Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Christmas that Almost Wasn't

A bit of a warning: this is a really long post.  I tried to make it shorter, but it's just not as much fun if you don't get all the details.  Bear with me, and hopefully it will be worth it once you've made it all the way through!  

When we left all of our family behind in Utah seven and a half years ago, it was with the unspoken understanding that we would bring the grandchildren home every year for Christmas.  So every year we pack our bags full of winter gear and Christmas presents, load up the car, and drive for 12 hours to spend a few weeks with the people we love.

This year was no different.  We loaded up Friday evening and got up early Saturday morning to begin our drive.  We usually leave around 3:00 in the morning so the girls will sleep for the first part of the drive, but this year the alarm malfunctioned and we didn't take off until just after 5:00.

We warned the girls that this would be a different drive than they were used to, because they were going to be awake for a lot more of it than they were used to.  Changes in plans do not go over well for people with Ebert genes, so we wanted to give them enough of a heads up that we didn't have to deal with drama when it took forever to get to Grandma's house.

Well.  It was certainly a different drive.  Just not for the reasons we anticipated.

About 3 hours into the drive, we were passing Pendelton, and I turned around to take a picture of the girls, who had snoozed a little and were now all happily occupied with movies and various other activities.

Little do they know...

Chris and I began talking about how efficiently we must have packed, because it didn't seem like the car was quite as full as usual.

And that's when it hit me, like the proverbial ton of bricks, that there was a very good reason why it didn't seem so full: because it wasn't.  There were three bags of Christmas presents at home in our closet.

All of the girls' Christmas presents.  ALL of them.

While packing Friday, I had gone through all the presents we were bringing with us and organized them into bags and boxes.  All the wrapped gifts for our families and from the girls to each other were in a pile on my bed, next to a giant - closed - box of unwrapped gifts for Chris and myself and the couple of things that were for the whole family.  Everything the girls were getting was sorted into three big grocery bags and put out of sight in my closet, where they had been hiding for the last several weeks anyway.  And, due to some miscommunication about what, exactly, was in the giant box, where they still were.

Once I had finished repeating variations of "Oh my gosh" and "Oh, no, no, no, no, no" and was able to explain to Chris why I had launched into complete and utter freak-out mode, he pulled the car off at the next exit, and we got out so we could discuss the situation without three extra pairs of ears.

Our first thought was, of course, that we would have to turn around and go back.  Another three hours in the car, except this time moving further away from our goal.  Our second, happier, thought was that maybe we could continue on to Utah, and somehow manage to book a plane ticket for either Chris or myself from Salt Lake to Portland and back again.  Because he travels for work, Chris has MVP gold status with Alaska Airlines, so he called them to see if there was anything they could do for us.  And there was, to the tune of $700.  The day before Christmas Eve is not a good time to book a last-minute plane ticket, FYI.

Back to square one.

So while I freaked out some more, Chris called his dad, hoping for another, less freaked out brain to help think things through.  After determining that the only keys to our house were with us, meaning no one could get in and overnight everything to us, and that no, we couldn't just rush out and replace everything once we got to Salt Lake and then return the stuff in our closet once we got home (which was also my dad's suggestion - he even went so far as to offer to start searching right away and save us some time), his dad realized that not only had Chris's brother and his girlfriend stayed overnight in La Grande, 45 minutes down the road, but that they were still there.

After much frantic phone calling back and forth between the three parties, it was determined that we would head to La Grande and meet up with Blaine and Mel, who would then take our car and continue on with the girls as far as Ogden, where Grandma & Grandpa would then meet them, give them a car, and take the girls on to Sandy.  Chris and I, meanwhile, would take Blaine & Mel's car and head back to Portland.  It is important to note that these two are saints, because not everybody would willingly agree to lock themselves in a car for seven hours with someone else's children.  Not even parents willingly do that.

All the way to La Grande we discussed with the girls what was happening.  The hard part was being as clear as we could about why it needed to happen while still being vague enough to keep from destroying certain beliefs.  We told the girls we forgot the presents and needed to go back and get them.  Ellie, who was sitting in the way back, immediately piped up, "No we didn't!  I can see them!  They're right here!"  And Vicki said, "Yeah, I carried them to the car."  And we said, again, "Nope, we forgot the presents."  Vicki caught on then, and started telling Ellie, "No, just trust them, they forgot stuff.", all the while with a look of horror on her face as it dawned on her just what had been forgotten.  Lexi didn't say much, but I think she's trying hard to hold on to certain beliefs, despite her brain telling her otherwise, and she didn't want to think about it any more than she really had to.  Once they understood that a return to Portland by some of the people in our car was inevitable, they immediately promised to be good for Blaine & Mel.  With the alternative being more time in the car, it was an easy promise to make.

So we got to La Grande around 9:30 in the morning, and, after a gas and potty break, Blaine, Mel, and the girls took off in one direction while Chris & I took off in another.  Four hours later, we were back home in Portland, where we headed straight upstairs to the master bedroom closet, pulled out my three very organized bags of presents, and put them in the car before grabbing a quick lunch and getting back on the road.

At one point, I called Mel to see how things were going, and she answered with, "We just had the best experience at a gas station.  With llamas!"

Llamas make any trip worthwhile

So things went great for them.  Fears were unfounded: the girls behaved, no one threw up, I was the only one who freaked out the entire trip.  It's not surprising, really, considering they've made this drive twice a year for the last seven years, but it's good to know they can do it.

And it's a good thing Chris and I like each other.  We talked, we listened to podcasts, we enjoyed music that we wanted to listen to... it was like a very long date, in a car.  And we decided to enjoy every minute of it.  What else could we do?

As much as we just wanted to get to our final destination, we knew that it would be too much to try and drive straight to Salt Lake, so we stopped around 10:30 at the Super 8 motel in Boise and had an impromptu overnight date.  After breakfast at Denny's we set off again at 8:45 the next morning, stopping in Ogden to trade cars with Blaine before finally arriving at Chris's parents' house just after 2:00 Sunday afternoon.

The total driving time for us came to 20 hours.  Yikes.

But, guess what?  It was totally worth it.  Because on Christmas morning, we got to see this:

Roller skates!
Perfect for the budding artist
Google Nexus tablet - she's been dying for this for a year now
Robotics 101
She didn't take the skates off or put down the
bunny all day long

I will be the first to admit that this was truly a first world problem.  There are so many people in this world who didn't even have presents to leave behind.  And, of course, we know that Christmas isn't about the presents, but the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ.  Still, we were blessed this year to be able to provide some things for our girls that they really wanted, and it would have been sad for all of us if they'd had to wait for two weeks to receive them.

It turned out to be the best Christmas we've ever had.  I don't know whether everything was better because we had to work so hard to have it here, or if it's just that we really scored this year as far as knowing what the girls wanted, but whatever the reason, it was an excellent Christmas.  Well worth 20 hours in a car.

And, besides, now we have an awesome story to tell.


  1. What a crazy adventure! Glad you to spend such a long date with Chris! :)

  2. That will definitely go down as a memorable Christmas! :)


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