We've taken the kids to visit Santa every year since Jacob was 5 months old. The pictures taken at these visits are among my most treasured possessions. In all but a couple of our nine Santa pictures, at least one child is deeply unhappy about the situation. I love the screaming Santa pictures the most (I swear I'm not a sadist. In most of these years, the kid who had been screaming seconds earlier was waving "bye bye Santa" as soon as s/he left the chair and collected the candy cane, so I don't think any permanent damage was done). I just feel like these pictures capture my kids at very specific moments in time as they grow up, and I love them.
But this year was different. Caroline began verbalizing her dread of Santa Claus in September. Any mention of Santa brought tears. Santa ranked right up there with the Chick-Fil-A Cow on her personal stress-o-meter. Jacob and Elizabeth tried to tell her how awesome Santa is and how he brings toys at Christmas, and her response was pretty much "No! I don't want any toys!" That is serious Santaphobia right there. The older kids turned on her at that point in fear that she was going to ruin it for everybody. It got kind of ugly.
In the middle of all this, I began to worry about the annual Santa picture. It's one thing to ambush a one year old with a quick sit-on-Santa-and-snap-a-picture; sure, they may not like it, but they didn't see it coming, it's over really fast, and they recover before they even leave the Santascape. Kind of like getting a shot. It's quite another to force a visit on a three year old who has been telling you for months that she is afraid of Santa. I knew that I couldn't do that to Caroline. If she refused to go near him, I wouldn't force her. But I (and my two other little elves) were going to pull out ALL the stops to convince her that Santa is great!
So as I pondered various technological solutions to the problem (photoshopping Caroline into a picture of Jacob and Elizabeth with Santa?) the big kids and I went to work. First, I mapped out various Santa-seeing opportunities. I figured the more Santas we hit, the better our chances of catching Caroline in a Santa-seeing mood. Of course the mall Santas were always a possibility. I also thought about trying Breakfast with Santa at the zoo -- maybe Caroline would be more open to a visit if waffles were involved? Meanwhile, Jacob and Elizabeth tried to talk to her about the mechanics of a potential visit: ("You don't have to sit ON his lap, okay, Caroline? You can just stand sort of near him. You'll stand near him, right? Santa is NICE!!")
Santa -- Take 1. We went to a Santa brunch with David's brother's family. The brunch was in a huge ballroom, and Santa was on a stage on the exact opposite end of where we were sitting; i.e., we could not have been any farther away from Santa. Yet Caroline was still completely freaked out. We had to sit her so that her back was to him. She calmed down and ended up enjoying her lunch, but every once in a while she'd remember that he was in the room and tense up while her little eyes darted around the room trying to spot Santa and reassure herself that he was still far away. Of course, we didn't even attempt to talk her into a visit that day, and I left feeling very pessimistic about . . .
Santa -- Take 2. I signed the kids up for Painting with Santa at a local paint-your-own-pottery place. We've painted there for years, but we've never tried the annual Painting with Santa event before. I decided to sign the kids up when I realized that we were going to have problems getting the Santa picture this year. I thought that if Caroline could see Santa from a safe distance while she was doing something she loves (painting), maybe she'd warm up to the idea of getting near him. She cried the whole car ride to the pottery place. I assured her that she would not have to see Santa if she didn't want to, that she could just paint if that's all she wanted to do -- but the big kids wanted to see Santa, so they should get to see him, and I would hold onto her the whole time if that is what she wanted.
We got in there and she spotted Santa Claus, and she clung onto me for dear life. But she actually calmed down a little as we approached him. There was no way she would let go of me and walk up to him herself, but she stopped crying and seemed more curious than anything. At that point I asked if we could walk to stand near him while Jacob and Elizabeth visited with him, and she agreed. And then we got the annual Santa picture:
Sure, I would have rather had just the kids in the picture like we have for the past eight years, but believe me, this is way more than I expected to get this year, so I'll take it.
Strangely enough, as soon as the picture was taken (but before we left the Santa room), Caroline got down and actually seemed to be warming up to Santa a bit. He talked to her a bit, and she answered his questions and waved goodbye to him.
It's a little sad to think that this might be the last year of such extreme Santa drama for us. Caroline will be 4 next year, and in all likelihood, much more enthusiastic about visiting with Santa. She certainly concluded her "Santa terror" years with a bang, though. Thanks for letting mommy get her picture, honey.