This was supposed to be the year. This was the year we’d finally get a photo of our two children with Santa Claus.
Last Christmas, our son, Lyric, then 2, finally overcame his fear, giving us our first shot with the Big Guy sans waterworks.
Our daughter, Aria, on the other hand, was a different story. At 11 months, she couldn’t get within 15 feet of Santa without her body tensing into a board, her hands balling up into tiny fists and tears flowing in rivers down her cheeks. The only photo we took of Aria was her in the arms of my wife, Jess, with Santa in the blurry background.
In the months leading up to Christmas this year, Jess and I debated whether Aria, now 22 months, would follow in her brother’s valiant footsteps. After all, she is the braver of the two — willing to fling herself off furniture and, much to our dismay, playground equipment should the mood strike.
To prepare Aria, we showed her photos and books featuring Santa. She even watched — almost every evening for two weeks — the Santa episode of her favorite cartoon.
And although we held out hope, deep down, I believe we knew better. We decided to forgo the expensive, worn-only-for-a-photo-with-Santa dress.
Just in case she doesn’t sit on Santa’s lap, we reasoned.
Instead, we dressed both in jeans and red shirts we already owned. Can’t go wrong with matching outfits, right?
On the big day last Sunday, Lyric, now 3, was ready. We had rehearsed exactly what he wanted to tell Santa, and we even gave him a special key to give to him to get into our house.
But even before we arrived at the mall, Aria made clear her intentions.
Aria, do you want to see Santa Claus? We asked her.
Noooo, she replied.
Aria, are you sure? Let’s go see Santa!
No! She repeated, emphatically. Don’t want to. Don’t want him.
As we waited in line, Jess and I did our best to convince Aria Santa was no one to fear. She watched as kid after kid happily jumped into his lap and smiled for the camera. No tears, no drama.
But as we inched closer, Aria grew quiet. And when we were next in line, she turned to her stroller and tried to climb back in.
Don’t want to! Don’t want him!
And even before the children before us were finished, Aria was kicking, screaming and trying to claw her way away.
Are we going to try this? Santa asked me.
Lyric climbed up into Santa’s lap, and Jess knelt beside him with Aria flailing in arms.
But before I could take a single shot, Santa looked at me.
Maybe not, he suggested.
Jess immediately whisked Aria away. Lyric seemed unfazed and flashed his perfect, ear-to-ear, toothy grin, which you see here. What this image doesn’t show is the sweat from embarrassment beading on my forehead and poor Jess, just to the right of Santa’s seat, holding onto Aria as she carried on as if we were leading her to the slaughter.
Before Lyric left Santa’s lap, I asked him why Aria was so afraid.
She’s just being silly, he told me.
When it was all over, Lyric stood by Aria’s side and put his arm around her. He understood. He had been there before. He had known that fear.
Oh, Christmas tree …
Lyric and Aria jump in circles around me as I pull each of the three pieces of our pre-lit Christmas tree from the box.
(Hey, don’t judge. Yes, I’d prefer a real tree with all its smells and authenticity. But, prickly pine needles and two toddlers don’t mix.)
I carefully piece together the tree and search in its branches for all the color-coded plugs for the lights. With everything in place, I crawl behind and find the main plug. I take a deep breath and plug it into the wall.
Ooohhhh, Lyric exclaims.
Lights! Aria adds.
Yes, lights. But not all of them.
The middle and top of the tree remain stubbornly dark.
And so begins the search for the unplugged plug. I part the branches and peer into the darkness. I dig into the box and find the instructions (which actually only contain pictures).
Nothing. Everything looks like it’s in order.
So, I take a less tactical approach. A little jiggle here, a jostling there. Lyric giggles and hits a few branches too. After a few seconds, the top lights pop on.
What did you do? My wife asks.
I don’t know, I reply, perplexed.
I shrug and chalk it up to a Christmas miracle.
Sadly, the jiggling never produced the same results for the middle, so this year, our tree looks like it’s wearing a cummerbund. But the kids don’t care — and for that, I am grateful.
As we celebrate the Christmas season and the end of another year bringing you the East County Observer, we’d like to take a moment to thank each and every one of our loyal readers and advertisers.
It is an absolute joy and privilege to publish this newspaper each week, and we know it would not be possible without your continued support. We thank you for allowing us into your homes, businesses and lives. We are honored to be a part of this community.
If you are traveling this holiday season, please be safe. Love every minute you have with your family and friends. From all of us at the East County Observer: Merry Christmas and happy holidays.