Children are brought up to approach strangers with caution, but at Christmastime the rules change and suddenly kids are supposed to plop themselves down on the knee of an unknown polar lumberjack and open up to him about their deepest desires. Meanwhile more unaccountable grownups in velvet are violently shaking unfunny props over a photographer’s head and yelling at the children to cheese for the camera. No wonder Santa Claus sessions at the mall usually result in tears.

But Matt and I were not at a mall. We were at Three Notch’d Brewery in Charlottesville where parents could day-drink while their kids posed with a very accommodating Santa Claus and I wore my baby in a Bjorn on my chest. So we expected smiles. And we got some beautiful smiles! But what I remember most are the tears. The hot, angry, confounded, elf-immune, Santa-phobic tears. Fortunately the holiday weeping made for great photos (at least in this sadistic elf’s opinion).

My job as a sensitive introvert was to stand back, jingle bells, and watch helplessly as children got traumatized.

I couldn’t even save my little nephew John from the inhumanity.

Nor could this boy’s father save him. We were throwing kids to the wolves right and left in the taproom.

Big brother falling apart, little brother trying to numb himself to the pain like a war veteran who’s seen too much.

Twins, once inseparable, become emotionally severed on the mental testing ground that is Santa’s lap.

And then there was our kid, who inexplicably had the time of her life.

As did the parents, thanks to beer. We love you, Three Notch’d!