The Perfect Christmas

Ahhh…the perfect Christmas.

Perfection is in the eye of the beholder, my friends.

What some consider “perfect” is completely different than what I consider perfect. Perfect family gatherings like we see in Hallmark movies? I’ll pass…they rarely measure up to the “perfection” they are meant to be. I’d rather gather with my family, friends, and neighbors over games and laughter, in comfortable clothing, with fifteen different conversations going on at the same time. I’m sure most of America disagrees with me, but apparently, I’m not like most of America.

My husband thinks I’m crazy every year at the holidays, but he goes along with me. I’m not into the “perfect” Christmas. I’m into the fun Christmas. Fun stuff to do. I’m not the person who has perfect bows hung on perfect chandeliers, perfect garland on the banister, mistletoe hung in the perfect spot, or fresh poinsettias perfectly placed all over my home. I’m not the person who prepares the perfect meal. I just don’t have the time or energy for that.

Today, we were watching football and talking, and my husband asked me why I like to do the fun/funny Christmas.

I had to think about that for a moment. And then, I answered, “I don’t do the perfect Christmas, because generally speaking, I don’t do perfect well. My strength is fun, not perfection. I do fun really well.” He looked at me, and then he laughed and said, “Well, you’re right about that!”

That tends to ring true with almost everything in my life. I don’t want to be the perfect mother…way too much pressure in that. I want to be a fun mom. That doesn’t mean I’m a pushover who lets my child run wild and unsupervised. That doesn’t mean I’m not checking up on her regularly. Our daughter is generally well-supervised, and we have a great relationship. We talk…and we talk…and we talk. But I remember fifteen, and I know fun is a lot more…well, fun. Do I strive for perfection as a mother? No. Perfection? That’s just not my strength.

Our vacations are fun. Are they perfect? Well, if they’re fun, they’re perfect for us! Do we visit every perfect museum tourists are supposed to visit when they go somewhere? Nah…we might visit one or two, but my teenager just isn’t impressed by museums. She’s impressed by fun places. She is her mother’s daughter. It doesn’t make us shallow. It’s just a different approach. I try to make sure we get a little culture on vacation, but we always want to have fun. Visit the hometown of John Mellencamp and try to find Jack and Diane’s Tastee Freeze when we’re passing through Indiana? Yep. Plan our dinners in LA and New York based on where we are likely to see a celebrity or two? Sure! Have lunch at places with gigantic mojitos and milkshakes? You bet! Struggle through a rock scramble and finish it by climbing straight up 60 feet and pulling myself out of a rocky crevice? Done that! Jump into a bioluminescent bay at night, not having any idea what the water around me looks like? Yes, I did. Climb a waterfall, including wading through murky chest-deep water? Check! Drive halfway across the country in 10 days with a friend and four kids? Yes…and we slept in a wigwam along the way! Volunteer to eat fire with the entertainment on stage? Pick me, please!

And so, I guess that’s why I go the fun route on Christmas. Maybe my love of the fun Christmas started when I was a little girl and my grandparents had aluminum Christmas trees with color wheels! I absolutely loved them…I was fascinated by them! Sure, I could be all serious now, but that’s just not who I am. I simply don’t take myself or life too seriously. My parents taught me many years ago that life is short. I remember Mother and Daddy telling me, “Life is not a dress rehearsal. Enjoy it.” And that’s exactly what I try to do…enjoy life.

If I’m leading a meeting of volunteers, there will be prizes at the end. Passing through a city with a great rollercoaster at a great amusement park? I’m in! Silly photo op somewhere? Get your camera!

So, if you want to drive past the perfect Christmas house, don’t drive past ours. If you want to see the perfect Christmas tree, chances are you won’t like ours. If you want to eat the perfect holiday meal, our house is not where you want to be.

But if you want to take photos with a leg lamp from A Christmas Story, come on over! If you want to see a 10.5′ inflatable Christmas elephant, visit us! If you want to dine on hamburgers, hot dogs, Cuban sandwiches, beer bread, spicy fiesta dip, buttermilk pie, and other fun food during the holidays, we’ll be happy to set a place for you. If you want to drink champagne with breakfast, drink up, baby! If you want to see our “perfect” artificial poinsettias, then we’d love to have you over. If you want to play card games on Christmas Eve or “Who’s Most Likely To…” on Christmas Day, you’re welcome at our house. Just bring a positive attitude and be ready to laugh.

