That quintessential picture on Santa’s lap. Whether the kids are smiling or crying, it’s always adorable. Parents get their kids all dolled up in their Christmas best. The kids make the finishing touches on their Christmas wish list. They head off to the mall for what will be the keepsake picture of the year. All the kids pile onto Santa’s lap. They say, “cheese,” get a candy cane and everybody’s happy.
That’s the way it happens, right?
I wouldn’t know.
Everything about going to see Santa is a nightmare in our house. We talk about it beforehand. I let the kids wear their jammies (so there’s no fight over the fancy clothes– and they look adorable!) Everyone’s excited about seeing Santa (including Finn). But, once we pull into the mall parking lot, it all goes to pot…
Have you ever tried to bathe a cat?
Because if you have, you will know what what it is like to try and get Finn to sit on Santa’s lap. He is all arms and legs, kicking and scratching, as he forces all his weight against me to try and escape.
Things have gotten easier over the years, mostly because we’ve learned what he needs. Most of the early pictures involve lots of crying.
Two years ago, my arm made a guest appearance in the picture. Finn refused to stay in the frame. Sweating bullets and searing with anger, I refused to let this one go. I held Finn in the picture while leaning out of the shot. Picture perfect, right?
Before Finn was diagnosed with autism and we discovered the world of sensory processing disorder, we just thought he was being difficult. We didn’t realize how truly stressful that experience was for him. The standing in line. The sitting on a stranger’s lap. The scratch of Santa’s beard. The flash of the camera. The people staring at him, trying to get him to look at the camera. It was all just too much for him.
Meanwhile, I was sweating bullets trying to get Finn to walk up to Santa and the picture lady is like, “What package do you want, Mom?”
Last year, we wised up (a little) and Joe stood in line while I took the kids into Gymboree. The kids watched the little Gymboree TV while I looked on the clearance rack for bargains for Tallulah. When Joe got close to the front, he texted me to come back. That worked a little better (but I was still a nervous wreck!) I don’t think the Gymboree people were too happy that we watched their TV for 15 minutes and then bolted, but they were really the unsung hero of our Santa picture last year.
But this year, I’m hoping our Santa visit is going to be a lot easier. I’ve heard of the Sensory Friendly Santa events all over the country. Friends of mine have sent me links to these kinds of events, but they are always too far for us to drive. I feel like I am always complaining about the lack of services we have in our neck of the woods. I wanted a Sensory Friendly Santa right here at our local mall; the Santa we always go to. So I decided to do something about it. I thought it would not only benefit my kid, but the many other kids (and parents) who struggle with this very same thing.
I started out by calling the corporate office of the picture company who does the Santa stand at the mall. I’m not sure if she understood what I was asking for, but she offered us a private event on a Monday or Tuesday when they are their slowest. I told her that simply wasn’t going to work. Many of our kids (including my own) have siblings who are in school. We just couldn’t make it work on a weekday. I so badly wanted this to work. I wanted to cry on the phone to this woman and say, “Don’t you understand how hard this type of thing is for us? We just want to go see Santa (the REAL mall Santa) just like everybody else. We don’t want to go to a cheesy, fake beard Santa just because they don’t have a long line and they will put up with my kid’s antics. WE WANT TO DO WHAT EVERYBODY ELSE DOES!” But, for once in my life, I bit my tongue, held in my tears and thanked the woman for trying to help.
But I didn’t feel satisfied. There had to be a way to get this done! So, I took to Facebook. I posted my problem on our FACES 4 Autism page and a Mom in our group read my post. She happened to be at the mall and she marched over to the Santa stand and talked to the manager. The manager said, “Of course we will do that for them!”
Later that day, I talked to the manager and she was like Mrs. Claus herself. She completely empathized with our situation and she said that they accommodate special needs kids all the time. She said that in the past they have asked the parents if it’s ok to ring the bell. (I could’ve cried right then!) She was like an angel. I could hardly believe it! I was going to save Christmas! Ok, so I wasn’t really saving Christmas. And it wasn’t all my doing, but just go with it…
We got a date on the books right then and there. They are going to open an hour early just for our families. We are going to have a craft table where the kids can make a free ornament while the parents wait in line for Santa. And she was open to any tips or suggestions I had to try and make the event as stress free as possible. I wrote a two page document with tips and suggestions for “Sensitive Santa” and his elves. (Click the link if you want to read them.)
I am so happy and excited and humbled that this group of people is getting together to help our kids have a happy Christmas. But what is more important to me is the relief it will hopefully bring to their parents. Because I know the stress and the sweat and the tears that go into doing the smallest of tasks. Sometimes just getting in the car is a major catastrophe. So, if this eases some families’ stress this holiday season, then it will be the best present of all!
PS- I will be sure and post pictures after the event on Saturday.