I am not someone who insists on things which is why my husband should thank his lucky stars every day that I am not a tyrannical fussy-pants (in my house, to avoid cussing around our children we add the word ‘pants’ after words that express someone’s negative mood…snitty-pants, gripey-pants…all interchangeable for “bitch”). But there is one thing I insist on like Ms. Mariah and her humidifiers and that is my kids take a picture with Santa every year. In my head, one day I will have a mantel to display the progression of pictures and each Christmas visitors will laud me for my creative foresight. My kids of course will regard it as a pain in the ass until they are thirty.
The first year, Rafael’s first conscious Santa pic, was truly a miracle. I was barely a month pregnant with China Doll and was beginning Nausea Fest ‘07. We were visiting my sister in law in Chicago and she happened to live a block from where the State Street Thanksgiving Parade lined up. The cold air was a great counter attack to my constant morning sickness so hubby and I bundled Rafael up and went outside among the hula dancers, the young tap dancers, and the miserable high school marching band members. At 15 months, Rafael was more interested in the holding area than the actual parade so we just followed her around. Soon she became transfixed by a guy in a Rudolph suit flanked by three self-conscious young elvettes. When it comes to character interaction it is hard to walk that line between having a really touching moment with your child and overstaying your welcome. Characters have to put up with so much. I remembered back to the time Andy Jun and I were Smokey the Bear and Woodsy the Owl for a town festival. Because I was taller than Andy I had to be Smokey and a little boy, not knowing a girl was in the costume, walked up and punched me in the stomach. Rudolph was getting off easy. We walked away four times and each time had to chase after her as she ran back to Rudolph only to stare at him and smile. The fifth time, I leaned into to Rudolph, “Thanks for being cool about this.” And he was, each time bending down to see her, letting her touch his nose. The girl elves were a bit snotty-pants about it, not quite into character.
Ever the worrier, I decided Rafael had been overexposed to the cold and we started back to the house. As we turned the corner, there… in a classic white carriage… was Santa. He wasn’t just a Santa, he was the Santa, the Santa that was to close the parade, the one with the real beard, the one you swore was actually Santa. It may have been hormones, but I was star struck. There was no one around except for his footman -not a soul on the street- it was perfect and I felt ballsy. I asked him if he would pose with Rafael for a picture. He said yes and before she could register anything she was up on his lap and back down within three clicks of my digital. And so the tradition began.
The next year I had a six month old and a two year old and that damn Thanksgiving parade Santa was nowhere to be found. That meant I had to find a mall Santa. And since I was off for Christmas break and hubby was working that meant doing it alone. But if I can move to LA by myself, I can pull off Operation Santa. The mission had to be airtight. I conducted surveillance, I calculated nap times in relation to off peak hours, I chronicled the moon phases, and I began hard selling after every Christmas commercial. “Do you know who that is?? That’s Santa!! Maybe you will get to meet him!” It was a Tuesday at 11:00am; off peak day, off peak hour and to assure victory, I dressed them casually in jeans and Santa complimentary colored sweaters. Making a big fuss with formal Christmas dresses would mean 1. I would have to break down and buy formal Christmas dresses and 2. it would amp up the pressure. Kids smell pressure like dogs smell fear. I approached the gold ropes with a “Well, fancy meeting you here,” attitude as we walked right to the front. “So, are we taking a picture today?” the elf said warily, staring at China Doll. “Well, we are going to try,” I whispered humbly so as not to jinx. This time, Rafael was star struck. She walked with lead feet toward Santa as if every bad thing she ever did was flashing in front of her eyes. I took that as submission and plopped her up on one knee and the oblivious China Doll on the other and, with a few squeaks from a stuffed rabbit, it was a wrap. Fully expecting a double knee meltdown, the elf was dumbfounded. Even Santa was impressed. I felt like a rock star. The tradition was safe.
Last year however, it was in jeopardy. We were in the process of moving and my husband was too crazy-pants with starting a new job, prepping our house for sale, and moving states away from his family to care about a Santa pic. As a result, the Santa pic was an afterthought during an unplanned trip to the mall with kids. There was no one in line and I gave hubby my best hurt puppy face. “Alright, let’s just do it.” It wasn’t until after the pic came off the printer that I realized we looked like a family who lived out of their car. That feeling was confirmed later when I showed the pic to MIL and she only said, “Ohhh!” as politely as one could without lying. You see, just as her ass hit Santa’s leg, China Doll freaked out so we decided all of us would sit with the big guy. Hubby and I looked like two people who just loaded a truck in a tornado, Rafael’s hair spiraled all over her head and face, and China Doll looked like she expected the camera to shoot bullets. But damn it, the tradition was still alive.
This year we recovered nicely. Mainly because they are at the age where they will do anything for a sucker and not pissing off Santa has become a viable threat. It’s how I convinced Rafael to let me wash and blow dry her hair: “Santa doesn’t like rats.” It’s how I kept them from killing each other in line: “You do realize you are pinching your sister right in front of Santa?” But this mall Santa did his part as well. He had paper reindeer hats emblazoned with the mall logo as souvenirs: “But only if visit me next year.” The tradition is safe.