Perfection is not my strength, but fun is!

 

 

 

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School’s Out For the Holidays

Finally. School is out for the holidays. As a mother, I might look forward to it as much as I did when I was a kid.

Yesterday, I went to school to pick up my daughter, who is a freshman in high school. We had been told all students would be released at noon at her K-12 school. The break didn’t exactly get started on the right foot. I arrived early, so I was near the front of the carpool line, waiting for dismissal. I had texted my daughter, telling her to hurry when school got out, because I was near the front of the line. I was looking forward to getting out of there quickly, so I could meet some friends for lunch. I was listening to Dean Martin’s Christmas album in my car. I was happily waiting. And then…

At noon, the security officer came over to my car near the front of the line and told me the high school students wouldn’t get out till 12:20, because their testing was taking longer than planned, and he asked me to “park over in the lot or go back around.” You know that record scratch sound? That’s what belongs here.

Well, I got out of line (without grumbling) and drove toward the lot. I didn’t get too aggravated till I realized there were no spots in the parking lot, and I couldn’t possibly go back around to get in line, because the officer who was supposed to be directing traffic outside the school wasn’t there yet. Traffic was backed up as far as the eye could see, and there was no way I was getting in the middle of that. No, really…there was no way I would have been able to navigate my way back into the line. Cars were bumper to bumper. I took a deep breath. I had made the effort to get there on time…there was no way I was sitting there waiting for someone in that cluster to have mercy on me and let me in.

I took matters into my own hands, and drove around to the other side of the building, where I’m not supposed to go for carpool, and after fighting a little traffic, I parked in one of the student lots…totally against the rules. Just call me a rule breaker…a maverick… a rogue parent.

While I was “going rogue,” my daughter, who had clearly been released at noon, texted me…at 12:05… “Where are you? I thought you were at the front of the line?” Fortunately, I parked in the student lot soon after her text, and I called her, telling her to walk back across campus in the pouring rain to the other side, where I was parked in the student lot. I think she knew not to give me any grief, because she could tell by the tone of my voice that I was not happy.

My daughter and her friend eventually made it to the car…soaking wet…but they seemed happy. I guess the fact that they were getting out for the holiday break totally made up for the fact that they had to double-back in the rain to get to my car.

I still don’t know why the security officer thought the high school students were being released late. There was some sort of miscommunication…not his fault. I feel sure someone somewhere gave him incorrect information, and for about ten minutes, I was really ticked off, because it was going to mess up my lunch plans. And then I realized something…

Getting upset about a little misinformation and a traffic cluster…well, those are first world problems. I also realized I had a cell phone, so I could call my friends and tell them I would likely be late. My daughter and her friend were happy to have school behind them for a couple of weeks, and even though it was raining cats and dogs, today was a good day.

It was a good day, because we all woke up. We have plenty to eat. We have a house that’s warm and dry, and we have cars that are in good working order, so we can get around pretty easily. We have a nice break ahead of us, and we will celebrate Christmas, the birth of Jesus Christ, with our wonderful friends and family.

Sure, life is full of aggravations. Life is full of real problems. But getting re-routed for no reason is not one of those real problems. It was a little hiccup, and I found a way around it…and I still made it to lunch on time!

Now…let’s get this holiday break started!

 

 

 

 

Santa’s Riding An Elephant In My Yard! (My Favorite Lawn Decor)

There are several houses in our area that go all out for Christmas. One of my favorites is a couple of miles away, and the gentleman who lives there dresses up as Santa at night, standing out by the road to take donations for St. Jude Children’s Hospital, one of my favorite causes. And the lights! Wow! It’s insane! (That’s the house in the picture above.) When our daughter was little, we told her it was Santa’s second home, where he goes to prepare for Christmas, because she couldn’t understand why he was standing outside a house in Charlotte. See bottom of page for a list of several places to see great light displays in the Charlotte area. 

When I was growing up, my parents would decorate our lawn for Christmas. My favorite decorations were those 40″ Noel Candles everyone had in the 70s. I have some now. I haven’t put them out this year, but there’s still time. Maybe tomorrow. I was absolutely fascinated with them when I was a little girl.

