*Thank you to Crocker Park/Stark Enterprises for sponsoring this post and our holiday outing this year. All words, opinions and perspectives remain my own, friends! *
This holiday season I am on a mission to push pause on the “shoulds” and seek out the things about this time of year that MATTER.
Family time. Memories. Laughter. Gratitude. Traditions.
As a mom to three kids ages 6, 3 and 2 … it’s an amazing year to really soak in the magic of the holiday with them… and I refuse to let the stresses of life take that away.
So last weekend, we set aside the messy living room, the pile of dishes and the half-done holiday decor… and we took our crew to Crocker Park in Westlake, OH on Cleveland’s west side for our annual holiday outing.
Our family goes to Crocker year-round. It’s our favorite place to go for Sunday brunch. It’s my go-to shopping spot when I’m looking for a new shirt for date night. It’s where I go to grab dinner with friends, ice cream with the kids or a cocktail with my husband.
But at the holidays? Crocker Park is ah-mazing.
The giant tree. Streets full of lit up, snow-covered trees. Santa Claus. Holiday music. Kids waving from the holiday train. Couples holding hands while shopping. An outdoor food court with a fire pit.
I remember turning to my husband last year during our outing and saying, “This feels like a movie.”
Now listen: I’ve disclosed the ages of my kids. On the drive to our outing I started playing out all of the “why someone’s meltdown will ruin everything” scenarios. But it’s why we go to Crocker Park. There’s enough activities (in a short radius) to keep them interested. If they need a break, there are restaurants and a food court at which to fuel up. If we get too cold? We can pop into the little room with the toy train display or go into one of the stores and cross someone off our gifting list.
It’s all about efficiency and strategy at this stage of the parenting game. (Am I right, fellow toddler/preschool moms?!)
And this year, while no snow was stuck to the ground … it didn’t matter. The holiday spirit was in full effect and the kids were about ready to rip through their car seat buckles when we arrived .
Our first stop was the new outdoor skating rink – an awesome new addition to Crocker Park. I wasn’t sure how we would fare with two ice-unsteady adults trying to hold up three little skating rookies – but we had a blast. The oldest was convinced she needed no help, the middle man’s legs look like they were made of rubber, the baby just giggled every time she tried to stand up but fell down and my former-football-player husband looked like … well… a football player on ice.
While we won’t be winning any gold medals for our abilities… our “good time” score was a perfect one.
After finding our feet underneath us, we headed over to the middle of Crocker Park to take a ride on the holiday train that my engine-loving son talks about all year. The kids waved to shoppers, sang Jingle Bells and spread holiday cheer to anyone in earshot. As I watched the amused shoppers’ reactions … I couldn’t help but think about how easy it is for kids to feel joy in the little moments and spread it to the people around them… and realized that I hadn’t been singing. Or waving. Or joy-spreading.
So I took their lead and joined in… and had a heck of a lot more fun.
After making it back to the station, we headed over to the spot my oldest was most excited about: the snow globe! Thinking it was going to be “FREEEEEZING” in there with the “snow”, the kids hilariously warmed each other up prior to going in. Once they did, they loved everything about the winter wonderland in a globe … making snow angels and throwing it over each other’s heads.
The kids were begging to see Santa at this point… so we made the short walk over to the Santa House … although the kids were loving all of the little photo op spots along the way!
When we finally got to the Santa House, they walked up the ramp and started squealing and jumping in excitement when they saw the big man through the window.
After rehearsing what they were going to tell him (in the HEATED waiting area!), we went in and my oldest frantically looked my way and said, “Help, Mom! I forget what I was going to ask him!” After reminding her of her roller-skates wish, Santa took time to talk to each of the kids individually before giving them a candy-cane takeaway. And while I always wish someone was doing something funny in the “Santa” picture, you can’t help but love the traditional picture with the big man.
As the sun was starting to disappear, it was a perfect opportunity to walk across the street and warm up in the indoor toy train display. The kids spent about 15 minutes being mesmerized by the train and all of the figurines laid out in the perfect little holiday village. They also got to color a picture and write a note to Santa before delivering it to his mailbox just outside of his house!
When we came back outside, the holiday lights were on and it felt absolutely MAGICAL. We snagged some lemonade and started watching the lights dance to holiday music on the big tree.
Of course, we were watching it right near the holiday train station, and my husband was feeling the “be a kid again” vibes and took the kids for another spin.
For our grand finale, we went over to a beautiful walkway lined with decorated, lit-up trees. And while my little dude was more concerned with drinking his lemonade in the stroller, the girls and I soaked in the glittery scene.
It was THIS moment that it all hit me.
The magic of the season… and the magic that happens when you shut out the stress and experience the holidays through the eyes of kids.
While the girls were dancing underneath the lights … I walked over to my husband, hugged him and gave him that, “This is exactly what we’ve needed” look.
Because we HAVE needed it. Life has been so busy.
Work. School Schedules. Appointments.
Sometimes it feels like we are just trying to stay afloat. And even on the days that we are at home – it’s hard to not succumb to “getting things done” instead of just sitting and being a family.
That’s why this time at Crocker Park was special. We got to be a family. We got to see wonder in our kids’ eyes and feel the magic of the holiday. We were encouraged to find the joy right along with them with each little activity we did… and I remembered what the holidays felt like for me when I was a kid. It just felt PEACEFUL.
THENNNNNN right on cue, two of the kids started to melt down and fight over the lemonade (typical). So after almost two and a half hours of holiday fun, we piled the kids in the stroller and headed to the parking lot. But as we passed the giant tree whose lights were beaming that much brighter with the sun almost completely gone … the kids asked us to stop for a second so they could watch.
And as we did, I thought about how that exact moment was everything that I want to fight for this holiday season and into the new year.
To stop and watch… and be present.
To find the calm and not anticipate chaos.
To feel the joy in the family time.
To be together and create traditions.
To EXIST in the experiences and let go of stress.
To laugh at the commentary from the kids, and marvel at their ability to find joy in little things.
To simply remember to focus on everything that matters.
Thank you to Crocker Park for having us… and for creating a magical holiday atmosphere that made for a memory we will cherish at this awesome stage of our lives.
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