The Santa Train We Nearly Missed

Last month, my cousin Cat told me about the Santa Train at the NC Museum of Life and Science. She thought it’d be a fun activity for us to take our kids to, and since we love the museum [fun fact: because I mentioned them, they linked to that 2nd post on their home page for like WEEKS. Which would be fine, except, uh, notice the title of the post if you happen to click the link. Mortifying!], we thought that sounded great.

Cat set it up, we had tickets for this past Friday the 17th at 6:20. Awesome. Sure, the tickets were a little pricey, but hey, we’re making IMPORTANT HOLIDAY MEMORIES for our kids, so it’s totally worth it, right?

Things that went wrong:
* Both Cat and her baby Austin came down with some sort of fever/virus on Friday. That left just Tony and Elizabeth for the museum outing. Ok then! It’s a bummer that they’ll miss it, but we can deal!
* Since Dave was working from home on Friday, I asked him to pick up Catie from daycare and meet me at the office (since our office is in Durham, so it’s closer to the museum). Easy, right?
* The security keypad at the daycare center broke, and all the kids and teachers were in the back of the center, so Dave and a bunch of other parents were banging on the door for a good 15 minutes before anyone heard them and let them in. Small delay, no biggie!
* Dave misinterpreted what I said, and thought that we were supposed to meet up with my cousin at 6:20, not that our train is leaving at 6:20. Umm…
* Turns out the Life and Science Museum is on the other side of Durham from my office, so it took us close to 30 minutes to drive there. Crap.

I started telling Catie in the car that it looked like we might miss our train, but we’d figure out something else fun to do! Right? No big deal! Catie seemed ok, but since she’d been talking about the Santa Train for days, I had a feeling this was not going to end well.

We got there and explained at the gate that we missed our train (by like, 10 minutes – we were LATE). The lady gave us our tickets and said that even though the Santa Train was sold out, it was possible that they might be able to squeeze us onto a later train, so we should go try.

We got to the train station just as Tony and Elizabeth were de-boarding the 6:20 train. We told Catie we’d try to get on the next train at 6:40. Tony and Elizabeth went off in search of hot cocoa and the arts & crafts table.

The 6:40 train was full. So was the 7:00 train. And for the record, the look on a child’s face when they’re holding a train ticket in their tiny mittened hand and they’re told that sorry, the train is full and they can’t go? Might be the most heart-breaking thing I’ve ever seen.

Catie started to cry. I said to Dave, “God, we suck. You know we’re gonna have to buy a T-O-Y to get out of this one.” He agreed.

To calm Catie down, I told her that we were going to leave the museum and go to Target (I needed groceries anyway, so two birds…), and that we’d get her a toy. And hey, that’s way more fun than a silly ol’ train, right? She calmed down when I said the magic word “toy,” and she seemed ok with it.

We had checked out the other stuff at the Santa Train – they had face painting (which Catie refused to try), an arts & crafts table (Catie refused that one too), and a station where you could make “reindeer food” out of oatmeal and sprinkles (that was a big hit with her) – then we decided to head out.

I noticed it was almost 7:20, so I suggested that we try one last train before we left. SUCCESS! They managed to squeeze us onto the train at the very last minute. Hooray!

And oh, it was so cool. We’ve taken this train around the museum plenty of times in the past, but always in the daytime, and never at Christmas. The conductor told the kids we were taking the train to the North Pole, and then we stopped in the middle of the woods, right in front of a little cottage where Santa happened to be waiting to greet all the kids. He came by to ask each kid what they wanted. Catie was scared of Santa and buried her face, but later she panicked when she figured out that the kids were supposed to tell Santa what they want for Christmas. I told her not to worry, because I had already texted Santa, so he knew what she wanted.

Then a guy in an elf costume came by to pass out candy canes. Catie was a little scared of him too, but he told each kid that Rudolph had disappeared into the woods somewhere, so could they please look for him and tell him to go home if they saw him. The Rudolph story got Catie to look up from my shoulder, and she nodded very solemnly when he asked her if she could help look for Rudolph.

The train set off again, and the conductor told the kids to look out in the woods for Rudolph’s red nose. A couple of minutes later, sure enough, there was a red light floating around in the woods. All the kids screamed for Rudolph to go home, and the light started floating back in the direction of Santa Claus’s cottage. Honestly, I have no idea how they rigged that. I guess the light is on a wire or something, but every single kid on that train was convinced that it really was Rudolph out in those dark woods.

It was one of those amazing moments where you realize how magical Christmas is for little kids. And it was awesome. I almost cried.

Christmas card outtake
(I didn’t take a single picture while we were at the Santa Train because apparently the cold froze my brain. So just pretend that this is an appropriate way to end this entry. Snow bunny, indeed.)