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My daughter and a neighbor’s daughter, several years ago, with the Noel candles.

I also remember my parents putting blue lights on the shrubs across the front of the house. The big blue bulbs that would steam a little when rain hit them. That’s because bulbs got hot back then.

As an adult, I still love lawn decor, but sometimes, like this year, I’m slow getting it out. I found the multicolor bulbs today, but it was already getting dark, so I’ll likely put them on the shrubs out front tomorrow. And yes, I said “shrubs,” not “trees.” I’ve never been one to do lawn decor that’s up too high. I don’t want to drag out a ladder. Maybe I’m lazy. Or maybe I’m smart, since this year, my vertigo seems to be in high gear. It flares up every now and then, and it only bothers me when I look up or lean my head back, so climbing ladders to hang stuff up high isn’t a good idea.

I’ve mentioned before that I have lighted animals I put out front every year. One friend who lives down the street looks forward to seeing our Christmas pig. We usually have a fox too, but this year, I let him stay inside. I put out a small lighted elephant and a couple of small lighted cardinals instead. Quite a menagerie. And my leg lamp…the one from the movie, A Christmas Story, is always in the front dining room window. A mom came to pick up her daughter at our house yesterday and said, “That’s an interesting lamp.” I laughed. “I’m guessing you haven’t seen the movie?” She had no idea what I was talking about. I explained, but I think she still thought I was crazy. Maybe she’s right?

But here’s what I’m excited about this year: when I was in the attic yesterday looking for some wrapping paper, I came across something I ordered a few years ago ( at an after Christmas sale) and never opened. In it? A giant inflatable elephant carrying Santa and some presents!

I carried that box out to the front yard and got that inflatable elephant anchored down and inflated in record time! He is glorious! Did I mention the thing is over 10 feet tall? It makes me happy.

Anyone who knows me knows I went to The University of Alabama, so of course, I’m a Crimson Tide fan…the elephant is perfect for my yard. My husband gets back home today after a few days away. Surprise, honey!

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It’s tacky. And I love it. The neighbors probably hate me. My husband might hate me too; tacky decorations are not his favorite thing. Oh well, at least I waited till well after Thanksgiving to put it up! Frankly, I hope it will last till Christmas. The last time I put up a giant inflatable pig, my next door neighbor called to inform me it had blown into her yard!

A friend who lives in the neighborhood has an inflatable Airstream in her front yard, and it makes me happy every time I see it. If I get a call, I’m going to say she set the precedent. There’s just something about outdoor holiday decor that’s fun, and for me…the tackier, the better.

So, it’s tacky Christmas decor at my house. I like it. I think it’s a lot more fun than perfect, little twinkling lights spaced perfectly on every tree and shrub. Those are beautiful, but this is fun! And one thing’s for sure… everybody can look at it and know we did it ourselves. Nope…not gonna hire someone to make my yard look perfect. Anyone can do that. Not just everyone can kneel in wet grass for 20 minutes while untangling tether lines for a giant inflatable elephant.

I think Santa likes it too.

Ho! Ho! Ho!

***The photo at the top of the page is a house on Sherwood Forest Drive in South Charlotte, off Colony Road. Drive toward that road at night, and just follow all the cars turning into the road. The neighbors’ houses have lots of lights too.***

***The town of McAdenville, just off Interstate 85, south of Charlotte, is a former mill town, and the whole village participates. It’s free! Traffic is heavy, so plan to be in line for a while, and don’t drink a lot of liquids beforehand.***

***Hillside Avenue in Myers Park has beautiful outdoor decor. Just drive down the street at night and see how the neighborhood comes together to decorate. Beautiful!***

***Another popular decor area is Thomas Avenue in Plaza Midwood. ***

Other great places to see lots of Christmas lights: Carowinds’ Winterfest, Billy Graham Library, Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden, and Charlotte Motorspeedway. 

***

Ten Days Till Christmas!

I love thinking about how exciting Christmas was when I was a little girl. I also love remembering my daughter’s excitement leading up to Christmas…and Christmas morning…wow! There’s nothing else like it. It’s magical. Even if you stayed up till 2am putting together toys, it’s magical. Even if you stayed up all night with a sick child, it’s magical. Even if you had to search frantically for all the gifts, it’s magical. Seeing your child’s face on Christmas morning is magical.

