Normally on Thursday nights, the boys finish up their tennis lesson and then spend an hour and a half scarfing pizza and playing ping pong with friends at the club while Zoe has her lesson. But, because of the need to fit 25 things into a schedule better suited to accommodate 18 things, not to mention the potential for a winter storm this weekend, with a little request from Zoe best summed up as WHEN AM I GOING TO SEE SANTA thrown into the cornucopia of chaos, occasionally things need to be rearranged. As a result, last night did not fall under their category of Super Fun.
In order to avoid giving them the opportunity to verbally object to the schedule change, I texted Zach from the car with a little something like "Santa mall meet me in parking lot now." Since I didn't get a reply in the form of either a message or the sight of a boy coming out the door, I followed this message up with a phone call that included phrases like "I know you don't want to but you have to, I don't want to hear it, it will not take forever, yes I know you hate malls, yes malls are stupid" and finally "GET IN THE CAR!"
We hadn't taken four steps inside the automatic door before Zach's I HATE MALLS chant began. Keeping in mind that I hate malls too, and considering the fact that the first thing we were subjected to was the olfactory assault courtesy of the Macy's cosmetics department, this chant did not boost my Christmas spirit and I started to feel a little claustrophobic. Fortunately, he broke into the second verse of his chant, and it went a little something like this: I hate malls and I'm hungry.
After "dinner" in the food court, during which I felt like I was trapped in a John Hughes movie - the lighting, the bad Christmas music being piped in, the neon Sbarro sign with the burned out "o", the teenagers making out and the exhausted woman forcefully shoving her crying, snowsuited child into a stroller - we wandered around trying to find Santa's Village. As soon as I saw the tips of the fake evergreens in the distance, the boys decided to head to the bathroom. I'm sure Santa wishes that more kids would make this a priority before they sit on his lap.
Zoe and I waited in the shortest Santa line I've ever seen (aka we were the only people in line) and after (hopefully) washing their hands, the boys joined her. I pulled out my phone to snap a couple pictures, and that's when Bi-Focal-Wearing Helper Elf quickly intervened.
Elf: Excuse me, no pictures allowed. You need to buy something.
Me: But I don't want anything. I just want a picture.
Elf: Then you can buy a picture.
Me: But I don't want to buy a $17 8x10. I want a $0 picture.
Elf: Well, usually people buy pictures.
Me: I just want to take one picture. I promise I won't tell.
Elf: How about a keychain? Or a magnetic frame?
Me: I don't want a keychain or frame. I just want a picture.
Elf: Well, I guess if I don't see you take the picture...
Me: Merry Christmas.
Santa turned out to be pretty cool. He thanked my boys for cooperating with their mom, said they are nice kids and told them to enjoy their much-needed time off from school during the Christmas break. He didn't throw in any fake Ho-Ho-Ho's or rub his bowl full of jelly or bother to share any wacky tales from the North Pole, all of which my boys appreciated and, judging by the smile on her face, I'm sure Zoe didn't miss.
On our way out (which, by the way, was expeditious due to Zach's saying "Do you know the way to the car? Yes? Well, then, let's go straight there making zero extra turns, without stopping to look at anything.") Zoe asked me the question that all parents dread: Was that Santa real?
I stopped walking (inducing an eye roll from Zach who, after throwing his arms in the air, kept walking), looked at Zoe and without a hint of doubt in my voice said, "Well of course he's real. Who else would it be?"
Yes, I looked my child in the eye and lied. But I am NOT losing the Santa card to a six-year-old. After all, it's still three weeks until Christmas.