In the course of my life so many strange and/or unusual things happen that sometimes even I forget I am not living a “normal” life. Last night was one of those nights where I had a chance to see just how bizarre the things that happen to me truly are.
I came home from work just in time to gather my family together for a Norman Rockwell-esque family meal around the hearth. Actually that never happened. But it sounds nice, right? What really happened? Well, my lovely wife was preparing to head out of town for a few days to spend some time with her sister and a friend. “Girls Weekends” she calls them. I think that’s adorable. Who doesn’t like a little R&R? And who doesn’t deserve that more than the hardest working woman I know? That’s why I’m pleased to celebrate this milestone in the life of Aretha Franklin. Wait, sorry. Seriously, my wife could always use a break so I’m happy for her.
Let’s delve a little deeper, though, so I can give you some greater perspective. Our six year-old son had been a little under the weather for a few days. Last night, however, he was feeling a bit better. So after coming home, I got back in the car with my kids and my mother-in-law Wilma to drive my wife and her sister to the airport. From there it was on to a nearby mall. The purpose of our visit was to bring the kids to something Wilma had seen advertised recently. This mall offers holiday shoppers a chance to see Santa in a bit of a different fashion. Instead of the traditional long line, waiting for hours, and jolly obese man in a red suit on a chair; the kids get to wait on a long line for hours to see a jolly obese man in a red suit on a chair by walking through a mock up of a gingerbread house complete with characters from the movie Shrek! In fact, we had a reservation for 6:58 PM. That’s not exact, right?
Son was quiet as we sat in traffic driving through the Metroplex. “How peaceful,” I thought. Little did I know what was about to go down. We parked and walked toward the mall. My daughter jumped up and down. “Daddy! Daddy! Is that the Shrek house?!” “No sweetheart, that’s a Cheesecake Factory but I certainly understand your confusion.” We entered the mall and proceeded down a long corridor. The sounds of an Andy Williams Christmas tune were wafting from overhead speakers. As we made our way into the cavernous food court I spotted the Shrek house. That’s when I also spotted my son, looking green and covering his mouth. “Buddy, are you OK?” I said as I prepared to crouch down. He took in a breath, coughed, and vomited on everything in sight.
“I do now, Daddy!” he said, dripping.
That was fun. Wilma took his hoodie and began cleaning up while I flagged down a security officer to call for further assistance. After checking to see that he really was OK and realizing that there was certainly no harm in proceeding since we were already there, we made our way to the escalator. And wouldn’t you know that my daughter suddenly developed a fear of escalators? Guess who had to carry her down the stairs.
We checked in at the Shrek house. It was quite the spectacular. The outer walls were all LCD display screens that made it appear that the characters were opening and closing windows and waving to the folks gathered outside. It’s a good thing we didn’t have to pay for this. The kids got a kick out of it, though.
After about a half-hour and with no one actually waiting in front of us a spry old elf came over to us. She was 90 if she was a day and as I sized her up I noticed two things. One, she must be authentic because she’s certainly old enough to know the real Santa Claus. Two, she was wearing a bow in her hair that made me think of Bette Davis in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? I could not help but stare at that bow. In fact she was quite the sight in her red and green tights. I almost did an impression of my son from a few minutes earlier.
She lead us into the house. At this point she began reciting a script that required her to interact with the Shrek characters on a video screen. Unfortunately she was too slow in her delivery and Shrek kept cutting her off. We played her little game, went into the next room and “designed a sleigh”, went into the room after that and “rode a sleigh”. Finally we were in the last room where we waited another ten minutes until Santa was ready for us. And as they called our name, we stood up to go forth and meet the big guy. I looked at Wilma. She had her head in her hands and looked distraught. “Aw, don’t worry Wilma. It’s only an actor playing Santa. The real Santa’s still at the North Pole.”
Wilma let out a groan. “Everything OK?” I asked. Looking up at me, my mother-in-law simply said “No.” Indicating she needed some air, she proceeded to rush past Santa and out the door. I didn’t quite know what was going on so I let the kids do their thing. They were in a daze. “What do you want for Christmas, young man?” he asked. My son thought, the constant talker, waited for about two minutes before saying “a scooter, I guess.” Me and my daughter both reminded him that he already has one of those. “Oh, right,” he replied. Baby Girl was not shy but told Santa she wanted Anna and Elsa dolls. That’s when I reminded her that she has about five of each after her recent birthday party. Kids…
We left the Shrek house and I called Wilma since I didn’t see her anywhere. Turns out she had wandered out the nearest door. The kids and I stepped outside and there was Wilma, sitting on the cold, hard concrete by the door. Her jacket was off and she appeared out of breath. Thinking I might need to call an ambulance I started by asking her some basic questions. “Oh my God!!! What’s wrong?!?!?!” I like to keep a calm composure in these situations. She and I got quickly to the root of the problem. She hadn’t eaten since breakfast and had been running around all day. The wait on that line must have caused her blood sugar to drop. I was just about to go get the car for her when our nanogenarian elf stepped out to be with us. With her pointy shoes jingling, she came to a stop and placed her hands on her hips. “Is everything OK?” she asked. “I’m also a nurse.”
Wilma and I looked at each other and then back at elf-lady. We both said in unison “WHERE?!” Ignoring our obvious disbelief she assessed the situation and skipped off to fetch a bottle of water, her shoes still jingling. Did I mention that she was 8 feet tall? She must have gotten distracted because the elf who returned was a much younger woman (in fact, the manager). Eventually we got Wilma up, back into the food court, and situated with something to eat.
On the ride home she confided “I was really scared for a few moments back there.” “I know,” I said, “I can only imagine what that’s like. You were clammy and did NOT look good.” “No,” she replied, “I was scared the elf-nurse was going to want to do an exam! Then the lady who brought me water was the one with her boobs hanging out of her dress (it was a bit low cut) and she kept kneeling down right in my face. As if that wasn’t bad enough, it all reminded me that I left the house this morning without my own boobs!”
On the drive home we laughed at the folly of the evening and how wonderful Christmas-time is and how we should never tell this story to my wife. Oh, the things Wilma forgot? She had a mastectomy last year. But at least she’s not an old elf-nurse who’s day job is so horrendous she has to moonlight at the Shrek house.