Ten days till Christmas!

And kids have no idea how much goes on behind the scenes. They couldn’t even begin to fathom all we do in preparation for the holidays. They wouldn’t believe how much prep work goes into that “magic.”

Most of my purchasing is done this year, so I’ve been spending the last few days wrapping gifts…and wrapping gifts…and wrapping gifts. That sounds like it has been drudgery, but I have loved every minute of it.

Last year, on December 30, I lost my mom. And while I’ve dreaded this Christmas and the approaching one year mark, I’ve told myself I’m going to find joy in everything about the holiday.

My husband put up the tree and some of the decorations while my daughter and I were away a few weeks ago. We came home and found the tree waiting for us, poinsettias in the foyer and living room, our light-up animals on the front steps, and my glorious leg lamp in the dining room window. Fra-gil-e! It’s a major award! My husband had shared a little joy by surprising us.

Then Christmas cards started arriving…more joy from friends and family, near and far! I love Christmas cards.

Even though my husband put up the tree, he didn’t decorate it. I got out all the ornaments and decorated it recently, surprising our daughter with lots of ornaments from her childhood. There are ornaments my mother gave us, and I smiled every time I hung one. There were two ornaments left on the tree from last year…cardinals. My mother always said when cardinals come around, they are loved ones we have lost making a visit. I was thrilled to find those two cardinals on the tree. And there were lots of owl ornaments. I don’t remember buying them, but there are lots of them. After three or four, I wondered if they had any significance.

I’ve purchased gifts from links our teenage daughter has texted us. And I’ve added a few surprises for her too, to give her a little extra joy…and to make it seem a little magical. I know Christmas isn’t about the gifts, but we didn’t have much of a Christmas last year, since Mother fell on Christmas Eve and was admitted to the hospital. I’ve purchased lots of gifts, in fact. And I’ve been doing lots of gift wrapping.

Gift wrapping was always something I dreaded, but this year is different. This year, I’ve found gift wrapping (and making gigantic bows!) to be therapeutic, and since it’s our first year without Mother, I’ve needed the therapy. Of course, I’m sad she’s not here to talk on the phone with me while I’m wrapping, but it has still calmed me. It has been downright joyful to wrap gifts, because the busy work relaxes my mind.

And those owl ornaments? Well, last night, I was searching for a necklace my mother gave me, and I came across a charm bracelet I brought home from her house after she died. I had never seen it before she died, but I found it in a jewelry box at her house. I picked it up last night and looked at all the charms. There’s a tricycle…I have pictures of her on a tricycle as a little girl. There’s a nurse’s cap….she was a nurse. There are lots of charms, including a sunflower, which was her favorite and Daddy’s too. And there were two owls. I smiled. I had my answer about the significance of the owl ornaments. They were somehow special to Mother. I don’t know how, but that doesn’t matter. I made a connection.

I’m going to be joyful this holiday season. It’s my goal. And so far, I am. There have been a few tears, but I feel like these little signs…the cardinals, the owls…are telling me to be happy, so that’s what I’m going to do. Mother used to always say that if you decide to be happy, you’ll be happy. I’ve decided to be happy.

Anybody have any gifts that need to be wrapped?

My Nephews Are 21 Today

My nephews are 21 today. Obviously, they are twins, but they are two very different people…more on that later. I simply cannot believe they are 21 today. Come on…21 is an age that is easy for me to remember, even though it was 30 years ago. So it’s very difficult for me to believe these two young gentlemen are full-fledged adults…full-fledged adults.

How did we get here so fast?

I remember when they were born. I remember when they were afraid of Santa…and Cookie Monster. Their mother and I took them to see Cookie Monster when they were about three, and they were so excited on the way to Uptown Charlotte. They were even excited when we got there. But when it was their turn to sit on Cookie Monster’s lap…wow. Just wow. They freaked out. I have a photo somewhere, but I wouldn’t embarrass them by sharing it. You just have to trust me when I say it’s hilarious.

I remember how my brother would call me and tell me about their accomplishments…in fact, he still calls and tells me about their accomplishments. He calls me to tell me about nice things they have done for other people. They’re good boys.

