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  • Lisa Wain

A Christmas Story You’ve Only Come to Expect from Us

I hope this holiday season has been good to you thus far. I am back to share a very special story about our recent trip to the city to see the tree at Rockefeller Center.  For me, this is the quintessential way to celebrate Christmas in New York so I was really hoping we’d be able to make it down this year. We also have some health complications going on with our son, Benjamin, so we were looking to have a fun night full of distractions to keep his mind from stressing out and worrying about his procedure the following morning. Heading down to see the tree seemed like the perfect distraction for the little guy.

Due to all that has transpired over the last few years with Covid, our move, my job change, and everything else you can think of, we hadn’t been down to see the tree since 2018!! In fact, due to all the craziness going on in the world, I was shocked to realize that I hadn’t been to the city in over two years! I still don’t know how that’s even possible, but it’s true, aside from airport runs, I hadn’t been in the city since October 2020! Needless to say, I was obnoxiously excited.

Matt, on the other hand, loves the city but hates being in the city at Christmas time due to all the extra crowds and tourists, especially when he’s dealing with the extra city crowds, causing him long commutes, five days per week while working in the city. So Matt willing to play tourist with me and the kids at the busiest time of the year, on a work day at that? Now THAT’S love! On this day, Matt was working at 126th and 2nd in Harlem so he had the pleasure of moving his car, in the thick of rush hour, heading straight for the mecca of traffic and congestion, mid-town Manhattan. “He loves me…he REALLY loves me.”

The kids and I had the much simpler task of hopping on the near empty train for a peaceful ride to Grand Central Station. The train was so enjoyable and peaceful that Benjamin fell asleep on the ride down. Once we arrived at Grand Central, we walked three blocks to RiseNY, where we met Matt. RiseNY is a newish tourist attraction that, I a Disney fan, had to check out. RiseNY is, for you Disney fans, essentially the Soarin’ ride but over New York City instead. For those of you who have no clue what Soarin’ is, I’m sorry. Essentially, its an awesome ride that lifts you up in the air in front of a giant movie screen that has wind, water, and other affects to simulate you soaring over the world, or in this situation, NYC. It was really well done. They have a fun little museum of NYC artifacts and set designs for fun photo ops. I highly recommend it!

If you remember, this trip was specifically planned for this evening to help keep Benjamin calm and distracted from the stresses of what tomorrow’s medical procedure would bring. Mistake number one of the night was not taking into consideration how much Benjamin stresses when it comes to amusement rides he’s never been on. I mistakenly underestimated the possibility of this ride causing him unnecessary and additional stress. I knew he loves the Soarin’ ride at Disney World so I never thought this would have an ill affect on him. Misjudged that one! He was nervously questioning every waking detail of what was to come at RiseNY. I had never been so most questions I could not answer to help ease his mind. So he spent the time leading up to the ride worrying and stressing while I spent that time frustrated, beating myself up because my plan was backfiring BIG time. Poor little guy was stressing out! Thankfully we got him on the ride pretty quickly so he would stop stressing and enjoy himself, which it seemed he did, but when given the option to ride a second time for free, he had no interest. I was relieved that we were done so we could get him back to having fun.

Next we decided to eat at Gyu-Kaku. Gyu-Kaku is a smaller Japanese BBQ restaurant chain that you can find in more touristy areas. I first ate at one with my parents on a trip to Hawaii. I was happy to see that we have one close to home in White Plains, as well as a few in the city. Knowing that Matt and the kids had never eaten there, I thought this would be another fun experience for us, and more specifically, Benjamin. This was the goal- keep the kid happy and distracted.

Gyu-Kaku is like hibachi restaurant meets Melting Pot. At the center of your table is your own little grill and the majority of your food you grill yourself right in front of you at the center of your table. It’s a lot of fun and the food is quite good! For those party-poopers, there’s also items you can order fully cooked, liked delicious ramen that Vivian opted for- though she helped us cook our food.

