I clearly remember the anxiety of visiting Santa Claus in the mall. I won't go into it, because Jean Shepard has already written the definitive description of that experience.
However, I will note that I had one chance to tell Santa what I wanted, to convince him that I was worthy and do just enough schmoozing to ensure a bountiful Christmas morning. One chance.
Last weekend, Santa appeared at two libraries, the mall and the fish pier. Two weeks ago, he made five appearances, one involving a fire truck. For those of you not keeping score, that's nine appearances in two weeks.
"Grace, did you tell Santa everything you'd like to get when you saw him in the VFW Lounge?"
"No. I forgot to say Baby Alive."
"Don't worry, sweetie. We can catch him next weekend at the retirement home, the police station, Kate's Seafood and Lobster Shack, the corner of 4th street and Elm, Bank of America, the dump, The Wellfleet Oyster Festival (between 12:00 and 2:00) and/or Thompson's Paints and Hardware on Rte. 3!"
"Gee, thanks, Dad! But, when does he have time to make the toys?"
"Go to bed."
I told my wife, "We'll see Santa once. That's it. Can't the kids tell them apart? I mean, they've got the suit, but they're not identical."
"Nah," she says. "They just see the outfit and the beard. Santa is Santa to them."
"Well, I don't like it," I said. "It's like he's on a media junket. Britney Spears made fewer public appearances last year."
"Fine," she said. So there we were last Sunday, bundled in the car and driving to the Lady's Free Library to watch Santa and Mrs. Claus read a story, distribute candy canes and scare the living hell out of everyone under two.
Grace, being an old pro at 4, sauntered over and made her wishes known in a clear, matter-of-fact tone that said, "I fully expect to be accommodated."
William, being two, shrank back in horror before muttering "purple truck." We got our photos and everyone was happy.
On the way home, the kids were chewing on candy canes and I was fumbling for Christmas music on the iPod.
"There," I said to my wife. "Wasn't that nice? One simple visit. The kids were enchanted and we got a nice photo."
"Yeah," she said. "Do you think OH MY GOD BUZZ!"
"What?" I asked. She was as white as a sheet, her mouth hanging open. I thought, "Holy cow, she's having a stroke."
"Oh my God oh my GOOOOOOODDD," she repeated.
"The fourth grade turtle. I was supposed to take him home this weekend. He's been in the school the whole time with his heat lamp turned off. Oh my God, I've killed Buzz."
My wife is a teacher. She thought she'd treat our kids last weekend by bringing home Buzz, the box turtle who lives in the fourth grade classroom.
She didn't expect to be standing before the school on an icy December afternoon, watching as a police officer unlocked the door so she could "...see if the 4th grade turtle is dead." Nor did she expect to be at the pet store on Sunday evening buying a box turtle.
If kids can't tell one Santa from another, how hard could it be to fool them with turtles?
I'm glad to report that Buzz survived his weekend alone. Despite chilly conditions and little food, he pulled through. A Christmas miracle. We were overjoyed.
Happy holidays, everyone.