My parents were crazy about them, but my daddy was insane over them. When we were growing up, he traveled with work, and he worked hard, so he wasn’t around as much as he might have liked. But he retired when the boys were little, so he was able to enjoy them. He loved playing ball with them. He loved having Easter egg hunts with them. He loved placing orders with them when they played waiter. He loved how they loved to run to the trunk of his car, because they knew he would have surprises for them. Of course, Mother helped him get the surprises, but he got full credit, and Mother was OK with that. She enjoyed watching him enjoy them. And Daddy always loved leaving them with WAM (walking around money) after visiting with them.

They were crazy over Daddy too. They were heartbroken when he died in 2012. He was larger than life to them, and they knew he loved them dearly. He would be proud of the young men they have become. 

One has mad artistic skills. He was blessed with great athletic skill, but that was not what he wanted to do. Now that he is in college, he is pursuing art, and we couldn’t be more proud of him. He is smart. He is handsome. Sure, I wish he would get a haircut, so everybody can see how handsome he is, but I accept the hair (even though, the last time I saw him, I threatened to cut it in his sleep). And here’s why: he is one of the most genuinely kind people I know. He and a friend were in Charlotte a few months ago, and they were looking to rent some scooters in Uptown. They finally found some, but before they could get to them, a homeless gentleman struck up a conversation with my nephew. Instead of rushing off to the available scooters, he stood and talked with him…and missed out on the scooters. He also “adopted” my mothers’s dog, who loves him dearly. That’s who he is.

As much as that nephew has mad artistic skills, his brother has mad speaking skills and mad writing skills. This nephew has cerebral palsy, but he doesn’t let it stop him from doing what he loves. He’s also handsome and kind. As a little boy, he loved baseball, but he realized his love for baseball would not manifest itself in playing the sport. He knows more about baseball than anyone else I know. I was at a Pittsburgh Pirates/Chicago Cubs game, and I started texting him about the game. He knew about each player, warning me the third baseman for one team would likely make an error soon. And he was right! He took that love for baseball to the press box and earns money announcing baseball and softball games. He writes sports pieces for a local online publication and works in publications for the city. 

I love them them both, and I love the men they are becoming. They survived childhood, the teenage years, and some hiccups along the way, but they’re going to be OK. They’re going to be great. My mother died last December, but she was so proud of them, and she’d be even more proud now. And Daddy…well, he would be bursting with pride.

And he would still be giving them WAM every time he saw them.

Happy Birthday to my nephews…you’re full-fledged adults.

Who Told Me Who He Was?!?!

Last week, I posted a picture on my Facebook and Instagram accounts of me and NBA Hall of Famer, Dominique Wilkins. I ran into him at a restaurant in Uptown Charlotte when I was having lunch with a friend. Soon after posting the photo, I received a phone call.

It was my friend, Mary Ann.

  • Me: Hello?
  • Mary Ann: I saw that picture. Who told you who he was?
  • Me: What?!?!?!
  • Mary Ann: Who told you who that basketball player was?

And here’s where you hear that sound like brakes screeching. What?!?!?

Who told me who he was?!?!

Mary Ann should know better, but I guess she had a momentary lapse. She has been with me when I’ve spotted celebrities. She knows I have a keen eye. She knows I’m a crazy sports fan.

       Did she really think someone had to tell me who he was?!?!

My friend and I had just ordered our lunch when I saw a tall gentleman walk into the restaurant. I took one look at his face and said to my friend, “That’s Dominique Wilkins! He just walked in!”

Years ago, when I first got out of college, I was a flight attendant and lived in Atlanta. It was the late 80s/early 90s. Wilkins was a superstar for the Atlanta Hawks; he was a favored celebrity. Also known as The Human Highlight Reel, he was famous for good reason…highest scorer in NBA, slam dunk champ, All-Pro, and lots more…plus, he had played at the University of Georgia, so everyone in Atlanta loved him. He also owned a popular nightclub near my apartment, and folks were always talking about that. He was inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame in 2006.

One morning, on an early flight out of Milwaukee, the Atlanta Hawks walked onto my flight. That team had lots of great players: Wilkins, Spud Webb, Moses Malone, John Koncak… and I was getting to spend a couple of hours with them! For the record, they were all very gracious…Moses Malone didn’t even flinch when I stepped on his foot, and when I apologized, he smiled and said, “No problem.”

