Smile for Santa by Emma Kate Tsai

December 17, 2014 § Leave a comment

smile-santaThe smiles in Brevity‘s Holiday Smile contest don’t always last:

We get in line, a domino effect of mothers holding babies in a synchronistic pattern. Santa.

“Down! Down!” Oliver screams.

“We have to wait in line behind all these people, honey. You see them?”

My 21-month-old follows my arm with his eyes. He nods with a heavy head. I hold him closer.

I never believed in Santa Claus. I believed in my dad. “Baba the only Santa Claus you’ll ever get,” he said the year I was ten. Grass and sweat stuck to his neck, an undershirt and shorts a poor substitute for the velvet red suit.

Santa gifts, a plate full of cookies, a glass of warm milk, footsteps from fireplace to tree. My husband and I had no intention of creating a fantasy world for our son. But what could a picture with Santa hurt? The price and location were right: six dollars at the children’s museum.

I decide not to tell Oliver anything about the man in the red suit, except his name. He seemed to already know. “You’re gonna sit on Santa’s lap?”

He nods.

“Let me see your smile.” Oliver’s mouth goes from a straight line to a full-on grin.

“Are you excited?” Another nod, and a grin from behind his pacifier.

We do this again and again: I tell him what’s about to happen, then Oliver smiles.

When we reach the front, I go through the routine again. “You’ll sit on Santa’s lap?” Nod. “You’ll give a big smile?” Smile. “Mommy will stand right there?” Nod.

I bend down to hand Oliver over. The tears fall instantly. He might as well be suction-cupped to me. “Mommy’s staying right here,” I say in unison with Santa, my partner in this moment. I curl my body around my son’s and we look into the camera.


Emma Kate Tsai is a writer and editor in Houston, Texas, where she lives with her husband and young toddler. Her writing has been published in Brain, Child Magazine, Elephant Journal, Connotation Press, and Intellectual Refuge. Her work can be found in Seal Press’sDrinking Diaries: Women Serve Their Stories Straight Up, and the upcoming, Blended: Writers on the Stepfamily Experience.

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