On Wednesday, Sadie turned four and a half. The concept for an all-in adventure (but neither presents nor party) half-way through each grand’s year is new but they have quickly caught on. Sadie has eagerly anticipated her turn since we launched celebrations with Oliver’s five and a half in July. Rosie is already on record with a request for February!
Sadie agreed on the destination: Santa’s Workshop at North Pole, NY. She doesn’t like car rides but was sold by the website depicting mechanical rides. The Hubs and I were somewhat apprehensive about a long drive with six preschoolers. Some of the grands are prone to car sickness, one is newly potty trained, another was suffering some tummy troubles, one is still an infant. We were headed into the mountains where a “straight path” is hard to find. Not to mention that we’d need two vehicles.
“This proves the case for a RV,” the Hubs said gleefully, imagining a day when we’d all ride together. He’s been researching makes and models and scheming a purchase since we planned to rent one in July. Our trip was ultimately postponed due to farm schedules but that hasn’t impeded him in the least. “Maybe,” I said. “We’ll see.”
Fortunately our daughter was also game and willing to drive. We loaded both boys in her vehicle with the baby and great-grandma and she tore off. The Hubs and I took the three oldest girls. We’d packed a princess potty in the back of our Enclave, lots of snacks, kids church music, and a few movies. Thankfully, they all did surprisingly well.
Santa’s Workshop is a quaint venue well off the beaten path in the heart of the Adirondacks near Wilmington, NY — just a few miles north of picturesque Lake Placid. It boggles the mind to imagine how this small town hosted both 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics (think “Miracle on Ice“). The “North Pole” is located part way up Whiteface Mountain, an alpine skiing venue and one of forty-odd Adirondack high peaks.
Santa’s Workshop has both fascinating and impressive history. Born of a daddy’s passion for children’s fantasy and storytelling, it opened in 1949 to wide acclaim. It quickly became a national model for a new form of outdoor entertainment conceptualized as a “theme park.” It was so popular — with 14,000 visitors one day in 1951– that by 1953 a rural U.S. post office was established on site to facilitate letters to and from Santa. Remarkably, in the true spirit of Christmas, success funded Operation Toy Lift. Tons of toys were distributed to underprivileged girls and boys in the U.S. and Canada.
This place also holds a special place in my family history because my mom was Santa’s elf! I knew without doubt Santa was real. I had the photo to prove it. No one could convince me otherwise.
I shared this family factoid with the grands before our visit. They are so savvy. “Was she little then?” one inquired. “Oh, yes,” I assured. “When she grew too big she had to quit elfing.”
I clearly recall the day I shared this worn and faded photo of My Mom the Elf with fourth grade classmates as proof positive of my belief. This was ill-advised and not my happiest grade school memory. Mom, where were you on this one? Danny R. and Pat D. were so mean! As painful as it was it’s a memory I wouldn’t trade. It always brings a smile.
My mom has often remarked on how eager she was for an opportunity to escape the drudgery of the farm and flatlands of the St. Lawrence River valley for the mountains. A new world opened up to her. What a grand adventure to be away from home, living independently and earning real money for the first time in her life. I can imagine how freeing that would have been to a North Country farm girl in the mid-1950s.
Sixty years have passed in a flash. On Wednesday, she enjoyed returning to her old stompin’ grounds with six of her fourteen great-grandchildren. The park is small in scope and scale, perfectly suited for preschool and early elementary children. Although it has developed a lot since my mother wore her elfin green tunic and red tights, changes are indiscernible since our last visit, circa 1990 with our own children.
Just as their parents once did, our grands loved touching the icy “North Pole.” Indeed, Rosie (who is always thinking ahead) selected heavy knee socks and long pants as her adventure attire. She knew it would be cold at there!
The few brief performances and small parade of characters in low budget costumes are as hokey now as ever yet chids still don’t seem to notice. It just works. They enjoyed a visit with Santa, the toymaker’s shop, and a sweet treat courtesy of Great-Grandma Ali at the confectioner’s shop. My only regret this time around was missing the nativity show. I am so glad park management continue to recognize the reason for the season. Some things shouldn’t change.
