Yesterday was no different. I left a little early to go to the grocery store with Claire, trips we both enjoy, even with the bout of projectile vomiting we had in the frozen food aisle last month.
Anyway, I’d barely pulled out of the driveway yesterday when I realized that, of course, NOW she’d fallen asleep. I drove the rest of the way knowing that when I woke her up, the transition from sleeping to waking would probably result in a flood of disoriented tears and if not quite a shopping trip from hell, at least one from the darker side of heck.
So I pulled into the lot and waited a few minutes to give her a few more minutes of sleep, but I didn’t have much time and it was cold, so I got out of the car, grabbed a cart, swallowed hard, steeled myself and woke her up.
As expected she didn’t want to be awake, wasn’t sure where she was and really, really didn’t want to get in the cart. She wasn’t crying hard, not yet, but it wasn’t far off.
So far her experiences with Santa have been, well, pretty suspicious. She likes to look at him, but not up close and certainly not in his lap. That photo-op is still a year or two away.
So I’m pushing her through the parking lot as she’s BARELY holding back tears. Then just ahead, between us and the door to the store, I spot a guy wearing dungarees held up by suspenders, boots, and a bright red shirt. He also has gray hair, a long white beard that I could tell was real… and he’s wearing a Santa hat.
“Look,” I say to her pointing, “Santa Claus is going into the store.”
Her head spins around. Her tears stop mid-cheek. Her eyes go wide.
“Santa” hears us. He turns around, then stops as we approach and catches my eye, smiling.
“Look, Claire,” I say, It’s Santa!”
He wasn’t some mall Santa stopping at the store after work, not that I could tell, but just a stocky old guy maybe a few years older than me who apparently gets a kick from wearing a red shirt and a Santa hat paired with his white beard at Christmas.
We pull up alongside him, and suddenly she’s closer to Santa than she’s ever been. He leans over with a gentle smile and goes, not too loud or scary, “Ho-Ho-Ho, Merry Christmas!” She grins and wiggles and shakes her legs, tears forgotten, looks up in wonder and says back to him, “Merry Christmas, Santa!”
It only lasts a few seconds, but that’s enough to make a memory. We go into the store and “Santa” follows and she waves and says “Hi, Santa,” and he waves back and we start shopping and then he starts shopping and I tell her that I’m really, really old but that I have never, never ever, seen Santa Claus at the grocery store before and that he’s probably getting food for the reindeer and the elves and she's really lucky and that makes sense to her.
And for the next twenty minutes we keep seeing Santa down this aisle and that one and, well, she forgot all about crying.
Santa was real.