out of the store as quickly as one could with one kid in a stroller and the other being carried. We arrived at our car with two minutes to spare.
A metermaid walked by. “Adorable children,” she said.
The warm fuzzy glow of a happy ending pervaded the car as we drove home. Sure, I could think of hundreds of other ways I’d rather have spent my Saturday morning. As a dear friend says, that was two hours of my life I can’t get back. But mission accomplished, we felt satisfied. We had taken one for the team, and it was a team that we'd do anything for.
And I do mean anything.
It wasn’t a great time for any of us, until the end, when the kids took their photo with Santa. When we do things for our children, we do something uplifting for ourselves. We may not be having fun, but we are happy.