The Santa Photo is the single most important of my holiday traditions. It is the one that I started when Mini Me was a baby, and it has happened every single year, henceforth. Mini Me has asked for a stopping point, seeing as though he is 17 years old. My answer was a bit vague….The Baby is only 7. I am thinking that The Baby must be at least 10, maybe 12, before The Santa Photo can come to an end, but even thinking about it coming to an end brings me to tears, so I refuse to go there. Mini Me can just plan on meeting me at Phipps Plaza when he is 30.
Mini Me was born on June 30, 1998, so when Christmas rolled around that year, he was about 6 months old. In Atlanta, the end-all, be-all; the Alpha and the Omega of all of Santa’s helpers, lives at Phipps Plaza. Well, you know he doesn’t actually live there, but just go with the story here. He is, or was, (the original passed away about 10 years ago, but is in half of our photos) the world’s most beautiful Santa. He not only looks like Santa should look, but he is dressed in beautiful, Christmasy clothing. He sits on a beautifully tufted love seat, in front of an enormous, gorgeous Christmas tree that is decorated with beautiful ornaments. All of this is set up right outside of Tiffany & Co. at Phipps Plaza. Back in 1998, first-time-mother that I was, I had not a clue. About a lot of things. But I had no clue that when my mother-in-law and I decided to take Mini Me to get his picture made with Santa at Phipps Plaza, that it was going to be a clusterfuck of such gigantic proportion that I thought I might have a nervous breakdown. I had not a single clue that it was going to take the entire day and that possibly 1,000,000 other people would be there with us. I had not a single clue that I would be so smitten with this Santa that I would go on to repeat this insane process year after year. I was about to be initiated into what became and still is one of my first psychomother obsessions: The Santa Photo.
My mother-in-law and I took Mini Me and his giant diaper bag full of junk, with his navy blue velvet outfit and his giant Peg Perego stroller, that had been the bane of my existence since I took it out of the box, to Phipps Plaza. It was a weekday morning, so my mother-in-law must have taken the day off of teaching school. This stroller, the one I picked out prior to Mini Me’s birth, was very difficult to close. It opened, of course, like a charm. Closing it, could quite often, not be done. I had actually thrown the thing across the parking lot at Cumberland Mall, once, after removing Mini Me from it. It took us 20 minutes to get all of this shit out of my car and assembled, but when we finally got into Phipps Plaza, we found a very, very, very long line. A long line that was not moving. My mother-in-law went to inquire. The answer was not at all what either of us wanted to hear. We were to stand in this very, very, very long line and wait to get a ticket. If we managed to even get a ticket–only a certain number of tickets would be handed out–we would come back a couple of hours later to stand in line for a few more hours and wait to see Santa. Oh My God. Seriously? We could not even see Santa from the end of this line. Shit. For that matter, we could not even see the top of the 20 foot Christmas tree from the end of this line. Okay. We stood in the damn line and waited. For about 3 hours. We did get a ticket, but we were almost the last people who did get one. We did not want to go home, because really, what was that going to accomplish? We wanted to be as far up in the next line as possible. Finally, finally, after hours and hours of waiting, it was time to dress Mini Me in his little velvet suit. I really don’t know how it all went down so smoothly. It was surely the only time Mini Me has cooperated in his entire life. At least for that length of time. My father-in-law and JC came over to Phipps to meet us, just in time to see the blessed event take place. The world’s most beautiful Santa took Mini Me and held him in one arm and looked down at him. The photographer took the picture. It could not have been more perfect. We got Mini Me back from Santa and made our way to the check out counter. I could not wait to get my hands on those pictures! I had not a clue what fresh hell awaited me. The lady at the counter informed me that I would not be taking the pictures with me right then. I was to pick out the package I wanted, and then I would have to come back in 5 days and pick them up! Was she fucking kidding me? I thought I might pass out. I could hear my heart beating in my ears. “Is there any way I could pay and put a rush on these?” I asked her. “No ma’am, ” she said, smiling at me, “they will be ready