There were too many people--big people, little people--in too small a space. There were pregnant women in corduroy, little girls in tights and patent leather shoes, and Girl Scouts wearing Santa hats everywhere I turned. Each of the parents seemed to pushing a stroller, wielding a video camera, or both. You couldn't bend over to pick up your daughter's paper antlers without having to apologize to someone. And I thought this--Breakfast with Santa--was a brilliant alternative to holiday madness at the mall.
The previous year, after waiting in line for an hour and half at the Dulles Town Center, I got a very expensive picture of my near-hysterical son on Santa's lap. His bottom lip was quivering so fast that I am still surprised that it was in focus. Halfway through our wait my daughter began logrolling across the floor in all her Christmas finery. It was time for a new plan. I figured at Breakfast with Santa two-year-old Garrett and three-year-old Claudia would have a chance to sit in the same room with Santa, become comfortable with his jolly presence, then naturally gravitate toward him to tell him what they wanted for Christmas. This was my slightly deluded reasoning.
I shouldn't complain really. I did have my own elf. She was a charming Girl Scout of about 10 or 11. I think her name was Lauren, but it was difficult to catch everything she said over the cacophony of Christmas carols and crying babies. She expertly put name tags on my children, showed them to their chairs, and then went to get them the waffles they were having for breakfast as I was juggling their coats, my purse, a diaper bag, and the camera.
I tried to get photos of my kids at this jolly little breakfast, but in the few photos I took, they are awash with misery. In the 40 seconds it took me to slowly pick my way to the other side of the table, they had decided that I was leaving without them. In one photo Garrett is holding his arms out to me; Claudia looks like an orphan.
The Girl Scouts did outdo themselves. There were juice boxes, crayons, and a plastic Christmas mug full of goodies, but both children refused to wear their paper antlers and Lauren the elf looked a little crestfallen. She perked up when Santa arrived, and it was time to escort us up to see him. She even took it in stride in when Garrett wrapped his arms and legs around my left leg and buried his face in my jeans.
"You know, I don't think he wants to sit on Santa's lap," she whispered to me.
I whispered back: “Maybe next year.”
My reward? A photo of a very somber Claudia sitting on Santa's lap. Santa's beard had become detached and is drooping on the right side; Claudia looks like she has been subpoenaed to appear.
My son wasn't the only child who refused to sit with Santa. There was a great deal of crying going on and a fair number of mothers sat on Santa's lap themselves to quiet their kids. Still, if no one gets hurt, we don't have to change our clothes, and we have a picture to show for the trouble, it was a successful trip. Even so I think all three of us were genuinely relieved when we finally made it to the parking lot.
I feel an obligation to make merry. I want them to have good memories of holidays. So far even the mall photo with Santa has been worth something. It has already turned into one of our Christmas stories. Because of their ages, the kids will remember nothing of these holiday follies, except what images they conjure from hearing the stories and seeing the images. But those are the things that will endure.