Cathryn Therrell has this Santa thing down to science.
Many other parents hoping for a photo of their children with the famous Kriss Kringle this holiday season will face (or have faced) long lines and fussy little ones, but Therrell's experience was no less than picture-perfect.
Allyson, 4, and Christian, 2, have been coming to see Santa since they were born. In fact, Allyson was sitting in Santa's lap at just 2 weeks old, said Therrell, as her children played in Santa's Wonderland at the Bass Pro Shops in East Ridge while they waited for a short time, a benefit to coming in the middle of the day during the week when most are working.
Her children know what to expect, and that helps.
Mike and Heather Spohr, authors of “The Toddler Survival Guide,” offers these tips to snagging the near-mythic smiling photo of your child with Santa.
› Pack for a long wait. Most places still require parents to stand in line with their children. Bring snacks, juice boxes and toys from home, just in case. “Just don’t bring cheese puffs or fruit punch if you don’t want your kid’s clothes to look like a Jackson Pollack painting by the time you reach the front of the line,” according to the Spohrs.
› Bring an extra adult. “A small kid is going to need more than one wrangler to be kept in check as you wait your turn.”
› Don’t threaten. When some parents find their child is actually scared of Santa, they pressure them by telling them to be nice or risk losing their presents. “Instead, try giving Santa a hug to show your kid that he’s friendly and no one to fear.”
› Take a pass. If your child’s photo with Santa takes a bad turn, don’t forget that most places won’t force you to buy the photo. And if a checkout elf gets pushy, “there’s also no shame in buying the cheapest package possible.”
"We have been doing it from the beginning," said Therrell.
Last year, she dressed the kids in nice clothes, but this year she knew better. Both donned footed pajamas as they shot play guns at the mock firing range set up not far from the Wonderland elf station. Comfortable children make for better photos.
"I want to see Santa," Allyson told Therrell while pulling on her hand. "Come on, Mom!"
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At Bass Pro Shops, which offers free photos with Santa and free crafts during daytime hours, the elves have seen it all — the good, the bad and the ugly, said Rachel Moore, a Bass Pro Shops staff member.
"Lots of tears," said Moore. "Angry kids. Happy kids. Screaming kids. Kids being forced."
Some parents simply embrace the chaos, added George Finch, another Bass Pro staff member. They accept a photo mid-tantrum and can even laugh about it. Others, not so much.
Bass Pro Shops, one of the most popular places to see Santa in the area, does what it can to minimize parental stress, said Trisha Wells, event coordinator at the Bass Pro in East Ridge. Free crafts, games and activities are provided for children waiting to see Santa. Kids can even play at a table covered with a special kind of play dirt that won't stain or mess up clothes, she said.
And this year the Bass Pro in East Ridge is one of only five stores in the country testing new technology that essentially does away with the long lines that have long typified the Wonderland experience.
So far, Wells said the system has been a success. Elves help parents register with their children once they arrive, and when their time to see Santa comes around, the parents are notified via text message. Families can play, shop and even leave to get dinner while they wait.
The wait can be several hours, she added, especially in the evenings and on weekends.
"Don't wait till the last minute," she warned.
Also, she suggested that parents consider posing with their children. Often, she said, the tears come when mommy or daddy steps behind the camera. Parents don't like being in the photos, she said, laughing. Still, sometimes it's the only way to take home an image of their child on Santa's lap.
Contact Joan McClane at jmcclane@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6601.