The restaurant was pretty crowded and loud, plus our waitress had a heavy accent, and opted to wear a mask, so it was really hard to hear and understand her but I knew the ropes of the restaurant so I just smiled and shook my head a lot, hoping I wasn’t agreeing to purchasing some really expensive dish or something. During the ordering process, Benjamin had dropped his chopsticks that they gave us so our waitress handed him a new set. So while I’m leaning across the table trying to place our order, and also keep Vivian from setting the whole restaurant on fire with our very own fire pit mere inches away from her, Benjamin let out an “Ouch!”. The waitress noticed and said something to him, but I couldn’t understand her. He seemed okay so I kept on ordering while trying to keep my little newly obsessed, pyromaniac third degree burn free. Matt was heavily distracted by the large menu and his general, post-work hangry state, so he was in his own little world while also trying to help me stop our little, future arsonist from serving jail time this Christmas. Every family needs a Vivian- never a dull moment.

After the waitress walked away I notice Benjamin was still upset so I looked to see what was wrong and my heart sank. While I was ordering he took his new set of chopsticks, the type you break apart, and after breaking them apart he somehow gave himself a large, nasty splinter right in the web of his hand between his thumb and pointer finger. He is now in tears, hysterical crying in pain and won’t let me near it. After a few minutes he finally lets me take a closer look and it’s a big one. I have nothing on me. I mean nothing. I am not your typical Marry Poppins mom with a giant purse with an entire pharmacy inside. All I have in my pockets is a cellphone with wallet case, some gloves, and a pack of gum. That’s it. After some convincing, I got Benjamin to let me try to get it out with my fingernails after putting an ice cube on it for a while. That sucker wasn’t budging and caused him more discomfort so now he’s hysterical and demanding tweezers or we’re not allowed to try. We start looking up pharmacies in the area and none are close so I’m realizing he’s going to have to either spend dinner with this in his hand or spend dinner with this in his hand while Matt or I misses dinner completely walking multiple blocks to get some tweezers. Either way, this fun dinner is now wrecked and once again I have my son in turmoil on a night I was trying to distract him from stress, worry, and pain. Needless to say, I was crushed. I was sitting there looking at my son in pain, hysterical crying wishing to be home with absolutely no hope of salvaging this dinner, let alone helping him any time soon. Talk about feeling like a complete failure. First the ride that scared him, now he’s been empaled by a chopstick, hysterical crying, and refusing to try to cook or eat with his less dominate hand. I was done. I was heartbroken, angry, and totally clueless on what to do. Can you call 911 for a splinter??? I was close to finding out.

I was so helpless that I finally just sat back and in my head, basically cried out a payer. I wouldn’t even call it a prayer, more like a frustrated rant to God. Not my best moment but I was upset. I’m upset that my son has to face this medical procedure in the morning and now I’m REALLY upset because I now feel I’ve only added to his discomforts and fears. So I essentially yell in my head out of desperation, “You gotta do something, God!”. I wasn’t mad at God by any means, and I never even really had a thought to pray- it was really just an in the moment soul cry and second nature to look to God for my help. No sooner that I cried out to God, I pictured our first aid kit we have in the office at the church and I remembered that it has tweezers. So I watch for our waitress, in this super busy restaurant, and once she appears I ask her if they have a first ad kit with tweezers. She said, “No, but let me see what they can do.”  She looks at his hand, leaves for a bit and then returns saying, “Let me bring him to the back and see what they can do.” Or something to that affect as I’m still struggling to hear and understand her. “They??” Who’s ‘they’?” I’m thinking. Next thing I know, she grabs him by then hand and starts leading him away from our table. Matt goes to get up to go with him but she insists that Matt stays at the table eating saying that he’ll be fine. In a blink she has already turned around the corner with our eight-year-old son and they’re no longer in our sight. Matt & I both sat there for a second in total disbelief and confusion and then I quickly said, “Go with them!”

Matt jumps up and disappears from the table leaving me to corral our little Evel Knievel looking to make her fire dancing debut. I’m now sitting at the table worrying for Benjamin and no sooner than I try to calm myself down, Matt reappears without Benjamin! Matt then tells me that they took him in through the kitchen and there was no room for Matt to stand, he was in the way, so he just came back after the staff encouraged him to go back to eat, that he’ll be fine. Are we serious right now?? My son was just taken to the back of a NYC restaurant, alone, with complete strangers, with a giant splinter protruding out of his hand and they want us to enjoy our meal??? I was freaking out. Is he okay? Is he being abducted? Who’s dealing with his hand and how?????? Is this really life???

