Every year in Vermont (and possibly other places too), The Vermont Children’s Trust Foundation puts together a ridiculously awesome holiday experience known as “The Polar Express.” The event is based on the now-classic children’s book by Chris Van Allsburg, and not really based on the creepy and weird, but for some reason now also classic, children’s movie that was also based on the book. For instance in the movie, zombie Tom Hanks comes out and sings jazz songs about winter beverages. This does not happen in Vermont.
What does happen is that kids, dressed in their jammies and possibly holding their teddy bears, board an actual train, ride on the train for about ten minutes singing Christmas songs, eating cookies, and drinking hot chocolate. When the train stops, they are at the “North Pole” where dozens and dozens of volunteers are dressed as elves, greeting each child by name, thanks to the name tags they all got at the beginning and have now forgotten about. Everyone is led into a big room where the actual book is read to them, and then Santa gives each child a bell, just like in the story!
This event is so incredible and popular, that you can’t actually buy tickets for it. There are only three ways to get your tickets. One: Be a big donor to the VCTF. Two: Volunteer for the event. Three: Sign up for the ticket lottery. And let me stress, nobody gets tickets for free. Giving them money or working the event only guarantees you the chance to buy tickets. That’s how popular this thing is. So two years ago I signed up to be an elf and we bought tickets to go on the train.
Then, just before the event, I discovered that I had incorrectly written down the date of a concert I was supposed to be singing in. I was actually going to be gone the weekend of the Polar Express. I was despondent. I was furious. How could I have been so stupid? My family was upset. I was upset. I wrote this depressing post about it. You see, this sort of thing happens to me all the time, but usually I manage to squeak out some sort of victory in the end. Not that time. I spent the weekend in Baltimore while my family rode the Polar Express without me. And they had a great and magical time.
Last year we decided to enter the lottery, but we did not get tickets. So this year, my wife signed up to be an elf and we got our tickets. I very carefully reviewed my schedule, and we even coordinated with some other friends to ride together. And then it happened again. I swear it was not my fault this time, but I had been asked to sing a concert some time back, and with very few details. All I had written down, from the guy doing the concert, was “Sunday, Dec. 9th.” Perfect. We got our tickets for 5 pm on Dec. 8th. And then I got that e-mail, telling me the concert was an hour’s drive away at 7 pm on Dec. 8th. There was no way I was going to be able to do both.
This time, however, I was not taking no for an answer. I put an ad up on Craigslist and traded our tickets with another family who had a 1 pm time. Success! Except not success. Now we would not be going with our friends, and more importantly, Ruby is 5 now. She is not 3 anymore. Magic is more fragile. We had picked the 5 pm time because it was going to be dark. At 1 pm, it was very clear to everyone that we just drove down the track a ways and then back up the other side. Since when was the North Pole next to Lake Champlain? These are questions that a 3 year old would never ask, nor would a 5 year old in the dark. But a 5 year old in the daylight? That’s a tough sell.
It started off pretty well. Everyone was super excited, and we put our jammies on, even though it was only 12:30, and we drove downtown to the train station. Ruby had very fond memories of visiting the North Pole two years ago, and Edward just likes trains.
We got our name tags and waited to board the train.
We boarded the actual train. So far so good. We sang songs and ate snacks. We even got put on the news due to our (my) boisterous singing. We were on our way to the North Pole! Except Ruby knew that we were heading south. She kept asking when the train was going to turn around. Uh oh.
When we arrived, Ruby was suspicious but still excited. We heard the story, got the bell, met the Santa, and were led out of a door to the street.
“Where’s the train?” Ruby asked, as we walked through the side parking lot back to our car.
“Oh, I don’t know, maybe picking up other children…”
“But we how are we going to get home from the North Pole? We have to take the train back!” She was very concerned, and way too smart.
“Oh, hey, look! We are already back near our car! That must have been a…ummm…magic door! Santa has a magic door that led us back home!”
You could see her really wanting to believe, but unable to wrap her mind around what was clearly in front of her. It must be what it feels like to be in The Matrix, and have everyone around you acting like everything is normal, even though you can see the cracks.
Finally she said, “I don’t think we went to the real North Pole.”
Blast! Damn you, singing schedule! I have destroyed our happy holiday memories! I am a bad parent!
“I think Santa must have come here this year instead.”
YES! THAT IS WHAT HAPPENED!
Long sigh of relief. Magic has returned to the world. And I don’t know if the dark would have distracted her from the fact that we only took a one way train ride anyway, but maybe.
Also, we got out sooner than I thought, and I would have had plenty of time to get my concert after all. Thanks a lot, universe.