Ho Ho Ho! In the spirit of Christmas in July, here’s one of our favorite misadventures of all time rewritten with a little Stranger Things flair.
Oh how the child-like wonder of visiting Santa Claus fades when carting two non-believing older kids and a way-excited little man to the mall on the Sunday before Christmas. Yes, I said it. I went to the mall. Willingly. What was I thinking??
The mall: that dying symbol of American consumerism. Walking through the 1980s styled food court, I was assaulted by memories of off-campus lunch from high school. Sbarro? Nah, I’ll take some Scoops Ahoy tho.
I reached for the hand of my “too-cool” 10 year old as we headed to “Santa-land.” But, I felt like we had just transported to the Upside Down.
Gone were the vestiges of my youth, like Great American Cookie Company, the wonder of The Disney Store and the source of really inappropriate adolescent education – Spencer’s.
They were replaced by a Lu-La-Roe pop-up, seedy-looking phone stores and several mattress stores. As in multiple ones. Where was the Waldenbooks, the Sam Goody’s or the Kaufmann Shoes for heaven’s sake.
Empty storefronts littered the walkway as we descended down the concourse toward Santa. Did the lights just flicker? Around me The stuck-up teenagers from my youth were replaced by zombified stuck-up teenagers staring at glowing rectangles.
Oh, come Amazon Prime. Oh, come Facetime Santa. Oh, come El.
When I was a kid, visiting Santa was an experience. The queues were encased in elaborate Christmas displays that were just as fun to see that as the old man himself. Here, we met Santa underneath a leaning Christmas tree with at least a half-dozen strings of burnt-out, possibly blinking lights in it’s aging mid section. Gone was the Santa village of my youth. Now sits a mile-long maze of airport stanchions with dollar store decor.
Last in line, slightly outside of the TSA-esque zigzag, a harried, possibly Russian, elf curtly informed us the line was being cut-off now so Santa could take an hour break in 30 minutes. If we had been two seconds earlier, we would have been golden. Great now, we had to spend more time in this place.
At this point, I had two existential questions: Why is there not a box on the placement form for Child Has Met Santa. And, is it really that bad to break the news?
And, you mean to tell me the man that shimmies a bazillion chimneys in one night needs an hour for a slim jim & bladder management? His break room must have be at the bottom of a long elevator shaft.
The consolation prize was a fast pass to cut the line at 4, when his highness, er comrade, returned. Deep breath. We got this. Two angsty pre-pre teens and one 4 year old missing his nap for the man in red. There are worse things I said as my neck shivered.
And, the mall’s got a play area, this will be easy. Famous. Last. Words.
“Ew.. this place is not nice. I not going to play here,” said my new little man. Oh-kay fine. We only have 89 minutes left. We find a bench and start to play all the things we can think of with the race car in his hand. That worked pretty dang well.
After all, mamma ain’t wasting a mall trip to knock out some Christmas shopping at The Gap. But she did have the emergency electronic devices in her purse. And I got all the kids — on the other wing of the mall. No worries. I’ve done a tour of duty in the walkers room at church. I can handle this.
OH MY WORD. Can time not pass any slower? Did I mention it was 118 degrees in there?
We somehow find ourselves in the seasonal section of Dillard’s. Don’t ask. The clock seemed to have stopped. Consciousness was staring to go in and out. Then, an angel provided fancy gourmet popcorn samples for the three “I’m so hungry- but I just ate at Tijuana Flats” boys.
Time check: 25 minutes. We. Can. Make. It. Excitement and life returned as we floated down the mall almost singing uplifting Christmas songs like “Christmas Shoes,” high-fiveing Billy (he was cotton-headed ninny muggin) and arrived at the Santa shack, fast-passing ourselves to the front of the line. Glory Hallelujah- we made it!
4 p.m. No Santa.
4:05 p.m. No Santa.
4:10 p.m. Here he dawdles. He moves about as fast as Hopper. Kinda favors him too.
Praise Be. Even our too-old-to-believe kids played along for little man’s sake. They proceed to the candy cane colored chair and that’s when we had passed through the gate.
First, mamma got scolded for trying to sneak a cell phone pic instead of paying TWENTY-FIVE DOLLARS for a photo! Then, I tried to sneak a snap and Santa caught me. He slid the little ones off his lap before they could get their wishes out.
Next, undeterred, mamma marched over to the also-Russian photo elf, who looked like he was on work release and explained enough of little man’s story until she found one solitary heart string to get a ten-second shot at a photo of our littlest and St. Grump before being shooed away. As he agreed, the magnets fell from the kiosk. Odd.
And out we trotted, faster than Dustin could call for a Code Red Alert. We had one happy, yet oh-so-sleepy little man. Two grumpy, yet pleased boy-men and two exasperated parents. Totally. Worth. It. … Maybe.
Lessons learned: Mall Santa ain’t as glamorous as he used to be. When the magnets fall, get out. And, steer clear of Hawkins’ Santa and just call The Elves.
-Originally written December 2017.