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A little help here? Baby signs distress signal from mall Santa's lap

Stranger danger! Little Samuel Spencer used his sign language skills to send an SOS on Santa's lap.
/ Source: TODAY Contributor

Kerry Spencer taught both of her children to sign using American Sign Language before they could speak because she found it useful to be able to communicate with them when they were babies. However, she did not anticipate her son, Samuel, would use his skill to communicate that he did NOT enjoy the experience of sitting in a mall Santa's lap.

Samuel was just 1 year old when he used his baby version of ASL to sign "help" to his mom while the photographer at the Provo Town Center Mall in Provo, Utah, snapped his picture. "I was standing to the side when the pic was taken and actually didn't see that he was signing for help until I saw the photo," his mom tells

For several years, Spencer has posted the photo of Samuel sending an SOS from Santa's lap on Facebook. "We all laugh at the photo now. Posting it is one of our favorite family traditions," she says. She tweeted it as well. It has since been retweeted more than 8,400 times.

Spencer explained that in the photo, Samuel's sign is somewhat "mispronounced" — "strictly speaking, his thumb should be up, not sideways," she said. "Babies learning to sign often mispronounce words, but it is the sign he always made when he needed help."

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That was Samuel's last real interaction with a mall Santa. "Poor buddy didn't love Santa very much, ever really. So we didn't try to get him to go much after that," said Spencer.

Even as teenagers, Samuel and his younger sister Lily were not big fans of the guy in the red suit. "Both of my children find the idea of Santa sort of sketch!" says Spencer. "They say, 'It's just not normal for one man to know so much!'"

But, she adds, they certainly don't mind the presents he leaves.

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This story was originally published in December 2017.