When my little niece says “no,” she means “NONONONO!” She is NOT going to sit on Santa Claus’s lap.

Flambeau is only nine months old, but she makes her point, and she makes it loud.

I respect that. But I got a problem. Flambeau’s mama, my sister-in-law Gloriosa, really, REALLY wants this picture. And Gloriosa don’t take NONONONONO for an answer.

She is unfortunately getting a root canal at the moment, so I decided to be Ms. Nice Aunt and bring her kids for their annual Santa picture. It is supposed to hang from a red ribbon in her North Pole display, with every other Santa picture since Comus, her oldest, was born.

Comus and his sister Momus are sweating in their velvet Christmas outfits, dying to get this over with. But they are old enough to grasp the connection between this and presents under the tree. Plus, they understand that come hell or high water,  Gloriosa WILL record every moment of their childhood. Resistance is futile.

I got to explain. Gloriosa was the last baby in the Gunch family. This was before iPhones, so you had to find the camera and check for film just to snap a picture. When you have a lot of babies —and her mama, Ms. Larda, had five — this don’t happen a lot.

Luckily, Gunch babies all look alike, bald and drooly — seen one, seen ‘em all. So whenever Gloriosa asked to see her baby pictures, Ms. Larda got out pictures of some baby, and beamed, and said, “You were such a beautiful baby.” Which was true—even if she wasn’t the baby in the pictures.

When Sister Felicia asked Gloriosa’s First Communion class to bring in their baptismal pictures for catechism show-and-tell.  Gloriosa noticed that in her picture, the family posing in front of church holding a baby-sized bundle were wearing overcoats. But  Gloriosa was baptized in July. Her baptismal certificate said so.

And she was always suspicious of the five framed baby pictures on the living room wall. They all looked like the same baby.

Well, that wasn’t how it was going to be with Gloriosa’s children.

And when Flambeau arrived, Gloriosa leaned over her bassinet, looked at that head of spiky red hair, and promised that, even if she was youngest, and her mama was very tired, she would still have pictures of her own self at every important occasion.

But it ain’t happening at this occasion. “No means no,” says Comus. Like I said, he’s a smart boy.

“It also means we got to put on these stupid velvet outfits and come back and try again,” Momus says. “I know my mama.”

Just then, a lady pushes a stroller into the Santa line. I look at the red hair sticking out her baby blanket and wish our redhead was that peaceful. Then the baby leaps up and barks. It’s a Yorkshire terrier.

Desperation is the mother of insane ideas. I offer this lady a deal. We will pay for her doggie’s Santa picture, then we’ll get a picture of the dog— named Lucy— with Santa, Comus and Momus. Lucy will have her back to the camera, like she is looking up at Santa, and will wear Flambeau’s little green sweater. The picture will show just the sweater and the red hair. And Santa agrees to this. He ain’t stupid. Lucy is less likely to bite than Flambeau.

The picture turns out okay, but I doubt Gloriosa will be fooled. Then Comus pipes up, “Aunt Modine, we could photoshop Flambeau into that picture. That will look better than the back of a red-headed dog.”

Photoshop. Of course. That’s how 6-year-olds think these days.

We prop Flambeau on a red cushion at my house, get her to giggling, and take pictures. My daughter Gladiola shows up, and she and Comus do computer magic and replace Lucy with Flambeau, laughing into the camera.

Maybe it’s the Novocain, but Gloriosa just loves this picture.  

In a couple years, Flambeau will scowl at it and ask why Santa is dangling a Milk-Bone over her head.

Wonder how Gloriosa will explain that.