Perfect Santa

Jennifer Scharf essays

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It’s that time of the year again—time to take the kids to sit on Santa’s lap, practically guaranteeing that one day someone will turn to you with photographic evidence and say, “This is the reason why I am so screwed up.”

What is the obsession with taking—or rather, making—defenseless little children sit on Santa’s lap? I could care less if my kid believes in Santa Claus. But somehow I have become one of those crazed lunatics who stand in line at the mall waiting to capture the holiday moment.

Now, I have to admit, last year’s Christmas card was pretty spectacular. My toddler daughter was screaming a perfect O-shaped scream in a perfect little dress sitting on the lap of a perfectly real-whiskered Santa Claus. Best Christmas card ever.

I don’t think I will ever top it but the season is approaching, and we need to gear up for another epic Christmas card image.

I just can’t wait to get that adorably-lovable-crying-on-Santa shot again. In fact, I think I might be able to get a five-year run out of it.

And so today we went back to the mall. Same Santa, same sort of red corduroy dress, with just a hint of Scotch plaid on the collar and cuffs and a grosgrain black bow in her hair matching her black tights and patent leather shoes.

As I carried my daughter toward the 50-foot tree beside what looked like a 30-foot couch, I could feel her cling to me like a sloth on a tree branch in the rain forest.

“There he is!” I said, peeling her body off me and standing her next to St. Nick.

She froze.

“Hello there, little lady,” he said in a Nicolas Cage Con Air southern accent.

I froze. Wrong Nic.

“That’s a beautiful dress you have on. Such a purty little girl.”

And there was a twinkle in his eye.

No, no, no!

What happened to my crème de la crème Neiman Marcus Santa? Why was he replaced with Larry the Cable Guy!

Better to get this over quickly. I dumped my daughter on the Alice in Wonderland-ish couch and made a beeline to the camera. I jumped up and down and said, “Over here—look, over here!” Basically making myself a photographer’s worst nightmare.

My daughter’s face turned red, and tears were coming from her eyes.

“Now, now, now!” I yelled at the photo lady. “Get it!”

Apparently I had to spell it out to this nitwit that I wanted exactly the shot that she was avoiding: terrified child screaming on Santa’s lap. I mean it’s a rite of passage. Every kid does it. Just take the damn picture!

Instead the photographer tries everything short of standing on her head. Baby talk. Cooing noises. Stuffed animals in the face. A princess crown that would have totally ruined the shot anyway. A giant faux gift she then took back (how is that supposed to help?). And finally, the photo lady asked me to sit up there with them.

I tried to get out of the frame by leaning practically into a backbend off the arm of the couch.

“Okay, ready, 1, 2, 3,” the photo lady said, as she was going to launch a rocket backwards or something.

I held onto my girl under the Christmas dress, and I tickled her under her arms. She laughed, red-faced and eyes swollen.

“We got it!” the photo lady exclaimed.

I looked at the three photos she presented. And there it was: the perfectly tortured child with the perfect Santa. Tears streaming down her panicked cheeks in her beautiful red corduroy dress.

And I couldn’t buy it. It just wasn’t funny the second year.

Instead, I bought the “laughing” picture. One of my legs was protruding out from under the Christmas dress. My poor girl appeared to have a floating bobble head.

But she was smiling. Sort of.

And I knew the memory of this day, many years from now, would make us laugh—even if we were sitting on a therapists couch together.


About the Author

Jennifer Scharf

Jennifer Scharf is a Boston based writer and producer. Her work has been featured in McSweeney's, Lost in Suburbia Stories and Writer's Digest. You can follow her on , check out her and .

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