“What kind of dopey family would do something like that?” asked my usually mellow 11-year-old son after I suggested that we take a Christmas cruise.
Having swigged from the Pinterest-inspired Mason jar for too long, my relationship with December had veered from crafty to crazed. I’d produced a decade of sparkling holidays that had — in the last year or two — deteriorated into my trimming hot chocolate, baking toy building sets and wrapping greeting cards.
If anyone was asking, my gift list had one wish: a parachute floating me out of a bland Atlanta winter and into a balmy universe where I’d bury my toes in island sand, a frosty Santa Clause-mopolitan in hand. My new holiday would sport no toy extravaganza, no family drama and no competitive neighborhood light show.
Husband? Oddly on board. Twin boys? Dubious. They went all Cindy Lou Who on me, essentially asking, “Why, Mama, why?” like I was cracking a whip at my reindeer-dog and driving us out of Christmas. I explained that I’d take their favorite holiday traditions into account.
Turned out my kids didn’t care about all of those activities. According to my boys, Christmas is simple: It means hot chocolate throughout the season near a roaring fire, scanning the sky for a hint of snowfall, driving to see beautifully lit homes (cookies in hand) and Dad’s from-scratch cinnamon rolls on Christmas. It means being in their living room when the holiday arrives. And — surprisingly mentioned last — opening presents.
Really? That’s it?
After agreeing to produce Christmas-lite on our return, my husband and I booked a Christmas cruise. And if — like me — you’ve daydreamed about sailing out of a gray December into an extended summer, let me tell you: It’s brilliance squared. With one tiny caveat. (More on said caveat in a moment.)
We boarded our ship and raced for the water coaster that wreathed the top. We’d been tipped to get our fill of the coaster while fellow cruisers sidled up to the buffet, and the plan worked beautifully. My boys circled the ship eight times before wanting lunch themselves. We partied with pirates one night (kids, adults and staff in pirate attire; seemingly endless awesome calories at the buffet; and sword fights galore — because I know you’re wondering). And on another evening we took in a spectacular live show.
Back in our cabin, I fell hard for our veranda. I drank glasses of whatever was being poured in the late afternoons and chillaxed under many a smudgy salmon sky.
But the most successful excursion of all wasn’t even an excursion. One morning, I returned to our cabin to find the kids and my husband relaxing on my veranda. Not a laptop, phone or screen in sight. One boy pointed to sea. The others laughed. They talked. They nodded. It was, like, a conversation. An actual IRL moment. (I grabbed my device to take a picture of my family not using devices.) I called it the Slaying the Great Tech Beast excursion.
There were a few disappointments. Our “not so much” experiences included a long line to sit on cruise-Santa’s lap. Another day the boys created a gingerbread house on board, only to later learn that edible gingerbread houses don’t make it through customs.
Great moments involved lolling in the spa and feeding stingrays on the cruise line’s private island. At every pinnacle moment I’d smugly think: Nailed it. Best. December. Ever.
And then my kids showed up and torpedoed my lovely reverie. Here’s what two 11-year-olds taught me about December:
My lesson began with the Cornell study that famously trumpeted that experiences deliver more happiness than things. As a mom, I’ve embraced this sentiment with gusto. A parent can’t step on sharp experiences in the middle of the night. A kid can’t hog an experience from his sibling, causing brother-violence throughout the year. Experiences don’t get crammed under beds with layers of kid-flotsam.
Like most of us, I was over buying clutter for the seasonal toy high. Traveling instead? Pick me! My family would be Cool Travel Family with Wacky Stories (to bore you with).
But for the Cindy Lou Who twins.
Turns out, winter holidays are an experience for my boys. When I groused, “It’s just a toy grab and it’s gotten out of hand,” I wasn’t getting that my sons love the entirety of the season: watching the parade of television shows, snuggling under Great Grandma’s blanket before a roaring fire, getting giddy if it snows, and, yes, waking up on Christmas morning to an array of wrapped treasures under the tree.
The takeaway? When it comes to a holiday cruise, results may vary. My sons are what I call “seasonalists.” They want fireworks in July, a beach in summer, and pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving. And they definitely don’t want to be yanked out of December and lured onto a balmy island.
My sister and I as kids would have been over the moon at the suggestion of a holiday cruise. “We’re hanging bulbs on a pineapple?!” we’d ask in Jan-and-Marcia-dorky-joy. “Far out!”
This December my family and I will cuddle under my Gram’s afghan. We’ll watch Linus and his friends. Next-month’s clutter will wait — wrapped at the 11th hour — under the tree. Hot chocolate will flow. A fire will crackle.
Hoist the sails, mateys, this family is staying home.
Wendy Irvine is a mom and freelance writer/editor based in Georgia. Find her on Twitter @WendyIrvine.
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