So, of course I would recognize Dominique! Even almost 30 years later, when he was wearing a beanie to shield him from the cold, and glasses because we’re all 30 years older now, I recognized him immediately. I was going to wait a little while to approach him, but my friend pretty quickly asked him if we could get photos, and he very graciously agreed. I told him I had met him before, and I went through the story from almost 30 years ago. I also told him I remembered his nightclub, and he chuckled and said several times, “Now you’re taking me waaaay back!” He was one of the sweetest celebrities I’ve ever met (and I’ve met more than a few), and he even came by our table on his way out to tell us goodbye and wish us a good afternoon. I was so excited…still am!

Who told me who he was?!?! Oh, Mary AnnBahahahahahaha!

Let’s Talk About Santa Claus

A friend recently posted on Facebook, “When is the right time to tell my kids about Santa?” She has two children under ten. Almost every person who responded said not to tell any child EVER that there is no Santa. Unless your child is about to be embarrassed by peers because he/she still believes in Santa, I agree.

What is more magical than waiting for Santa to arrive on Christmas Eve and then getting up to see what he left on Christmas Day?

Most kids figure it out before 10 or 11. I figured it out in 1976, at age 9, and though I thought I wanted to know, I really didn’t. Once the magic of Santa is gone, part of childhood is over. I know…Christmas isn’t all about the gifts, but kids sure like the gifts.

I remember sitting in my fourth grade classroom at Spanish Fort Elementary School, talking with friends about Santa. Most of us still believed Santa flew around the world in a magic sleigh with reindeer and went down every child’s chimney in one night. We were a sheltered bunch. Oh, I was a firm believer, but someone must have created some doubt along the way, because, well, just read on…

About a month before Christmas 1976, my mother couldn’t find her car keys. She was searching all over the house, and in desperation, she asked me to go out to the car and see if they were in the glove compartment. When I opened the glove compartment, of course, there were no keys, but I did find an address book and diary that would be perfect gifts for a girl my age. I didn’t take them inside and ask Mother about them. Instead, I left them where I found them…as a test. My thinking? If Mother and Daddy gave them to me for Christmas, then Santa was alive and well. BUT…If Santa brought them on Christmas Day, then I would know he wasn’t real. So, I left them and waited for Christmas.

I have a picture of me from that Christmas morning, sitting on the sofa in our den, wearing my yellow nightgown with the number 12 on the front (Joe Namath’s number) and looking less than thrilled. Oh, I was thrilled with my gifts…a 110 camera with plenty of film and flashcubes (remember those?), a telescope, Yahtzee, some 45 records (KC and the Sunshine Band, Rick Dees singing Disco Duck, The Eagles), some clothes, some books, and yes…the diary and address book. The magic was over. I knew Santa didn’t exist. My heart was broken. But I didn’t tell anyone. I just sucked it up and enjoyed the day, but Christmas morning was never the same.

But that brings us back to the original question: when is the right time to tell  kids about Santa Claus? Most people would say never, and I tend to agree. I never told my own daughter, but she figured it out eventually. When she was 10, she still believed. I remember, because she came down with the flu in the middle of the afternoon on Christmas Eve, and she was up sick all night. I had the hardest time figuring out when I would play Santa that night. Thank God I had wrapped all the gifts in advance. (She had asked Santa several years before to wrap her gifts instead of just leaving them out in the living room.) But by the next year, when she was  11, my daughter no longer believed in Santa Claus. She now tells me someone at school told her. And Christmas has never been as much fun.

But there is an exception to the “don’t tell” rule: your 13-yr-old child is about to do presentation to his 8th grade class about Santa Claus. You have to save him from himself. You have to tell him.

Finding out the truth about Santa can’t possibly be fun for any child. But there is something that’s more fun than believing in Santa: being Santa. Until I had a child, I had no idea that Christmas morning is a lot more fun as a parent than it ever was as a child. Sure, a lot of work goes into making it “perfect,” but seeing the excitement of Santa’s arrival on Christmas Eve and the pure joy on our daughter’s face on Christmas morning were better than I could have ever dreamed it would be. Even now, when I know she knows Santa isn’t “real,” it’s fun to see her excitement as she opens her gifts.

I will be playing Santa till I can’t play Santa anymore.