“Twas the week before Christmas and all through the house alarm clocks were ringing, scaring the mouse....”
Ok, enough of the poetry, I can't do this all in rhyme unfortunately, but the two Russian gerbils, Tarzan and Jane did seem to scurry about more than usual, acting frightened.
We were all getting up at 6am, quite unusual for us I might add, for a 7am departure deadline. We were a family with an agenda.
We'd booked tickets for Disneyland in Paris for the 18th of December for a party of six, anxious to see the wonderful Christmas decorations Disney has and enjoy a little family merry-making.
Jp's daughter Hélène had found a great deal for 22€ per person on the net in lieu of the normal 65€ entrance fee, so we jumped at the offer. The only hitch was that the tickets were good for the 18th and the 18th only. Which, in itself, seemed perfect since it was one of the only days which everyone except Jp's son Benjamin and Rebecca's boyfriend Seb, could get off from work.
We resolved to work around their schedules next year, booking tickets for Jp, myself, Hélène, Abigail, her boyfriend Marc, and Rebecca.
The alarms went off, the coffee machine got to work and we scurried about - dressing warmly and hunting down scarves, gloves and hats for everybody. I took an instant to marvel at how much less work grown girls and boys are.
They had all miraculously reached the age where the girls knew that spending a day outside in December was ever so much more pleasant if you wore tights under your jeans and two pair of socks in your boots. No more of the teenaged rebellion stuff where they wore their coats open and went hat-less for fear of being pegged as uncool.
I smirked at that thought, nose in my coffee mug as I tried very hard to shut up and not bring it to their attention. It was not an easy task, the “I told you so” stuff rising automatically to my motherly lips.
Ready to go at 7:05, we opened the door to see a crest of new-fallen snow. This was a formidable glitch in our timetable since we wanted to be at the gates at 10am when they opened. We had time for one pit-stop, expresso swallow factored into the timing, but under no circumstances had we included unexpected snowfall.
We all went outside and brushed off the car, amazed at the amount of ground cover, the girls noticing how beautiful everything looked, “with the luster of midday on objects...” covered with a thick blanket of snow.
Jp (the driver) and I looked at each other thinking “well, this family fun day seems seriously compromised”. But still, we all resolutely piled into the van and inched down the driveway listening to the loud crunch of the wheels on very cold snow.
We got out to the main road, windshield wipers pumping and the heat vents billowing warm air around the spacious van. The vista along the road leading south toward the access to the highway some 5 kilometers distant was surprising to say the least.
You'll have to remember that this part of France rarely gets any snow cover at all. Once or twice a year we get some flurries which gracefully float down from the sky to melt on excited noses. If the ground is covered at all it seldom lasts for more than a few hours overnight, to disappear the next afternoon.
No snowmen, no shoveling, no snow ball fights, no shoveling, no sledding, no shoveling, no ice skating, and certainly no shoveling. My kinda place.....
Still, we had those non-refundable, non-transferable tickets so we decided to give it a try.
Normal people would have cut their losses right there, turned home and made a hearty breakfast for all, planning on a trip another day once the snow disappeared. Not us, stubborn being each and every one of our middle names, with the possible exception of Marc, who, as the lone male in the back seats, wasn't about to contradict the opinions of the three females who really wanted to go.
So we putted along the road at about 5 miles an hour toward the highway access route. We were busy convincing ourselves that the highway would be clear and things would sail along with just a short delay once we reached it.
It was snowing so hard when we finally reached the highway access that we almost missed it. Turning onto the highway, we saw a snail trail of all the people who live in the country and work in Rouen clogging the two lanes ahead of us. We had 40 kilometers to get to Rouen and from there another 120 into Paris and another 40 past Paris out to Marne La Vallée where Disney had bought up a large chunk of farmland back in the early 80's.
As we crawled along at about the pace of a trotting horse, we discussed the merits of turning back. We found ample reason to continue, thriftily thinking that even if we didn't have enough time to do all the attractions we wanted to, still we could do some and the tickets wouldn't be lost.
Jp, being a democratic sort of fellow, continued driving with both hands on the wheel, alert to sliding, and sudden stopping by other Normans who weren't used to driving on snow. The highway radio station was tuned in to give us updates on the numerous bouchons or traffic jams caused by vehicles sliding off the road and fender-benders caused by frightened drivers. We plowed along in our American made van, secure in the knowledge that it had grown up in Michigan and was used to driving on snowy roads.
Two hours later we reached Rouen and the access to the main highway into Paris. Our hopes were dashed as we saw that the same glob of vehicles were still ahead of us, and still progressing at the same snail's pace. We stopped for a coffee and to confer.
