Every mother who dresses their child in a special outfit to go see the mall Santa knows that there’s a certain amount of pressure. (Especially if you’re a type A personality like me – everything must…be…perfect!!!) You figure it could go one of two ways: your child could smile like the cherubic angel they are, or they could wail in hysterics as you choke back your own tears. “Honey,” your husband may console you, “just think! One day, we’ll look back on this crying picture and laugh at it!” But it’s not funny now!!
I am a control freak, so I casually decided one Friday morning to just wing the Santa experience. I went early on a week day to avoid the crowd, and tried to manipulate the experience to be “no big deal”. If Harry cried, I would laugh and try again. While waiting in line, I noticed they added a new section where you can take a family portrait standing by a winter backdrop. I plopped Harry down and, to my surprise, he stood very well and allowed his picture to be taken. Next came Santa. He looked the part and seemed friendly, and all his helpers seemed to be Grandmas, so I had high hopes. I sat Harry down on Santa’s lap – no tears, but no smiles either. We went off to wait for our pictures.
Back track to Santa’s helpers being Grandmas – bless their hearts, they were trying to work the computers as best as they could but were having such difficulty. I patiently waited with my good little boy who watched the trains for about twenty minutes. Finally, it was our turn. The picture of him standing on his own made him look like a demon. His eyes were reflected in a weird sort of way and he was grimacing like he was bracing for an attack. No good. Next, the Santa pictures. I don’t know how I missed it, maybe I was focused on his smile or lack of tears, but Harry’s right ear was all the way down to his right shoulder. He looked like something was wrong with him. Fast forward to what is actually the problem.
Through this whole process I was consciously trying to be calmer and cooler about my lack of control in the situation, but I was avoiding the real issue – I wanted Harry to look like a normal kid. Santa holds all different ages of children, and he’s taught to be safe with the ones that can’t sit up or hold their head up, and he felt that with Harry so he cradled him. I went to leave to head off my breakdown, but Grandma #2 kindly suggested a retake. I agreed and sat Harry down with Santa again.
“I’m sorry, Santa, but the pictures came out a little silly!” I apologized.
“Don’t worry, young lady, it only means I get to see your son twice!” Santa smiled. What a nice guy! I thought.
All too soon I was ushered away and Harry was, again, tucked into the crook of Santa’s arm and onto his shoulder. It’s at this point that I feel the familiar hot, tight feeling in my throat. I swallow quickly, zone out and try to make Harry smile, then gather my child and check our pictures.
Twenty long minutes later, I’m looking at pictures where no one is smiling, not even Santa, and my child looks like a child with problems. I try to run away, but the Grandmas insist: Go and eat lunch, come back, and we’ll try again. My head is spinning.
Lunch passes, Harry barely eats. I’m fighting off a meltdown and I’m unfortunately short with him. These little events seem like nothing to the mom of a normal child. For me, I want him to sit up on Santa’s lap. I want to buy him a bike. I want him to run in to my room on Christmas morning and wake me up, and I can complain about how early it is but be secretly happy. These normal things I long for, and I either obsess over them or push them completely out of my mind.
Attempt #3. Santa asks what he can do to make the picture what I’d like. I try to calmly explain that I’m not a crazy person, I profusely apologize, and ask if Harry can sit up on his knee. Santa tells me he’s trying but that Harry seems unstable, which he really isn’t. I get him on Santa’s knee and Harry starts to melt down. I try to get him to smile but he starts to get agitated. I beg, and he opens his mouth to say Cheese, and the last three bites of chicken nuggets I forced him to eat fall out of his mouth – I didn’t even know they were in there. I gather my child and his undigested chicken, thank Santa, and retreat to the line.
Fifteen minutes later, I’m wrecked. I thank the Grandmas but kindly refuse the last set of pictures, as Harry looks downright insane. Grandma #2 gives me a print out of a picture from the second attempt and tells me it’s her Christmas gift to me. I thank her and start to walk away, overwhelmed with the need to explain. I turn around to try to explain to her, but she’s busy. I go find Grandma #1 who is taking pictures. I try to say the following, but somewhere in the middle I start to sob hysterically and it gets lost: I’m so sorry, and thank you for your patience. I swear I’m not a crazy parent or a bad customer. (Oh I know you’re not, honey! You’re a great parent and you’ve been wonderful, she says). It’s just that my son has a muscular disease, and all I want is a normal picture of him with Santa.
She tells me the following: I know there is something different with your son, that’s why I was trying to get a good picture. I hope you two have a blessed holiday.
My walk through the mall to the exit is an embarrassing one, as I’m sobbing. And to think, I was worried about Harry crying!
The moral of my story is this: stop focusing on what isn’t, or what can’t, or what is so terrible. What I missed was the experience of seeing Santa. I couldn’t get it out of my head that Harry was going to have trouble with this or that. I’m learning to let certain things go, but it isn’t easy. This isn’t a sad story, because I learned from it and I won’t make the same mistake again. So enjoy our Santa picture, and more importantly, enjoy the season!