I don't know why it didn't occur to me in years past that these "Santas" are just men who need a seasonal job. They don't necessarily like children or care that they are holding fragile little dreams in the palm of their white gloves with fingertip stains from last year. It definitely isn't required of them that they posses any of Santa's cheer and jolliness.
This last Santa, at the mall with the trampoline jump. The one out in the middle of an industrial wasteland. The one that doesn't bother to turn its lights on during the day. We approached him and Scouty started wringing her hands and glancing up at me nervously.
Would she get all of her wishes right, or would she freeze up again and forget to mention the Lightening McQueen Guitar and Hotwheels Sky Jump? Would Santa remember her, remember how good she is and how nice to her sister and what a wonderful listener she is at school?
She stood at the end of the plush red carpet leading up to Santa's chair and waved a meek little wave at him.
He just sort of slumped there, his back riding halfway down his high backed leather chair in obvious and palpable boredom. He didn't say hello. He didn't boom out a "Ho Ho Ho, and what is YOUR name, little one?" He just kind of assumed a position with a bent knee and his arms outstretched. I couldn't tell if he even bothered to smile under his mustache.
Scouty leaned in close to me and said, "Santa looks... tired."
He must have been worn out from making all those toys. Or maybe he was up late finishing off the dregs of an $8 bottle of whiskey, wearing sagging underpants printed with candy canes and a pair of dirty bottomed elf slippers?
So, Scouty was brave. She recited her name and the name of her sister. I already have about 50 thousand pictures of her sitting on the laps of various Santas, so I wasn't even going to get out my phone, but then Scout looked up at me with these sparkling little eyes. She smiled a shy smile that said, "Oh my god. Oh my god. Oh my god. I'm sitting on SANTA'S LAP! THIS IS THE GUY WHO WILL MAKE ALL MY DREAMS COME TRUE!"
I opened my phone and activated camera mode. Right in the middle of her sentence, where Scouty was telling Santa that she wanted a Lightning McQueen Guitar, he looked up at me and snapped, "Ma'am, no pictures unless you're going to buy one of ours."
Scouty flinched. How could I have done something naughty like this right in front of Santa? She didn't want to be associated with my bad behavior. She kind of waved at me to put my camera away. "Oh. Seriously? Sorry," I said.
Scouty started over. "Louise wants some Yo Gabba Gabba shoes and a Mickey Doll," she said, "And I want a Lightning Guitar and Hotwheels Sky Jump."
"Do you want any Barbie dolls?" Santa asked her.
"Um, no thank you," Scouty said. (Only, when she says "thank you" it sounds like "Sank You" and it's the cutest thing in the history of the world.)
"No Barbie Dolls?" he asked, obviously surprised that A GIRL wouldn't want BARBIE DOLLS.
She said again, "A Lightning Guitar and --"
"Lightning guitar," he asked. "You don't mean Lightning McQueen?"
"Yes," she said. "Lightning McQueen!"
"Isn't he for boys?" Santa asked.
Scouty glanced up at me, feeling insecure. Was Lightning McQueen for boys?
"No," I said. "He isn't. He's only for awesome kids."
"Okay," Santa said. "I'm surprised that girls like him. He's a car, isn't he?"
"Alright, baby," I said, scooping Scouty off of his lap and maintaining my temper enough to not start screaming AT SANTA, the magic man who knows if you've been bad or good, but obviously isn't smart enough or socially aware enough to know NOT TO MAKE CHILDREN FEEL BAD ABOUT THEMSELVES AND THEIR WISHES by being a patriarchal douche bag.
"Let's go," I said, and we thanked Santa and waved goodbye.
As we were walking away, Scouty said, "Don't you think Santa was getting a little bit sassy with us?"
She had no idea how sassy I was about to get with him.
But whatever. We grown ups know that the Santas at the mall aren't the REAL Santa. They're just his helpers. I'm sure the real Santa is all caught up on his social politics and has refused to be willfully ignorant, even way up there at the North Pole. I'm sure he has it written down somewhere in his big book that Lightning McQueen Guitars are for awesome kids, only. Boys AND girls.