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Taking photos of kids on Santa’s lap wasn’t exactly my dream job, but it involved a lens and it paid. The starving artist thing worked for the twenty-something version of me, but as I passed into my 30s, I talked myself into compromising a little. A guy needed to eat. And as far as compromises go, this one could have been worse.
“Ok, say, ‘Jingle Bells!'”
The six-year-old twin boys were more interested in shoving each other and demanding toys from Larry, our shopping mall Santa, but that actually made for good photos. I snapped off a few shots of the tussle before refocusing them to capture that Christmas magic.
“Guys, want to guarantee you’ll get everything you want for Christmas?”
The fighting died and all attention was on me. “How?” they asked in unison.
“You look right here.” I pointed to the nose of the camera. “And say, ‘I love you, mommy.'”
“I love you, mommy—” Flash. Got it.
Got a ‘thank you’ from their mother, too, frazzled as she was. I wondered if she’d be thanking me come tomorrow, when her kids were tearing open their presents and looking for their ‘everything they wanted.’
Making moments like that was the rewarding part of the gig. My only real problem with it was the uniform. No, let’s call it what it is: a costume. Larry got to hide behind a beard and a red felt fat suit. Me? My identity was as exposed as my pride. The ears and conical hat did nothing to disguise me, and let’s not even get into the tight, red leggings.
But like I said, it could have been worse. I’d made it to Christmas Eve with some of my dignity intact. More than that. Watching a kid’s face light up as he sat in Santa’s lap could make my entire day.
“Alright, next family.” That was Francis, head elf and director of this little slice of the North Pole. He was also a total prick. “Come right up. And no personal cameras!”
I peeked through the doors of the makeshift structure that passed for Santa’s workshop. The line extended through the staged front yard and out into the shopping mall proper, which was obscured by the escalators. When I woke up this morning, I thought Christmas Eve would be light. Ha!
“Suzy, get up there.” The bark belonged to the father of the next family unit entering “Santa’s Workshop.” He ushered his young daughter onto Santa’s dais, her jaw set and nostrils flaring. This had trouble written all over it.
“But Dad, I don’t want to.”
“We’ve been standing in that damn line for the last hour. It’s too late to back out now. We’re getting this photo.”
Oh boy, this wasn’t good.
“Neat trick with that last family. Got any more?”
Suzy’s mom, presumably, stepped up beside me. Her eyes were on the scene before Santa, and mine were all over her. This was another reason I loved my job: the moms. Dark haired and willowy with freckles dappling her pretty face, Suzy’s mother wore dark, skinny jeans, brown boots, and a loose, lacy blouse over a darker tank top—a cool mom. There was also something naggingly familiar about her.