During the summer of 2012, my 15-year-old daughter Abigail begged me to take her on a trip to Montauk Point. She had spent her whole life on the other side of Long Island, and neither she nor I had ever ventured to “The End.” We had come somewhat close on Girl Scout camping trips, but we had never visited the farthest point out east where there was a picturesque lighthouse and museum, and it just seemed like something we should do.
We made a day and adventure of it, picking up some delicious breakfast along the way, getting caught in torrential rains, and then finally arriving at our destination as it cleared up. We loved climbing up the lighthouse, checking out the museum, taking pictures, sitting on the beach, and wandering around a bit. It immediately became a special place to us, and we vowed to return for the holiday lighting that always occurs the weekend after Thanksgiving.
That Thanksgiving had promised to be an important one. My oldest, Elizabeth, was coming home from college for the weekend and bringing home her girlfriend (soon to be fiancée). It would be the first holiday Tara spent with our family of six.
I had special plans packed into that weekend. The older girls would spend the early part of the day with my 3-year-old, Claire, as I prepared the Thanksgiving meal. They would also spend time bonding or playing games with Abigail and my 12-year-old son, Viktor. We would enjoy Thanksgiving dinner along with my in-laws who were coming over to join us. That night we would go to the movies. The next day would be set aside for Montauk, me and all the girls. On Saturday we would decorate the Christmas tree, sharing memories about all the ornaments while we listened to holiday music and sipped cocoa.
Most everything went pretty close to plan, but the trip to Montauk was not exactly how I had envisioned it. It takes about two and a half hours to drive there. Doing it later in the day to get there for the lighting and then driving all the way home afterwards made the actual visit seem particularly short. Everybody seemed to need to stop for bathrooms and food so there was some added stress about getting there in time to actually see the lighting. When we did arrive, it was beyond cold; it was frigid with a biting wind. We got ourselves to a good location, saw the lighting and spotted Santa, and we ended up not staying too much longer. I got a bit disoriented trying to find my way back to the car in the dark while Claire fussed about being cold, scared, and lost.
The car trip home was interesting. My little one had a cold with a runny nose, and she also has some sensory issues and some very rigid behaviors. At that stage, I was the only one allowed to wipe her nose. Every two seconds from the backseat came “You g’ wipe my nose?” I explained I was driving the car and so she needed one of the big girls to help her. Not acceptable. “You g’ wipe my nose?” Again and again, and again with me explaining about needing to keep my hands on the wheel and drive the car…in the pitch black with no streetlights, of course. Claire had the solution; I didn’t need to drive the car at all. “You g’wipe my nose. We g’ walk fast home. Then I be happy.” Over and over and OVER. Lots of laughter from the backseat, and then finally, after about an hour of that, she allowed one of the older girls to wipe her nose. From that point on, it was “Here, catch!” as she threw her used tissues up to the front seat or, more often, at the back of my head. It was not a relaxing drive home for me. When the weekend was over and I spoke to Elizabeth at college on the phone, I asked her if she and Tara enjoyed themselves when they were with us. I was told they had an absolutely wonderful time. I was particularly interested in what Tara thought, and so I asked what her favorite part of the holiday was. The answer really surprised me.
It wasn’t the carefully prepared Thanksgiving meal made acceptable to both my turkey loving in-laws and my vegan and vegetarian daughters. It wasn’t the fun night at the movie theater watching “Breaking Dawn.” It wasn’t having fun with the little one at the playground. It wasn’t Christmas tree decorating—nope, it wasn’t any of that. Tara’s favorite part of the holiday weekend was the visit to Montauk.
“Really?” I asked. “That long drive, the short time there, the freezing cold, Claire’s ridiculous behavior in the car?”
“It was magical,” Elizabeth replied. The beauty was the car ride there with us joyfully belting out all our favorite Christmas songs, the crisp and clear night along the rocks with the huge moon shining down on the water, the perfect timing of arriving right when the lighthouse was lit up, and Claire’s antics were apparently the hilarious icing on the cake.
We seem to understand when we become moms that it’s now up to us to make holiday magic happen. I learned from our Montauk adventure that the true magic occurs on its own in the hearts and minds of our kids (and those they bring home).
All we have to do is put in the time and be open to it.