Suddenly, I had an overwhelming peace. Rather than run for that kitchen ready to impale everyone in there with a chopstick, I now just suddenly felt the peace of God that it was okay. No more than two minutes later a woman shows up with Benjamin. My first observation was he was smiling. I then look to his hand and there’s a bandaid. I assumed they just put a bandaid over it. The woman then tells me that she disinfected the wound, removed the splinters, there were multiple, she then applied antibiotic and a bandaid, and then she handed me extra antibiotic cream and bandaids and directed me on how to continue his care before bed. Was I suddenly transported to an emergency room? Where am I?? I mean, how strong is their sake???? I kid, I kid. I don’t drink. Seriously though. This was the most unimaginable turn of events and all happening just during our soup, salad, and sushi courses! So I now found myself with a smiling Benjamin just in time for him to start grilling his own food without a care in the world. I sat back for a good minute contemplating what all just happened and still stuck on the thought that I sat there with peace as some strangers disappeared with my son in the biggest city in the world. We ended up having a fun rest of the meal, the food was delicious, Vivian didn’t burn down the joint, and we even got free s’mores for dessert. It ended up being as wonderful as I had hoped it’d be when I made the reservation. How was that even possible?

At the end of our meal our waitress came up close enough to me that I could finally hear her to explain what she was trying to say earlier in our meal when he first got the splinter. While cleaning our very table before we were seated, she also stabbed herself with chopsticks. She then pulled a glove off her hand to show me her bandage. She said she saw it happen to Benjamin and new that her boss, the restaurant manager and daughter of the owner, was able to help because she had just helped our waitress before we were seated. That is why she so confidentially took Benjamin in the back and was assuring us that he’d be fine. And she was right. They were the nicest people and so caring. I thanked her over and over. I was so blessed and relieved.

After fleeing the home of the deadly chopsticks, we were finally headed to Rockefeller Center to see the tree. Crowds were really low that night. We timed it so that we’d be visiting the tree during the broadway shows, on a weeknight at that, to help with the crowds and it paid off! Crowds were very light considering, and even in Times Square! We had a little bit of a walk to get to Rockefeller Center. Our restaurant was on 44th between eight and ninth so we walked all the way to fifth ave and then walked 6 blocks to see Sacks 5th Avenue, St. Patricks, and then of course the tree. We arrived to Rockefeller Plaza right as Sacks started their light show so I beelined for a nice spot checking out the tree while every other person had turned their attention to Sacks 5th Ave. to watch the light show. Knowing the light show is on a loop, I figured we’d take advantage of the distracted tourists and enjoy the tree, getting our pictures, then enjoy the next light show loop. The plan worked out perfectly and we had no issues getting right up in front to see the tree and skate rink and then to get some pictures.

For Matt the worst part of NYC Christmas festivities is dealing with the crowds and the traffic, for me, its having to find a stranger to take our picture. I hate small talk in general, but I especially hate it when I’m asking for a favor as well. Naturally, I pawned this job off to “Chatty Matty’ like a seasoned, well-trained wife would do. In fairness, I did try and quickly find someone to take the picture but the only people near me were older so I thought against it and then looked to Matt to find someone more appropriate. This takes a lot of trust that he would secure a worthy photographer for such an important photo. I had faith in him and boy did he deliver!

As I’m looking around my general area from someone to take the picture I hear Matt approaching someone next to him to take the picture. I waste no time in looking at who he’s asking but turn my focus to getting the kids positioned correctly while threatening them every threat that could come to mind to ensure they behave & smile for like the 20 seconds it takes to get THE picture. So I get the kids and I in position and then look up to see where we’re looking for the picture and I see three people all standing close together looking at us. One guy has Matt’s phone getting it in position, but the other guy is holding a video camera. My first thought was these were film students as this camera was smaller, the woman with them wasn’t overly made up, and they were kinda young. So I see the camera and say, “Oh! You’re like a camera crew! I hope we’re not interfering with you guys!” They laughed at my shocked reaction and then assure me that we’re not interfering, and then proceed to take some pictures of us. The guy took a ton of pictures, moving the phone and his position all around. Needless to say, I was thrilled and figured we’d have at least one good one in there.