Once again, we thought “what the heck, we've come this far, it can only get better”, we bought some chocolate covered waffles to eat with our coffee and piled back into the van. At least we wouldn't starve on the road, chocolate being quite a morale booster. The back seaters fell asleep, and I tried to keep Jp amused with any conversation I could come up with.
Four hours and another pit stop later we arrived at the gates of Disneyland, intact with both of our fenders unscathed.
Yay, for the American van!
Hooray for the French guy driving it!
The family fun day could really gain some momentum now!
We hurried to get in line at “Crush's roller coaster”, our favorite way to start a Disney day. It's a medium type roller coaster, just enough fun to get your adrenaline going but not enough to make you scream in fright, just in delight.
The lines were pretty short, the normal people all having turned back and stayed home absorbing the loss of their tickets wisely. We had great fun, doing everything twice until we were giddy with plunging, spinning and twirling.
We did the one ride I really hate, the aptly named “Hollywood Tower of terror”! I screamed my guts out, Rebecca clutching at my arm so hard I had bruises through my down filled jacket. Jp was hooting in glee, laughing at my horror. Hélène didn't say a lot, her reactions drowned out by my screaming. Marc very wisely desisted when we went to get in line, and Abby kindly stayed with him. They struck out to do some Christmas shopping while we were having “fun”.
We met up with them some time later in the “Magic Kingdom” zone of the park. Here is where the full glory of Disney's lavish, yet tasteful Christmas decorations really come into play.
The real covering of snow on all the wreaths and greenery being authentic icing on the cake, as it were. It continued to snow all day long as we slipped and slided along the paths to the different lands and their attractions.
We had a wonderful time.
We had decided that at 7pm when the park closed, we would go eat in the Disney Village at the Rainforest Café, before driving home warmed and full-bellied. Everyone enjoyed the fajitas, the ribs and the atmosphere.
During dinner, we got to talking about the following Thursday, Christmas Eve.
Since Jp and I have been together, some 13 years now, our usual arrangement with our respective exes, was to let the kids spend Christmas Eve with the dads and Christmas day with the moms. Which meant that our kids never were together but since Hélène's birthday falls on the 29th of December, we did a group get together then.
Things have become more complicated with the arrival in our lives of the new additions - the boyfriends and girlfriends of our offspring, some of which already have two divorced parents like us and thus two family obligations also.
Of course being selfish, we want our child to be present at our affixed family meal, with or without their boyfriend/girlfriend du jour. I always make sure there's a present for each and a stocking with goodies for them as well, but haven't yet had to abandon one of our children to an “in-law” family gathering.
The stockings are a bit of a conundrum though.
I hand-embroidered six stockings for Christmas of 1997, our first Christmas together. The hanging of the chausettes was a new thing for the French members of our family, it being a typically American tradition. So Jp and his two children have their own stockings with their names embroidered in silver thread on them. Very pretty indeed.
It took me forever to do it, and I'm almost relieved that we didn't have any more children together since I've never again seen those same stockings to buy extras. Thus, I have two generic stockings for the newcomers, whoever they happen to be from year to year. I pin a paper name tag on them. No embroidery until we're sure they're worth the effort, so to speak.
Benjamin and his girlfriend would not spend Christmas together this year - she would be in Nantes with her mother.
Hélène was recently single.
Rebecca's boyfriend works on board a rescue tugboat based in Cherbourg and wouldn't be off duty until the 29th. He'd been at sea for four weeks already and would have a month off starting then, so any Christmas celebrating would be after the fact and spread about to all four chapters of our families on various dates.
Abby and Marc were to be with her dad on Christmas Eve, with us on Christmas day and then with his parents on the 26th. So I only had the two extra stockings for the boys to do.
While munching fajitas, Marc was telling about his family's usual traditions. They're of Tchek origin and usually spend Christmas Eve and day with friends a few hours’ drive from Dieppe.
He told us of how at the friends' home everyone has to display a particular talent in order to deserve their presents. Abby watched on in horror as he explained that he makes up a poem, sings a song or plays the flute on a yearly basis when he visits them.
I chuckled as he sealed the deal for me stating that she would have to think about what her particular talent would be if they accompanied his parents next year.
I suggested that since she had been good at gymnastics in junior high, she might want to practice a handstand or cartwheel.
“That would be a great trick, mon amour”, Marc cooed at a dumbstruck Abigail.
"Yes”, I added, “you could just hike up your skirts and have a turn about the room and finish with the splits in front of the fireplace! That ought to be good for a present or two!”
She snarled in my direction before turning her sweet blue eyes at Marc, “I think we should just plan on spending the 26th with your parents every year, mon cheri”.
I decided to rummage about through my sewing box, for the remaining bit of silver embroidery thread as soon as we got home. Marc definitely deserved his own stocking having unwittingly solved the Christmas with the parents problem for some years to come......