Christmas in the Cruiser

Who could’ve known
I wouldn’t have thought
That I’d be spending Christmas
In a Denny’s parking lot

– Excerpt from Kyle’s “Merry Cars-mas” — a joke song that turned out to be prophetic

(Foreshadowing, foreshadowing…)

Since moving back to SoCal in October, we’ve been a little bit—How do you say?—”homeless” as we figure out how-in-the-world to pay double what we’ve ever paid for rent in Los Angeles.

(We’re getting there.)

Enter our Land Cruiser, a.k.a. Car-V, our SUV-turned-makeshift-camper-van that’s sheltered us throughout our summer road trip. We’ve spent a handful of nights in the Cruiser in between nights spent in hotels and family members’ homes.

Once it became clear that we likely wouldn’t have a house of our own before Christmas, we started brainstorming: how could we make Christmas in the car fun for the kids?

Disneyland? Too expensive.

Sacramento with the grandparents? Too far.

What if we camped in the Cruiser on Christmas Eve and the kids awoke to SNOW in the mountains? We could make snow angels and go sledding. It would be our kids’ first white Christmas, just like the ones we used to know.

Of course, it would only work if there was *snow* on Christmas, and in the week leading up to Christmas, the forecast for Christmas Eve was 50 degrees and raining in Crestline, one of the closest mountain towns.

Then Hazel contracted norovirus. (You know, the virus that makes you throw up.) In the days leading up to Christmas, we went down like dominoes: Hazel got it, Kyle got it, I got it, Augie got it, and then Adelaide got it. But it was a 24-hour virus, and Adelaide recovered on the eve of Christmas Eve.

Meanwhile, the forecast had turned, and what once was a raincloud was replaced by a big ol’ snowflake. We set our sights on Snow Valley, a ski resort on the way to Big Bear that has a snow play area with a big sledding hill, a chairlift, and manmade snow, just in case.

Kyle and I couldn’t wait.

Christmas Eve, Kyle led a candlelight service in Camarillo, while the kids and I attended our church’s service in Newbury Park.

After service, we enjoyed a festive holiday dinner with relatives before setting out for Highland, where we would spend the night before heading up the mountain on Christmas morning.

We found a decent place to park and got the car into sleep mode: we folded down the middle seats, pulled out the sleeping platform, unfolded the memory foam mattress, slid out another platform for the kids, until finally we were nestled all snug in our beds, while visions of sugarplums danced in our heads.

Until…

Three a.m. on Christmas morning, I awoke with a start.

Or more specifically, I awoke with vomit on my face.

Adelaide had round two of the flu, and unfortunately, we were sleeping just inches away. Even worse, she’d thrown up all over her pajamas and blankets.

We were in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night on Christmas.

Nothing was open.

Nothing, except…

Denny’s.

Adelaide and I smiled politely at the host as we shuffled through the doors and headed for the women’s restroom, where I helped Adelaide change into new jammies and washed the vomit out of her hair. We emerged 15 minutes later, mostly clean, mostly dry, and smelling faintly of cherry vanilla hand soap.

We walked back to the Cruiser, where Kyle had cleaned up inside and bundled up the soiled blankets.

Once again, all was calm. And all was bright, thanks to the pink-orange parking lot lights overhead.

Now what?

If Adelaide was really sick again, we’d need access to a bathroom. But should we drive 90 minutes back to town with a nauseated kid? And to where, exactly? Or maybe we should find a hotel nearby. But it was already 4 a.m., and by the time we checked in, we’d only have a few hours before checkout.

And what about Christmas for Augie and Hazel?

We decided to stay put and sleep in the Denny’s parking lot.

And, miraculously, it all worked out.

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