This was our third year on the Polar Express, but this year, we upped the magic by adding in the North Pole Experience. The NPX was exponentially more amazing and if you go there, you have to do it! You can read about it in greater detail here, but it is an immersive 90-minute experience at the North Pole. First, everyone boards a shuttle bus to the North Pole. The bus windows are blacked out, but the screens and audio let you know that you're actually entering a magical portal. How else could you get transported to the real North Pole so quickly? In a group of about 25, children and their parents move from room to room for different activities and adventures. We visited Santa's workshop, filled with historical toys, Mrs. Claus' bakery, and an elf classroom, and wrote out a letter to Santa. The children were able to hand deliver their letter to Santa and spend a few moments with him. Cha asked for a "Hopacopter that flies, with a remote control," and Aut asked for "An American Girl doll and American Girl Doll room."
Before heading home, we visited Bearizona again. Bearizona is a drive-through wilderness zoo and experience that the kids love. It's so thrilling to be in your car and have Artic Wolves roaming just a few feet away. You also drive through areas with bears, bison, deer, and mountain goats. At the end of the drive-through part is an actual zoo to get out and explore.
On the way home, we made an impromptu stop at Calico Ghosttown, a place I went to as a child, and my father visited when he was Aut's age with his grandmother (Eileen, my great-grandmother). We arrived at dusk without too much time to explore but left with plans to return. Aut is fascinated by "olden days" stuff and has a lot of questions about who lived there and where they went.
As we pulled out of the parking lot just after sunset, one of the most heartfelt conversations I've ever had with Aut happened organically. If you know me, you know that my Mom was my best friend and that she is always on my mind. I want my children to know her, and so I do bring her up from time to time, but not nearly as often as I think of her, which is every hour of every day. In the 8 years since her death, the thoughts have thankfully lessened in the severity of their sadness, but still, even the happy memories of her leave me wistfully wishing that she was here. I do not want to burden the children with these thoughts and hide this aspect from them. When I do speak of her, I keep it positive and light. "Mommy, are the people who lived here still alive?" she asked. "No, babe, they're not." Why not was her follow-up question, and when I explained that it had been too long, no one can live that long she said, "That's sad. I don't want to die, and I don't want you to, either." I responded with, "Neither do I, baby girl. But that's because we have so much living to do! We have a lot left on this earth before we're ready for Heaven." Not to be deterred, she said, "Well, I wish it wasn't true."
I thought this was a good time for the ol' glass-half-full optimism/pessimism analogy. Aut, it's like this: If I fill up a glass exactly halfway, is it half full, or is it half empty? "Ummm, it's half empty," she said after some thought. "If that's how you view it! But look, you can focus on the positive and say it's half full! That's what my Mommy did. Even when she knew she didn't have much time left, she didn't feel sad or sorry for herself because she looked at all she did have; she looked at the glass half full."
"Oh, Mommy, I wish she was still here," she said. Tears welling up in my eyes, I said, "Me too, baby girl; she would have loved this trip. She should be here...and I wish that she was here too. She loved children, and she wanted to hold you so bad. Would you like to say a little prayer to her?" as we prayed, I kept my eyes on the road so she wouldn't notice. After the prayer, there was a pause, and then she said, "You know, Mommy...I feel like when we talk about someone and when we pray about them, it's like they're here with us." Out of the mouths of babes. Such heartfelt and amazing words from our sweet 7-year-old.