in 5 days, and you will have pictures you can enjoy for a lifetime.” Calling me ‘ma’am’ just really pissed me off. I was 28 years old. I did not enjoy being called ‘ma’am’. I had not enjoyed waiting in line for 8 fucking hours with a 6 month old. I was not enjoying any of this Phipps Santa bullshit. The mere thought of coming back down there in 5 days made me want to vomit. I felt my face heating up and I was certain that smoke was starting to billow out of my ears. I knew my crazy was starting to show and I needed to tuck it back in. I breathed. I felt tears spring to my eyes. “Okay,” I said. I looked down and wrote the check and handed it to her. “Thank you, ” I said, “See you in 5 days”. I got a grip and walked away from the counter. I did not want to make a complete ass out of myself–especially in front of my family. (Though I have, many times since, I am sure!) I was new at all of this. Mini Me was my first baby. I was so excited about his first pictures with Santa. I wanted them yesterday. I was completely deflated, but I guessed I would live. And I did live. JC picked the pictures up, 5 days later, as promised, on his way home from work. They were and are the most beautiful Santa photos I have ever seen. They are the quintessential Santa photo–in my opinion. They were definitely worth all of the bullshit it took to get them. Unfortunately, the next year, photos with Phipps’ Santa were not to be. Mini Me was sick the day that my mother-in-law took a day off work to accompany us. We did not know he was sick until we got down there. He started running a fever, so waiting in that God forsaken line was completely out of the question. We took him across the street to Lenox Square, for a less than stellar Santa photo experience, but that is the only Santa photo, out of 18 years of Santa photos, that has not been made with the famous Phipps Plaza Santa.
My kids get “Christmas Clothes” every year–to wear for The Santa Photo. When Mini Me and The Middle Child were little, they might be very matchy matchy and her smocked bishop dress would be the same material as his monogrammed shirt….or they would be color coordinated in some way. When The Baby came along, I just tried not to have them clash. I think I did a really good job over the years. This year, though, it was very difficult to please everyone. The Middle Child chose a really cute dress, but it is not red, it’s burgundy, which throws my whole color scheme off. I ended up just saying “fuck it” and bought The Baby a sweater from J. Crew that has a somewhat frightening skiing Yeti on it. Mini Me would have actually worn one, but much to our dismay, it did not come in his size, so he and I set out on a hunt for the ultimate Christmas sweater for him. We went back and forth on this, and just could not agree. Reindeer having a ménage à trois just was not going to happen. Santa, standing next to Jesus, wasn’t happening. Jesus, under the caption “Birthday Boy” was just inappropriate, and Jesus, under the caption, “We Gonna Party Like It’s My Birthday” was just beyond words, and I while there was a part of me that found that one hysterical, I knew Mothah might never recover from seeing her darling grandson wearing that one. During all of this back and forth texting of Christmas sweater photos, I sent Mini Me a photo of a National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation t-shirt that read, “When Santa Squeezes His Fat White Ass Down That Chimney Tonight, He’s Gonna Find The Jolliest Bunch Of Assholes This Side Of The Nuthouse”. I followed it with “LMAO”. A little while later, Mini Me and I got into an argument over something else–I can’t even remember what about now. Then I got a text of a hideous Christmas sweater. It was from the musician Ryan Adams’ website. It had Ryan’s name on it, and a horrid looking, evil cat with fangs on it. I am not a cat person, and that is putting it mildly. Since I do not care for them in person, I especially do not care for them on sweaters or any other articles of clothing. I could not imagine Mini Me at the Phipps Plaza Santa, in that heinous thing. I sent Mini Me a text back that said, “Hell to the Naw, Naw, Naw”. If you aren’t familiar with Bishop Bullwinkle, please go to YouTube and look him up after you finish this post. I don’t know if it is because Mercury has been in retrograde or what, but Mini Me and I have not been getting along very well as of late. We stopped texting about the Christmas sweaters that night. A couple of days later I got a text from Mini Me that said, “I will only wear that Jolly Asshole t-shirt you sent the text of, or that Ryan Adams cat sweater. You decide.” I have found, over the years, that it’s easier to pick my battles….