If there’s one thing you can say about my family, it’s that at least we try. I was born with a thread of silver lining weaving through my veins, making me painfully optimistic even when there are so very many signs saying, “Oh girl. No.” Before I even had kids, I recall noting during a visit to one of our cousin’s homes that they had the best pictures of their kids with Santa. Turns out that it has been the same Santa at that mall since forever, so every holiday season they’d all pack up to sit with this old friend, taking yet another lovely family photo for the mantle. This idea sat like a red amaryllis bulb in the pot of my heart, and it yearned to bloom in the light of the future holiday seasons I shared with my own children.
No sooner than I popped out my two kids in less than two years was I pushing my luck at trying to get photos of them with Santa to cherish for years to come. Mind you, there are no photos of me as a child sitting on Santa’s lap, for I was a highly untrusting and shy girl who refused to partake in such activities. But I was a mom now, and decided I could make it work. (You’re laughing and shaking your head now, aren’t you? I sure am.)
The best example of how well this went – my relentless annual attempt at a sweet photo with Santa – was the time the mall decided on a snow globe theme. My kids were old enough by then that I knew better than to spend a small fortune on their outfits, but they were still pretty and kind of velvety and as red as the bloom of hope still thudding away in my chest. I managed to keep my cool and their hair detangled all the way through the endless line, and was told by a quasi-elf helper that there were only three families ahead of me, now that we were about to step into the snowglobe waiting area. WE MADE IT, I thought, with a smug grin in my face. Then we stepped inside the globe, which had a sprinkling of faux snow lining the sides of it. It took my kids half a nanosecond to fly out of the stroller and onto the floor to make snow angels, toss the fluff into the air, where it got sucked up into the vacuum of the globe and blown all around, making its way into all of our eyes, nooks, and crannies. By the time we made it to Santa’s lap, the three of us were half-blind, coated in white plastic flakes, and untucked in ways that cannot be recovered without a full undressing first. Say, “Cheese!”
While one might think this would have taught me my lesson, I still haven’t quite given up yet on the kind of Santa photo that one brags about. Until that happens, please allow me to share all the things we moms who keep trying to make it happen know about taking our kids to see the big guy in red.
1. You will be tickled by how resplendent your progeny appear in the matching outfits you put them in. Your kids? Not quite so much.
2. Oh and those outfits? Someone will be missing the matching shoes already and will have to wear sandals. Shake it off, sister.
3. As much as you’d love for this to be an activity the whole family is a part of, there is no way you’re doing this on the weekend just so your husband can be there. NOPE. The middle of the week is a much safer time, sanity-wise, for this outing.
4. Having a private chat with the one kid who doubts Santa is real before you leave the house is probably a good idea.
5. Every one minute of actual wait time is equivalent to 14 years of wait time in a kid’s mind — and they have no problem letting you know.
6. Bribing your kids with sticky lollipops to make it through the wait is a mistake you will only make once.
7. “Are we there yet?” is almost funny when you all can plainly see you won’t be next in line for at least another dozen or so families.
8. Signs that say, “Please, no cell phone photos” mean nothing to you.
9. A scratchy tag on a new pair of pants can ruin everyone’s day.
10. It’s impossible to decide which is more awkward: Your kid painfully pulling at a Santa’s real beard, or pulling off a Santa’s fake beard.
11. Someone really should come up with a Velcro-based solution to wiggly kids on slippery laps.
12. The worse you look, the more likely your kids will insist you be in the photo, too.
13. You can perfectly time the feeding and watering and pottying of your brood so they arrive spotless for their photos, but that doesn’t mean they still won’t require additional feeding and watering and pottying at least three more times before the photo is finally taken.
14. It’s anyone’s guess as to which kid will decide to be terrified upon greeting Santa this year, so place your bets!
15. At least one Barbie will sneak her way into the family photo.
16. Your kids’ holiday wish lists are the approximate length of the Sea Scrolls, yet nothing will come to mind to ask for when they get a chance to ask the jelly-bellied man in charge.
17. Unless, of course, they passionately request “the one thing” they decided they wanted more than anything else, and it’s total news to you.
18. Once all kids are seated on/next to/within a reasonable proximity to Santa, you have ZERO shame in acting like an insane noisemaking goofball in order to get a smile caught on film.
19. One of your kids will decide that since he’s waited this long, he should be able to have a private audience with Santa to talk about life and stuff. Be prepared to carry him away.
20. No matter how frustrated you feel at the high cost of the indecipherable packages they offer, when you get your hands on the final prints your chest will tighten and you’ll grin like a fool in love at your beautiful babies.
21. The crazier the photo comes out, the more happiness it tends to bring each year you put it on display, proving that perfection is absolutely in the eye of the beholder.