Monday, December 17, 2012

The Santa Photo

I don’t know what to say about this picture … except that I am so glad it turned out exactly like it did.

When my wife, Lauren, and I got married 7 years ago, her first job was at Neiman Marcus’s corporate office. As a part of her job she often found herself in the flagship store downtown and thought it would be fun, if we had kids someday, to take them there for the classic Christmas picture with Santa. This year was our second of this “tradition”—as I lovingly point out to Lauren—where we drive by literally hundreds of Santas to patronize a store that abruptly laid her off during the 2008 financial crisis …but that is what’s great about sentimental things: you often block out the negative details.

Last Christmas Elliot was 9 months old, and we got a phenomenal picture. He was sitting up straight on Santa’s knee, looking right at the camera with a perfect smile. If you looked at that picture, all you could think about was what a happy day that must have been. It couldn’t have been further from the truth! First, we picked the worst day possible—the same day as the children’s parade—and most of the streets were blocked off. I neglected to fill the car up with gas, and we were nearly coasting as we searched for any available parking place (there weren’t any). After a painful 1.5 hours in the car, Lauren and I weren’t speaking, and Elliot was cranky. As we waited through the long line in the store, Elliot was moody and hungry … and so were his parents. The whole line experience was a white-knuckle ride. We struggled to keep Elliot from crying so much that it would be obvious in the picture, and I struggled to stop annoying my wife by pointing out the ridiculousness of driving 25 miles to take a picture we could have done across the street.

But then something amazing happened. When it was our turn, Elliot wasn’t sure what was going on, but he looked right at the camera and smiled … and click…the picture was taken. Then he burst into tears, and we had a disastrous ride back home that ended with me boldly proclaiming that this was the first and last time we would ever do this.

Not so much. But this year we were ready with a plan. We checked weeks in advance to find out when the parade was, and we picked a day we knew would be clear. Lauren even took out the great picture from last year and showed it to Elliot for days. Saying, “Elliot, you are going to meet Santa again. Look how happy you are in this picture.” Elliot would go around the kitchen saying “Santa, Santa.” We knew this was going to go great.

The day arrived, and we had a beautiful drive downtown, found a great parking spot right across the street from the store and were in line early, right as Santa was about to start for the day. We had eaten a big breakfast and were addressing each other with a few extra “pleases and thank yous.” It was a perfect day. Elliot was enthralled by the activity in the store and behaved like a champ in line.

Then something crazy happened. When it was our turn to go and Lauren took a step toward Santa, Elliot flipped out. And I mean he went nuts, arched his back, kicked his legs, and made a scene like we’ve never experienced before. Santa was waiving us off!

We didn’t know what to do, so we just stood there to the side, watching. They told us we could slide back in when he calmed down, but he wasn’t calming down. Not even a little. So we had a decision to make. We didn’t go through all this effort to leave empty-handed, so Lauren and I decided we would be in the picture, too. We’d hold him, walk up to Santa and let the chips fall where they may. A horrific picture was the result.

As soon as we walked away from Santa, Elliot was fine, so much so that we even spent more time downtown that day and had a great time. But for me, the best part of the day was that my wife and I were probably more excited with the picture we got than if he had behaved perfectly … because where’s the good story in that?

Jordan Echols is a Marketing Manager for Texas Health Resources and Dad to son Elliot.

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