Our grands were especially excited about rides designed for youngsters their size. Most rides are limited to those 48 inches tall or smaller; few rides allow adults. The park was almost empty on a cool, cloudy day interspersed with showers. No lines! They rode to their hearts’ content.
They fit perfectly in the tiny ferris wheel and flying bobsleds with 1980 Olympic team insignia. The train ride was a big hit for all, circling the reindeer pen and passing through the woods where grands were quick to spot brightly painted doors at the base of random trees indicating an elfin residence.
However, the roller coaster on tiny metal track rode rough. Inexplicably, Henry, Anna Beasy, and Rosie wanted more, more, more! Oliver, Sadie, GiGi, Pops, and Great-Grandma Ali thought once was more than enough! You can’t say I didn’t warn you.
Most of all, everyone loved visiting the reindeer barn. Rudolph’s stall is first upon entering. He has a large rack of antlers and very normal-looking nose. Santa’s helper reminded us that Rudy’s nose turns red only on dark and foggy nights. She shared generously from a bucket of tender green maple tree leaves. The grands loved feeding the herd once they learned to trust the process.
“Reindeer don’t bite,” Santa’s helper repeated again and again to encourage them. Like cows, reindeer have only lower teeth. They leverage large, soft upper lips to tug and draw leaves gently away from small outstretched hands. Even so, they are eager and quick. Feeding takes nerve. All of the grands were skittish at first, retracting as if they’d touched a flame. Pops worked closely with Anna Beasy until she proudly did it herself.
The small barn held animals ranging in size from itty bitty Dancer, only four months old, to cute little Comet, slightly larger, to big Blitzen. He sported a huge rack of reddened antlers, strings of freshly shredded velvet clinging precariously. This put the grands off a bit. The other reindeer had smaller antlers still fully covered in plush dark velvet. They were all approachable and eager for handouts. We returned to the barn again and again.
One reindeer stall was ominously empty. We concluded Santa must have taken Donner out to stretch his legs. Or perhaps he was off playing reindeer games? We learned the herd is set loose at night to frolic. Nature takes its course and Santa’s team is replenished.
We brought home chintzy personalized Santa hats and Christmas star wands laden with glitter and magic — sure to be parent-pleasers. Enchanted wands were distributed with one caveat: they lose magic if used as swords or weaponry of any sort. Not to mention Santa will remember those deeds on Christmas eve!
It might have been altogether too tame if not for a few potty mishaps (resulting in one wet car seat and one damp Pops), at least one trip-and-tumble (whence GiGi said a bad word), several dousing rain showers and soggy picnicking, plus misguided directions as Pops and GiGi ate the dust of a lead-footed lady (and Sadie was right to be concerned we’d fallen far behind). Turns out there is a long way and a short way in addition to the straight way and the curvy way.
The clincher was — surprise! surprise! — the princess potty full to the brim at end of trip. I don’t know when this transaction occurred but assume someone under Pops’ charge scrambled to the back of the car while I was tied up purchasing hat and wand. I was oblivious until returning potty to rightful owner at end of trip. I tipped it just enough to initiate a big splash followed by slow dribble down my right leg and into my shoe. Huh. That was special.
No worries. With six preschool grands we can’t help but have a few adventures!
In all fairness, I must also admit my own epic fail to achieve lift-off on Beasy’s inaugural helicopter ride.
Whereby bystanders (i.e. the Hubs and the daughter) “helpfully” offered instructions to “MOVE THE BAR! MOVE THE BAR!”
Whereby GiGi proclaimed indignantly (for the all the park to hear) “THIS IS NOT MY FIRST RODEO!” before concluding this chopper must be broken? (Did I break it?)
Whereby Beasy’s disappointed mommy announced (for all the park to hear) “I JUST WANT MY LITTLE GIRL TO HAVE A GOOD TIME”
And whereby, Anna Beasy, observing her cousins’ helicopters rise and fall and rise again, asserted “I DON’T LIKE THIS RIDE!”
~ Sondra (a.k.a. GiGi)