It is said that time flies when you’re having fun. I guess that can explain the extended period of time with no blog. While most of my recent activities can be described as fun, I paid a high price for others (that’ll blog will come later).
I haven’t had a “real” job in over 15 years. I’m a real estate broker and a photographer but work at both on my own terms. I was in one of those “I’m not contributing anything to society and my family” moods so I set out on a mission. I can honestly say that I’m one of those people who can set my mind to doing something and most of the time, it all falls into place beautifully. After applying online to many jobs with no response and discouraged, I simply posted on Facebook that I really “just wanted to be a photographer for Santa” mostly being sarcastic more than anything. I couldn’t find a job…It’s not like I wanted to be a rocket scientist. But, with Facebook and the flap of a butterfly’s wing, the wheels began to turn.
In a million years, I never would’ve imagined that being an elf for Santa could be so rewarding and such a pain in the ass at the same time. In theory, it sounded like a blast. I figured I would have to show up for a few hours each week, work with the jolly old elf and his helpers, take pictures of adorable children and be thrust smack dab in the middle of the merriest frickin’ time of the year. At the interview, I was offered the position of Set Manager which would create a whole new reality and convinced myself that it would fulfill some of the emptiness I was feeling of not contributing, blah, blah, blah. Besides, I have an extensive background in management. I could do it (insert cheers and marching band)!
In the eight weeks that followed, I met many people who left a footprint on my heart. One of those people was Travis, a 33 year old autistic man with who showed up to the set an hour before opening to ask Santa for a job, $100 and a computer for his mother. With the help of Facebook friends, team members and mall employees, we were able to fulfill part of his wishes (not so much the job…yet). I met a mom whose daughter was visiting Santa for the first time in three years because her leukemia was finally in remission. We met a six year old with a chemotherapy port, bald and translucent who sat on Santa’s lap while his mom and aunt stood to the side, crying. There was an 82 year old man who waited 30 minutes for his “girlfriend” also in her 80’s to take a picture with Santa. And, the elderly woman with her 15 year old poodle in a stroller dressed to the nines in real kid clothes, not dog clothes. She never had a daughter so the dog was her little girl.
Along the way, I met others who were a massive pain in the ass. They included the nasty Stepford wife who was pissed because I was “unprofessional” for having her kid make a funny face in his photo with Santa (a travesty!). There were many of her prototypes out and about who asked for repeated shoots because their perfectly coiffed screaming one year old was petrified of Santa and “wasn’t smiling.” (Really? Give me a damn break!) Still others who refused to buy the picture because their kid was crying. Hello! We tell kids never to talk to or take candy from strangers. Some are going to be a little freaked out when you put them on the lap of a big hairy man in a red suit doling out candy canes for bribes. Finally, there’s George Michael…I grew sick of hearing about his last Christmas.
One of the greatest gifts of all is the band of elves I had the pleasure of working with. The set team consisted primarily of kids recently out of high school and in college. There were a few middle-aged elves who would’ve been better off staying at the North Pole in the Department of Misfit Toys instead of exposing the rest of the world to their Grinchness. My supervising elves were always jolly and there to lend their priceless support and guidance.
The kids on the staff were the best elves, prospering and growing. Most of them were eager to please and learn. I looked at it as an opportunity to teach them skills they would use for the rest of their lives. Several were painfully shy in the beginning and blossomed into bubbly, outgoing elves who were great at sales and customer service with their newfound confidence. Others used their jolliness to motivate each other and worked on perfecting their skills. They all WANTED to come to work (most of the time) and were disappointed when they weren’t on the schedule. They were the part of the experience I enjoyed and will remember the most. I hope to keep in touch with all of them as they continue their journey through life.
Overall, being a part of the Christmas magic was a rewarding experience. I learned that after 15 years of being out of the corporate world and losing a lot of confidence, I still have a little of what it takes to be “successful.” Our team ranked fourth in the nation with a 21% increase in sales over last year. I’ve been asked to manage the set again next year. If you ask me now what my answer will be, it would be no. But, a year is a long time and I will likely forget the negative aspects (much like childbirth). And, my band of elves showered me with gifts at the end of the season, gave me nicknames (mostly nice) and they all want to come back next season. They’ve vowed to blow up my phone and fill my inbox beginning in September to convince me to head the band of rogue elves that we were. That lets me know that in part, I accomplished what I set out to do…I hope I made a difference in their lives. Certainly, without them knowing, they made a huge difference in mine.