It seemed surreal to be sitting across from my daughter at McDonald's on the evening of December 23rd. It was supposed to be a special night. A visit to Santa at the Mall and dinner in downtown Mountain View.
But my son, Owen, was sick. He and my husband stayed home while I took my daughter, Josie, to McDonald's - the only restaurant in the world that could make-up for missing Santa.
As I watched Josie devour her hamburger and marvel at the Happy Meal Toy, I couldn't help but wonder what my parents, siblings and nieces and nephews were doing in Southern California. Probably sitting around the island in my parents' kitchen, laughing together while they sipped hot cocoa and made sugar cookies for Christmas Eve.
Josie shimmied in her seat while she savored her last French fry. She couldn't have been happier. But I couldn't help but wonder what the holidays were going to be like without my extended family.
Mountain View has felt like home since the moment we moved here. We love it here. But I wasn't sure if Mountain View was going to feel like home for the holidays.
This Christmas is our first Christmas in Mountain View and only the second Christmas I haven't spent with my parents. While I knew it might feel lonely at times, I was looking forward to the experience of waking up with my children in our own home on Christmas and starting our own traditions.
6 pm Christmas Eve is usually the time when all the relatives begin arriving at my parents' house dressed in their holiday best for a quintessential Italian Christmas Eve. This year, at 6 pm in Mountain View, my family and I put on our Christmas pajamas and realized there wasn't anyone to take our annual family picture in front of the tree.
My husband figured out how to set the camera's automatic timer and used the kitchen counter to prop the camera towards the tree. He pressed the button and ran to get in position. For a moment, I thought I might cry.
Josie and Owen giggled hysterically watching their dad run toward them. They shrieked with anticipation while the beeps of the camera got closer and closer together.
By the time the camera flashed, our whole family was smiling brightly, perfectly, happily at the camera, even though no one was behind it and even though no one else was there.