Penguin, Owl, Papa Bird and I all had a nice time on the Christmas train. It was an older, electric track commuter train that was decorated inside with lights, wreaths and other sparkly things. It was actually rather charming.

Immediately upon boarding, Penguin wanted to get the show on the road, so it was an impatient 15 minutes before we got started. I attempted to amuse him with a medley of Christmas carols, but I think that made things worse. He kept looking at me with a sassy, juvenile death stare and proclaiming, “I’m just not going to wait any more.” The mildly charming thing about Penguin’s irritation is that he mimics the things I say when I am irritated, so I get amused hearing a very miniature, pipsqueak-sounding version of what I would say should I be feeling frustrated that moment.

Owl kept attempting to crawl over the seats and Papa Bird and I played a rousing game of “Baby Hot Potato” in the seemingly endless time between taking our seats and the train moving down the track.

I was instantly smitten with all the decorations, so I was content to sit there and take it all in, juggling the children all the while. Very little gets in the way of my holiday spirit.

When we arrived at North Pole Junction, I asked Penguin if he had any plans of sitting on Santa’s lap and talking to him about his present wish list. His eyes got very wide and just as quickly, they shrunk and he said, “No. You tell him.” I promised him that if we went up to Santa, I would do the talking. When we walked into Santa’s workshop, the elves had conveniently placed out thousands of train toys that parents could purchase from the elf cashier. I don’t know that I can provide a comprehensive mental picture of the look on Penguin’s face using mere words alone, but let me try. Take happiness, multiply that by ecstatic, add five parts ecstasy and throw in some delight for good measure and that will get you started.

We spotted Santa at the far end of the room and Penguin immediately froze. Totally expected, in spite of the conversation we had earlier. He insisted that we not see Santa and then wanted Papa Bird to hold him. I had been wearing Owl in his Ergo the whole time, so he really couldn’t see the big, red-suited man. At about that point, we noticed that Santa was giving out little presents to everyone that came to sit on his lap. That sealed the deal and we were off. I again promised Penguin that I would talk to Santa, but he had to come up there with me to get the present. We waited in line for a bit and my heart was seizing in my chest the entire time. I knew it was going to be awkward, but I couldn’t quite predict the level of awkward. When it was our turn, I asked Papa Bird to snap a few shots for posterity and then I took Penguin by the hand. We took about two steps towards Santa before he hid himself in my sweater and refused to come out. I kept making my way forward, Owl craning his neck to eyeball the Clauses, Penguin sewed to my leg and covertly hidden under my clothes. As soon as we reached the old elf, Penguin dropped to the floor and grabbed my legs. I had no expectation that he would sit on Santa’s lap, so I dropped down to my knees and looked up at Santa. I explained that Penguin was very shy, but he wanted to tell Santa that he would like trains for Christmas. I did just that and then Santa , in his infinite wisdom, tried to convince Penguin to sit on his lap for a picture. Outwardly, I smiled and repeatedly insisted, “Oh, that’s ok.” Inwardly, I thought, “Surely you are not a dumb man?” After a few gentle prods, Santa gave up (thankfully) and handed a bag to Penguin and a bag to me for Owl. Owl spent much of the time looking between Santa and Penguin and me, trying to figure out just what the hell was happening.

I think this picture sums up the experience nicely:

I love the look on Mrs. Claus’s face. She’s as over the meeting as the rest of us were, but she has the chutzpah to show it.

The next day, I asked Penguin if he had fun. He said, “I did, but I didn’t talk to Santa. I’m sorry. I was feeling shy.”  I assured him, with all the motherly love I could muster, that he never, ever had to apologize for not wanting to talk to a man in a big red suit. Further, he never had to apologize for being shy. We are who we are and it’s lovely indeed.