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Sunday, February 23, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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The Full Suburban: Making Santa’s naughty or nice list

By Julia Ditto For The Spokesman-Review

In our family, there are a few Christmas traditions that are absolutely non-negotiable: Putting up the felt advent calendar that my mom made in the 1980s and was passed down to me because I was the first of my siblings to have kids. Managing our mischievous and very difficult to place Elf on the Shelf, who arrives on Dec. 1 with all smiles and leaves by Christmas Day surely muttering “good riddance.”

But one of my children’s most favorite traditions is going on the Lake Coeur d’Alene “Journey to the North Pole” cruise. This is a delightful experience, wherein you and your family board a boat with scores of other holiday revelers and chug across Lake Coeur d’Alene all while sipping hot chocolate and ooh’ing and ahh’ing at the fantastic light display along the boardwalk.

Like most holiday fun, there are a few behind-the-scenes logistical magic tricks that go into making this experience happen for our family. It starts around the very end of November when I have a panic attack after realizing that I haven’t yet booked our cruise.

This is stressful because there are only a few days in December where our schedule isn’t already filled up with orchestra concerts, piano recitals, Christmas parties, basketball games and hanging out with friends because “Oh my gosh, Mom, you never let me do anything cool.”

Once I’ve nailed down a date where we’ll all be available during the same 2-hour time span, all that remains to be done is gather up every hat/glove/coat combination we have ever owned, load the kids into the Suburban and listen to them argue all the way from Spokane Valley to downtown Coeur d’Alene about who had to sit in the back row.

True, getting there may be a little rough, but the holiday magic commences the minute we board the boat. There’s Christmas music playing, a send-off from the Grinch and giant cookies to be purchased and consumed. And even though we’ve been doing this for about eight years, my kids never fail to be impressed with the lights.

But the best part comes halfway through the cruise when the boat pulls up to Santa’s Workshop and everyone goes out onto the deck to hear Santa give a jolly little speech. He goes on for a while ho, ho, ho’ing and singing funny songs with his elf sidekick before he exclaims, “Oh, look, here’s the nice list! Let’s see if any of you little children are on it!”

Now I’m not going to conjecture about how Santa’s helpers on the cruise work their magic, but this nice list contains the names of every child on the boat. Every single child. This is amazing! Santa reads out each name one by one, and there are audible squeals of delight when each child hears his or her name. It’s truly adorable to watch – the kind of thing that restores your faith in humanity.

As luck would have it, one year there was a child on our boat named Logan, which is a very popular children’s name that my middle-aged husband also happens to share. And little Logan’s name was on the nice list right before our kids’ names. So as Santa was reading from the nice list, it went like this:

“Oh, and here we have Logan, Lucy, George …” and on and on through every member of my family except me. Julia – dear old mom who planned, orchestrated and made the whole delightful evening possible – was the only one deemed not worthy enough to be on the nice list. And, wow, did our kids notice.

After the list was read, they immediately flocked to my side, alarm written all over their faces” “Mom, you weren’t on the list! What did you do? Are you in trouble?” “I guess I’ll just have to be nicer,” I said, trying not to gag on my words and cursing the gods who make things like this happen. Being a mother – just like being Santa Claus – can be a thankless job, but at least I’m in good company.

Julia Ditto shares her life with her husband, six children and random menagerie of farm animals in Spokane Valley. She can be reached at dittojulia@gmail.com.

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