I need to get pictures of the kids for holiday cards. Since it was the first Christmas we were celebrating in our more southerly Southern California house, I had the bright idea to drive down to San Juan Capistrano and take pictures at the mission.
It's one of those brilliant winter days, the light is terrible for outdoor photography, and San Juan Capistrano is abloom and beautiful. I snap a few photos, and inevitably, someone has to go to the bathroom. The spouse whisks the son off to the restroom, and the daughter, who is 20 months old, disappears around a corner. I pursue the girl, only to find her climbing through the barrier designed to keep people out of the life-sized creche. She is standing in front of plastic Mary, looking into the empty hay-filled bed.
"Baby Jesus?" she questions emphatically, pointing. Every fiber in her little body says, "Where the hell is Baby Jesus? I know he's supposed to be THERE!"
"Not until Christmas," I tell her. "Come on out."
This is a command. Since Mama is apparently ineffectual, she begins hunting in the creche for the lost baby herself.
Of course, a priest shows up, tall and sere in his long brown Franciscan robes. He looks at the daughter; he looks at me. I know he is thinking that the daughter is an undisciplined devil baby, and I'm the mother-from-hell.
"She's looking for Baby Jesus," I tell him wearily.
"Christmas," he tells the daughter. She gives him what can only be described as a sneer.
"Baby Jesus," she says again, with strained patience, pointing at the empty bed.
The priest gives me a significant look, and strides away.
Go listen to some good music: "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" from the album Joy to the World by The Mormon Tabernacle Choir.