It’s a harmless question my friend asks me – are you going to take the kids for a Santa photo? – but the answer is complicated.
So let me set the scene. It’s a rainy summer Sunday and we need to get our two rambunctious little rascals out of the house or risk losing our sanity. I think it was when my four year old decided to build a lego skateboard and try it out on our staircase that I knew we had to get out. Fast.
And where to take a four year old and a two year old and two stressed out parents on a stormy day near Christmas time? Come to think of it there were so many options we could have taken – a soft play centre, a visit to the grandparents house, the movies, a café for lunch. But along with every other parent on the North Shore, or so it seemed, we decided to take our over-energised little hellions to the shopping centre to soak up some Christmas spirit in the form of a large jolly man in a red suit. We took them to see Santa.
We waited in line with all the other families while trying desperately to ignore the whining and endless questions. Their dad bought them each a donut while we waited to try and calm them down. Because, you know, sugar helps in these situations. And finally our turn came. Being the cheapskate that I am I was hoping to surreptitiously steal a quick shot on my iPhone rather than pay the exorbitant price for a professional Santa photo. I know, I know, how will Santa pay for reindeer food and elf uniforms if people don’t buy photos.
“Santa, I’m Lachlan. I’ve been mostly good but a little bit naughty this year so I think I’ve got a couple of presents coming my way on Christmas Day. And I want a flying skateboard. I’ve never seen them in the shops, but I’m pretty sure you have pixie dust because your elves are probably friends with Tinkerbell. So you should be able to make it fly.” Well that explains the morning’s activities then.
My husband is standing about two metres away vehemently shaking his head at Santa, but Santa either doesn’t see him or doesn’t know how to respond. A common response to Lachie’s proclamations. My husband’s hesitance is well founded. Last week Lachie wanted to find out if his scooter would work in the pool. A skateboard, he tells me, will only add to the severity and frequency of the inevitable injuries and subsequent trips to emergency that are most likely part and parcel of being Lachie’s parent. Luckily we haven’t found that out yet but as he gets bigger, cockier and more adventurous, we fear the worst.
“Well, I’ll talk to my chief elf and see what I can do! Ho ho!” I’m pretty sure that’s Santa’s line whenever he gets himself into trouble with parents.
“And who’s this little fairy princess?” My two year old daughter Lucy is lurking behind my skirt, terrified of the man in the very shiny very red tracksuit with what can only be described as an unusually large and unnaturally white beard. She’s not convinced.
“Do you want to ask Santa for a present Lucy?”
She’s still behind my skirt, but peeps her head out for a quick moment. The offer of a present is tempting but she’s not that easy to win over. “Chocolate!” She disappears again.
Santa is confused and doesn’t answer. I share his confusion, but maybe that’s just sleep deprivation from the three times Lachlan woke me up last night to go to the toilet.
“Lucy, do you want to ask Santa for a present for Christmas Day?”
And she looks me squarely in the eye because she has this whole Christmas thing figured out. “Yes. I want chocolate.” Well, fair enough. I do too. But she still won’t go near Santa and sit on his lap without screaming, (which is as traumatic for me as it is for her because her screams pierce the sound barrier), so I get a photo of Lachie and promise myself I’ll try again later for a shot of them both with Santa.
A week later we are at a Christmas party held by the hospital. Full of happy kids, sugar, and a sweltering male nurse buried somewhere under a pillow and a large red suit. This time I’ve come prepared. We’ve walked past Santa. We’ve read Santa stories. We’ve done our best to convince our wary little toddler that Santa is one of the good guys. We wait in line and I give her a cupcake to try and convince her to stay put, because I’ve caved even though I rolled my eyes when my husband did it.
She’s not that into it, she would really rather go and meet the grown up fairy painting the other kids faces. So I bribe her with the promise of transforming her into a mermaid fairy via “Tinkerbell the face artist”, (which, let’s be honest it is every little girl’s aspiration). Lachie is bouncing up and down, prattling off the presents he wants and can barely contain himself.
“So Santa. I told you last time I’ve been pretty good, but this week I’ve been even better. So Dad told me your elves can only really do skateboards for kids that are six and over. I’ll ask again not next year but the year after. For now, I’d like a remote control car and some pool toys and a water pistol and a few books, and…”
He trails off, noticing his little sister isn’t there.
“Lucy! Come on they give you Chocolate if you sit on Santa’s knee!” And with those words of encouragement she’s off like Santa on a turbo powered sleigh. She sits next to Santa instead of on his knee – because, well, he’s a stranger in a weird costume and all.
“…and a kitten, and three new lego kits, and-“
“And what would you like young lady?
“…and a remote control plane, and some new t-shirts with trucks on them…”
“…and a tennis set, and a new toy box because mine will be full, and…”
Finally Santa hands over the loot and she runs over to ask me to open it while Lachie is still making his case for a list of presents there’s no way he’s getting. I think his philosophy is to start high value and negotiate down to a number of presents he’s comfortable with. He’s not really interested in the chocolate, but as Santa pries him from his knee he accepts it with a last thought. “Santa, you didn’t write it all down – will you remember all that?” This kid could end up negotiating peace treaties with terrorists. He hands over the chocolate to his sister and runs off to spread his delightful brand of chaos on the play equipment. Lucy is already stuffing her face and standing patiently in line for her mermaid fairy face where after half an hour she happily sits on “Tinkerbell’s” lap while her fairy friend paints her a rainbow of colours. No shyness there.
And I take stock. I have one shot of Lachie with Shopping centre Santa and one of Hospital Santa, bith of which it appears he is deep in conversation hoping Santa will meet his demands. Perhaps his negotiation skills should be steered in a different direction, the look on his face is pretty menacing. And one shot of Lucy sitting next to Santa – In my jubilance to get the shot in the three seconds she sat there I have cut her brother out of the picture. And she has cupcake all over her face.
And now I get it. It’s really me that wants the photo. They are a bit nonplussed by Santa this far out from Christmas. When it comes down to it, all my little boy wants is a present that will probably injure him but give him great joy and instil in his parents great trepidation. And all my daughter wants is chocolate. And to look like a mermaid fairy.
There’s always next year.