Once he was done, he handed back Matt’s phone and we started to thank them. They were really sweet saying it was no problem but then the woman with them turned to me and said, “Actually can you do us a favor now?” I immediately said yes and figured we’d be taking their picture for them or something as that’s typically what happens in these situations, though this seemed like an odd group wanting pictures together. She then pulls out a microphone and asks, “Can I ask you guys some questions? We’re with the Today Show.” I was shocked. So we agreed as the camera guys starts setting up. They started filming asking us where we’re from, so we sheepishly said Westchester, NY. Matt then joked about being local and hating the commute. She then started asking the kids what they asked Santa for, to which Vivian blurts out, “I don’t know!”, in a real condescending way as if the woman is an idiot for asking such a thing, when in reality Vivian totally froze and got camera shy and couldn’t think, so her brother answered and then while he was answering she remembered and then said what she wanted. The woman then asked Matt and I both what our favorite thing about Christmas is. Matt went for the classic but true, “family time” whereas I said “THIS! All of this! Being here in the city with the family, visiting the tree, having fun…” She asked the kids if seeing the tree was a family tradition and Matt chimed in referring to himself as “the Grinch” because he hates commuting to the city for work and then doing it again for this, but that he does it for the family because it’s special. He had his A-game on and had them cracking up. She then asked the kids if they’d sing ‘Jingle Bells’ with her, which they did and I even joined in a little, which shocked myself. Finally to end the interview, she told us she had a secret. She told us that she was one of Santa’s helpers and she wanted to make sure we got what was on our list from Santa so she reached in her pocket and then handed me a $200 gift certificate “from Santa”!! We were blown away! We thanked them and she asked if Matt could feel his ‘Grinch heart’ growing three sizes bigger. We laughed and I joked, “…now he’ll never turn down coming to the city at Christmas time…”

I have to tell you, by not even an hour or two into our city adventure, I was at such a low point. I was so upset for Benjamin and all he was going through. I just wanted to go home and save him from my well-meaning but disastrous plans. I couldn’t understand why it was lol happening but then as the night continued I was left in awe. It wasn’t until the next morning when I was praying did I get a full view of just how remarkable God is and what He did for us that night.

While I was praying the next morning, the morning of Benjamin’s procedure, I realized that one of both my and Benjamin’s worries for his procedure was that they were most likely not going to allow me to be with him for it, he’d be alone with strangers. It had been heavy on my mind and I wasn’t sure how Benjamin would handle it. So wouldn’t you know it, God immediately brought to my mind how the night before, Benjamin was taken away from me, alone with strangers, to have his splinter dealt with and he did great. I was able to use that memory from only 12 hours earlier to give me peace for the day. Later on, I was then able to use it as an encouragement for Benjamin when he started to panic knowing I’d have to leave him soon.

A lot of times we get so focused on the “why is this happening to me” we miss how God can not only use it  for a teaching and growth moment, but also turn it for good. Yes, it would have been better had Benjamin not gotten that splinter, but it wouldn’t have given him the courage for the next morning. And while we were saddened by the events of the earlier part of the night, I would have never dreamt that we would have gotten interviewed by the Today Show, let alone awarded a $200 gift card!

Benjamin’s procedure did not go as planned. We didn’t get the results or news that we wanted. Unfortunately, we’re facing more uncomfortable procedures for Benjamin, and an unknown diagnosis, but the way God crafted our evening in the city, I’m not going to allow the enemy to bog me down with the negative thoughts, instead, look for what God’s doing behind the scenes and the blessings He’s setting up for our future. Times in life may look bleak, but they looked really bleak at that dinner and I would have never dreamed anything could have turned the night around, BUT GOD. I have to remind myself daily to just trust God, in all things, especially when it comes to my kids. After all, He loves them more than I do, which is so hard to grasp.

It’s been a busy time for me, but I felt what better time to share this story than in the thick of the holiday season, which can be such a difficult time of year for many. I hope this story brings you encouragement for any trials you may be facing. I’m sure many of you are facing trials much more difficult than a splinter at dinner, just know that no matter how big or small your pain is, God cares and He has a way out for you. Trust Him in all things.

We do not know when they will be airing our segment, or if we make it on air at all. We’ve been recording the Today Show since and I sent an email to ask when it might air. If it does air, I’ll certainly post it here. Otherwise, I’m pretty sure this will be my last post of the year so I want to wish you all a wonderful New Year. I pray God’s blessings and peace for you in this coming year.

Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays!

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