From their second-level perch, it’s apparent that the line starts just outside the food court, winds around the snow-flocked enchanted forest, and doubles back in front of Auntie Anne’s pretzel cart.
That’s convenient – the mom decides as she takes the hand of each of her 4-year-old twins (one of whom is my Goddaughter!) and heads toward the escalator. Queued up a mere three families back from the melt-in-your-mouth goodness that will be lunch, my best friend shoots me this text from New Jersey: Crazy crowded this year!
They wait, they giggle, they squirm, and they eat pretzels. They wait some more. Soon they will see Santa Claus.
Like many of us, my friend has a chosen Santa – the one she prefers to take her kids to see each Christmas. Ours was at Willow Lawn, the shopping hub in the city where the line was predictably short and Santa was reliably sweet. Every year, we brought him a warm and gooey roll straight from Cinnabon, which one time he actually polished off right in front of us. It was truly magical.
We didn’t start here though. Our first Christmas as parents, we bundled our not quite 2-month-old in a snowsuit fit for an Inuit baby, drove 2.2 miles on treacherous suburban streets, and waited in a line to see Santa, along with hundreds of other Richmond parents and their children – at a mall.
We have a picture to prove it. In fact we have two of them. The first one features Santa holding our precious angel. Her neck is unsupported; her tiny head is pitched forward.The second one has proud Daddy in it, too – scowling at Santa and cradling baby Sam the correct way, basically schooling the old guy on how to hold an infant.
The following Christmas, our family-friendly office party included a meet ’n greet with Santa and Mrs. Claus. We were encouraged to take all the pictures we wanted of our kids interacting with the jolly couple. Here, co-workers’ little ones, clad in holiday dresses and festive sweaters, skipped up to Santa and presented him with their wish lists. Fifteen-month-old Sam sheepishly worked the perimeter. We were off the hook completely.
A year later, after our second child came along, we were shopping at Willow Lawn during the holidays and … “Would you look at that? It’s Santa!” For the first time everything went right. Which is to say, we did not even ask Santa to hold our new baby girl, who at just two weeks in the world slept in heavenly peace the entire time. As for Sam, after some discussion, she did agree to stand close enough to Santa for a picture. This time she was the one scowling.
After that, the momentous visits to Santaland piled up like presents under the Angel Tree. There was the year I decided it might actually be a good idea to see Santa on Christmas Eve. (Our longest wait ever at 45 minutes, but a great picture!) The year we tucked the wish lists in the Cinnabon bag, gave it to Trudy the elf, and fled because a little one’s fever had spiked. And the year we decided to give Santa Claus another chance to show he knew how to hold an infant.
Note to Santa: Never jiggle a 2-month-old baby, even if she does seem to respond to your jingle bells. If you’re wondering whether she has just eaten, this is a sure way to find out.
But now my Santa babies are too grown up to sit on the big fella’s lap. And Willow Lawn, although still one of my favorite places to shop, has turned itself inside-out. These days, Santa stops there for special appearances, but there’s no real place for him to set up shop for the whole season. (Hey, maybe he’ll meet us for lunch at Noodles one day!)
Meanwhile, back in New Jersey, the line is moving slowly. My friend and her twins find it curious that the kids coming out from the cordoned-off area with their moms are carrying sunglasses instead of candy canes like last year. And you know that nagging feeling you sometimes get when you wonder if you’re in the right line? After another half-hour in line my friend realizes that her little family hasn’t been waiting to see Santa at all.
OMG! It’s Snooki! She texts me. And the final message that day? No worries! The line for Santa is much shorter!