And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.” Roald Dahl
Tonight, our 7-year-old son will board a train for the North Pole. He will be riding on a charming old diesel train that takes a winding path into the mountains to arrive at a makeshift village composed of cardboard buildings draped in holiday lights. On a cold snowy December night, it is not hard to see the world through the glittering eyes of a child.
About a month ago I was experiencing no glittering eyes at all when I made a huge maternal blunder. I had purchased our set of three Polar Express tickets many months before. These annual train rides sell out very quickly and this was the very first year I had ever managed to get my hands on any. I think I was as excited about it as our son, and I talked up a blue streak about it as the months wore on. My husband and I had been getting peppered with typical questions from our son’s inquiring mind for quite some time ‘What does the train look like? How long does it take to get to the North Pole? Will they feed us? Does it have a bathroom?”
It was all a great lead up to the big night. Ah…. the ‘Big Night’ this is where things got dicey. My 48-year-old peri-menopausal brain had falsely informed me that our tickets were for the Saturday after Thanksgiving…. November 29th. So on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving (feeling all sorts of competent because I was, after all, one of ‘those‘ parents (finally) who had scored one of these coveted tickets for my kid), I confidently went to my secret hiding place and whisked out the envelope that held them. As I pulled those tickets out of the envelope to affirm our coming departure date of the 29th life went into slow motion as my eyes fell upon the clearly printed date of NOVEMBER 22nd.
Suddenly I was having an out-of-body experience as I saw myself become one of those cartoon characters whose mouth morphs into a giant black abyss as the word NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! slowly echoes off to the farthest reaches of the universe. Bad word! Bad word! Bad word! …..Self-recrimination does not even begin to describe how I felt at that moment. Our son’s long-awaited holiday high point had come and gone the week before, and there was not one thing I could do to fix it. Aaaargh!
The next day was Thanksgiving. As we sat at dinner with our extended family someone asked our son the $64,000 dollar question. ‘What fun thing are you going to do on your Thanksgiving break?’ Of course he was only too happy to go into great detail about the ride to the North Pole we would all be taking. I just slumped down in my chair and shoved more mashed potatoes in my mouth to stifle another Bad word! I had not yet had the heart to tell him that our train was long gone… I just didn’t want to admit it yet.
That night after getting him tucked into bed, I went to the dark alley of the modern world, Craig’s List, hoping to match up my desperation with someone else’s cold hard greed. I was prepared to pay just about anything…. but as it turned out, even cold hard greed had taken time off for Thanksgiving- because there was nothing there. There were lots of people looking for tickets but none being offered at all. I shut down my laptop and moped off to bed. I was truly saddened by my mistake and sleep just would not find me. I got up and decided to do some writing and as I sat at the keyboard and tapped I decided just for pure novelty, to once again go to the train station website and look for tickets. I had checked dozens of times since realizing my error… and I knew full well that there was nothing there. I started clicking through each date and as expected… in bold capital letters next to every single date were the words SOLD OUT. For no particular reason, I kept looking day by day… and then there in bright red writing, blinking like Rudolph’s Nose against an inky black night, I saw these words. THREE TICKETS AVAILABLE. All of a sudden, that cartoon character with the mouth like an abyss left the building, and now I was again having an out-of-body experience, but this time I looked just like Charlie Bucket when he got his golden ticket to the Chocolate Factory! I could not believe my eyes. If anyone had clocked me as I typed in my credit card number I am sure I was doing at least 400 keystrokes per minute. I hit enter and it was done! There was no doubt in my mind, this was my Christmas Gift. I am still marveling at the fact that the universe gave me this ‘Get out of Jail Free Card’ because I do not get many- but this was the ideal place for the universe to deal one down to me and I am forever grateful.