So we leave Bed Bath and Beyond, and lumbering towards us from the other end of the parking lot, in full regalia, are Santa and Mrs. Claus, looking for all the world like they had stopped by to replace a broken shower head or or pick up a few stocking stuffers they were just too tired to make back at the shop. Peeking at my son, I notice that his unmanageably overobservant eyes have somehow not yet identified the bright red object moving in the distance. A moment later, he's made the connection, and the left corner of his mouth begins to turn up into a smile. I figure I have about 15 seconds.
My mind races through permutations. Off-duty Santa, having already put in a long day waving in front of the electronics store down the street, done with the whole Santa thing for the day but not having had a chance to change on the way home. Callous Santa, miffed that my son doesn't return his handshake, who walks away before I have a chance to physically prompt my son's handshake as I've been taught to do in novel social situations. Overtly religious Santa, who launches into questions about what Aaron wants for Christmas, leading to the usual tension between whether I make something up as a verbal prompt for Aaron to echo, or simply tell Santa that we celebrated Hanukkah, which, even though I don't think you're supposed to lie to Santa, seems like something you really shouldn't be saying to him.
As the last permutation rolls to a stop inside my head, it is my son who speaks first.
"Hi Missus Claus." he chirps, as if Santa himself was apparently alongside just as a point of reference.
"Well, hello there young man", Santa interrupts sonorously, either not as tired as he looked when walking towards us, or buoyed by my son's cheerfulness. "Merry Christmas!"
Awash in the delight of having bumped into the real Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus on a usually boring trip to the store, Aaron is too busy enjoying himself to reply.
"Merry Christmas, Santa, Merry Christmas Mrs. Claus", I finally add, my voice trailing off as they disappear into the front entrance.
We feel a little lighter on our feet walking to the car. I sit quietly for a moment, then shake the reins, and we are off.