Our family had the pleasure of an early visit from St. Nick early on Christmas Eve. Reactions ranged from unbridled enthusiasm (cousin Isiac) to clear skepticism (cousin J.T.). From my girls, Santa Claus met trepidation (Katie) and uncertainty (Nikki).
And after he delivered the toys, painfully gathered to ensure the utmost secrecy, he was flat out forgotten.
What he carried in his bag, though, wasn't near as important as what was on his face. Isiac let out a howl of joy when Santa walked through the door. It was overridden by J.T.'s doubt.
He was sure our Santa was an imposter.
Only after tugging on his hair and his long white beard (both real), did he reconsider his position.
He and Isiac snuck out to look for Santa's sleigh. Isiac did it because he was sure he'd see some reindeer, J.T. did it because he was ready to blow the cover on our ruse.
Neither got what they wanted and several adults were ready with quick explanations. All were stories about Santa's magic and it's effect on reindeer.
We weren't lying. There's definitely magic in Christmas, and this year that magic wasn't just for the children, it was for me.
Paper flew in every direction, being shredded by everyone but Katie. She was distracted. Unfortunately, Katie's first present was one she loved. That was good news for us (because we picked it out), but bad news for all the presents that followed. As soon as she unpacked her doll and accessories, which included lotion, powder, blanket, a pacifier and the piece de resistance, a diaper bag, she was done and cloistered in her room playing "mommy." When she did finally fall into a nap that day, that bag was clasped in a death grip. As we got ready for our next present-opening excursion, she loaded her arms with toys, the only one she wouldn't release being that diaper bag, which is now her purse.
At papa and nana's house, she found there was joy and surprise in each gift.
Nikki discovered there was joy in just opening the gifts, which she proved rather adept at considering her age.
Of course, he main tool for exposing the gift inside the wrapping was her teeth.
I've got some great footage.
But the best moment was my own. It wasn't caught on tape, but it was caught in my heart.
After weeks of hearing what an amazing gift I was going to get from my dad and step mom, I was so afraid that I'd let them down with my reaction. I'd imagined so many different possibilities that I just knew I'd blown reality out of proportion and my disappointment would be evident.
At last all the gifts were opened and it was time for my special one. Squeezing my eyes tightly shut on demand, I felt an ornate frame in my hands.
I still couldn't imagine what they could frame that would meet the expectations that friends and family members had built up for weeks.
They said I would cry.
It's not easy to make me cry.
I opened my eyes to see a silver-framed portrait of my beautiful girls dressed as fairies and surrounded by woodland. They had bright eyes, soft, impish smiles and wreaths of flowers in their hair.
It's a picture that I'd dreamed about having after I saw the background on the wall of a photography studio three years ago.
It's a picture that I'd resigned myself to never actually having.
The surprise at seeing my girls' faces, wondering how and when, left me stuttering.
My reaction, I think, met their expectations. The gift, I know, exceeded mine.
I can see the picture as I write this. I imagine dad and Stacey sneaking the girls from the baby-sitter's house while I was working, dressing them in the sparkling powder blue costumes, attaching little wings to their backs and fighting to coax out smiles.
It still brings tears to my eyes.
You don't have to be a child to experience the magic of Christmas. You don't have to believe in Santa Claus or have young ones around. The magic of Christmas can belong to anyone -- young or old -- when there are people around them who believe they can bring it alive. It comes from love.
I'm so lucky I have that.
Thank you, Dad -- the smile maker and co-conspirator -- and Stacey -- the dreamshaper and the inspiration, for making magic.
I love you.