Santa's Little Helper

By Jeanne Marie Laskas
Sunday, December 23, 2007

Word on the street is that fourth grade is when a child starts seriously doubting the whole Santa gig, and my older daughter is in third, and so there is a statistically high chance that the 2007 holiday season marks the beginning of the end of innocence in our house. This, anyway, is my excuse.

I am going overboard, I know. Way overboard. I came up with this idea. It is because of me and my anticipatory grief that we are at this mall headed to the photo place. The last time we did holiday photos at the mall was when the kids were still in diapers, or one of them was, and it was the thing to do: Dress your girls in red plaid dresses and white tights and shiny patent leather shoes, put a jingle bell or two in their hands, a fake snow backdrop behind them, and coo at them and hope the camera clicks before the one cutting teeth goes into full drool.

Here we are again, years later, and this time we have puppies. Yeah, live puppies wearing reindeer head gear and little felt bibs lined with plastic holly piping.

Overboard. The puppies aren't, technically, puppies anymore. We call them puppies because they're so short and squat, sister mutts my girls got this past March as birthday presents. These creatures have not yet exceeded eight pounds due to some apparent toy poodle lineage that also gives them a scruffy/curly Benji look. Sugar, the smaller of the two, is the more compliant with the reindeer outfit -- as she was for Halloween in her pirate getup and as she is many nights when my daughter dresses her in silky purple pajamas. As for Buttercup, the brains of the family, she has already chewed off the plastic holly, and so we are thinking of nixing the bibs.

"Oh . . . dogs?" says the woman at the photo place. It is not with a tone of glee.

"It's okay to bring puppies for the picture, isn't it?" I say. I swear I saw someone do this before.

"We do like to know about this sort of thing ahead of time," the woman says with a fake smile.

"Buttercup!" my daughter Anna says, tugging her dog away from the tempting lure of a fraying carpet. "Buttercup, if you don't behave, you will not get ice cream after the picture."

"We're getting ice cream?" asks Sasha.

I did not say anything about ice cream.

" We have to give them a reason to behave," Anna explains. (You learn so much about your own parenting skills when you get your kid a dog.)

The woman at the photo place passes us off to a young man with pimples. "He's going to do your sitting," she says. The guy looks pleased to have been taken off floor-sweeping duty. "I like dogs," he says.

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