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The Longest Santa Claus Line Ever

As you would expect of us, the Christmas season is one of the more chaotic times of year around here. In addition to the holidays, about 50% of our extended family has a birthday between Thanksgiving and New Year's. Not one year has gone by since we've been married that we haven't experienced at least one car trip where I'm wrapping a just-bought gift, John is speeding because we're running late, and we're both on edge, Happy Holidays, damn it! This year we tried so hard to avoid that scenario. As soon as John had some free weekends, we were the picture of efficiency - grocery shopping, cleaning, making gift lists, scheduling shopping times - we even, for the first time ever, prepared tins of goodies for our neighbors. They weren't really sure who we were when we dropped them off, since they probably all identify us as the Dysfunctional Family Who Should Remain Behind Locked Doors, but that's just a small detail. We delivered goodies; so what if it took us eight years to be decent human beings?

The other night, though, as we were scrambling to wrap all the presents we so efficiently bought in time for Christmas, I realized that we had forgotten a pretty major, time-bound activity: taking the kids to see Santa at the mall. I was willing to let it go, but the next day I had to buy one more thing for John, so Bryce and I went to the mall together, and there was Santa's lovely green velvet chair, and there was the garland-bedecked photo background, and there was the mile-long line of blank-faced parents and strollers and wound up toddlers, and there was Santa himself, looking almost as blank-faced as the 12,000 parents forming two semi-circles of a line around him, an only partially in-control mob, holding his biggest fans at bay. Bryce's mind visibly raced, then he looked at me, alarmed: "Today is the day before Christmas Eve! If I don't tell Santa what I want today, it will be too late, and he won't know what to bring!! Mom!" I couldn't think of a way to get out of this, but I made a feeble attempt: "You wrote him a letter. Besides, Santa knows what you want. Don't worry. And anyway, look how LONG that line is! We'd have to wait FOREVER. And Quinn and Dad aren't here."

Yeah, that didn't work. We drove home, picked up John and Quinn, and went back to the mall. Where. Santa. Was. On. Break. We thought we could wait it out. About half an hour went by before Santa came back, and then the line started moving about four inches every ten minutes. Dinner time was approaching, it was hot, the kids hadn't eaten since lunch, and we had nothing with us to keep them entertained in an enclosed, small space around dozens of people with quiet, still kids - if there has ever been a more perfect recipe for disaster, I haven't seen it. Quinn was, at all times, either writhing on the floor or calling Santa's name from 30 feet away. I kept telling him that he had to wait his turn to talk to Santa, but he would only turn and scowl at me and say, "I NEED TO TELL SANTA SOMETHING!" The only way we could get the kids out of there was by promising that we'd come back on Christmas Eve and be the first people in line.

The Head Elf told John that Santa would start his Christmas Eve shift at noon, but when we showed up today at 11:45 (Early! Look at us!), the line was suspiciously long, and Santa was already in his chair, smiling / staring blankly at the eerily happy elf in the green vest snapping pictures without warning. By the time we made it to the front of the line, John had walked Bryce to the food court, ordered food for the kids (who we apparently prefer to drag into long lines while they're starving, because we really enjoy being stuck in one spot with kids whose blood sugar is low and who already have a penchant for screaming in public), presented a veritable picnic on the waiting line bench for them, cleaned up their fast food aftermath, and taken about six dozen pictures of the whole thing. The sign at the entrance said Santa started at 9:00 a.m. That piece-of-crap Head Elf must be a liar. Right as the kid in front of us was hopping into Santa's lap, the guy in line behind us said, "Just watch. As soon as we get up there, Santa will go on his lunch break." I looked at John with death in my eyes and said, "For the love of God, if we get up there and Santa walks away..." John totally called my bluff and said with a little sarcasm and a lot of challenging disdain, "What? What will you do?" He and that liar Head Elf are both in the Piece-of-Crap Club, apparently.

Luckily Santa didn't start his break, and when the kid in front of us was done, Bryce and Quinn, up until now quivering with excitement and barely containing themselves long enough to keep from knocking over the mall decorations or hanging from my purse strap, approached Santa as if he were some kind of exotic animal who, while enticing and tantalizing, might also tear them limb from limb if they made the wrong move. I helped them into Santa's lap while he gazed into the distance and dreamed of one day awaking from his coma. When I backed up for the picture to be taken, Santa seemed to regain enough consciousness to ask the kids what they wanted for Christmas. I tried not to make my interest level too obvious, but Bryce has changed what he claims to want for Christmas every day for the past three weeks, and Quinn just follows suit. I didn't hear Bryce's answer, but I saw Quinn mouth, "a toy house" and Bryce told me after he was done that he asked Santa for "a hiding place."

Two days in line for the kids to ask Santa for completely random nonsense. Yep, that seems about right for us.

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