Recently I have caved on one of those parenting principles that I said I'd never do: use Santa as a disciplinary tool. But, people, I'm tired - so tired - and Finn is still running us ragged.
So about two weeks ago, when Finn was under the table, naked, and we were already late to get out the door to school, I heard myself say: "SANTA IS WATCHING! If you don't come out of there by the count of three, I'm calling him and telling him you're having trouble listening!!"
He scurried out, saying "sorry, Momma".
I realize this is complete manipulation on my part, and that his response and apology don't really count. It's bribery in its most desperate form. But with two weeks to go until Christmas and an unruly four year old ... I didn't care. I just wallowed in one whole week of good behavior .. with any hint of trouble I'd threaten to call Santa and he'd snap to attention.
It left me with an icky guilty feeling. I'd like to believe I have the smarts, patience and ability to be a more proactive parent. I've always been so-so on the whole Santa thing, anyway, preferring to give vague answers to the increasingly difficult questions about how he really delivers all those presents in one night, and how elves know how to make video games.
But, like many questionable tactics employed by parents everywhere, it was destined for trouble. A few days ago he was, once again, giving me a hard time as we were trying to get to school. I gave him a stern look, and told him to behave or I'd call Santa.
He peeked out at me from under the table, with a sly grin. "Go ahead, Momma. Call him," he said.
I blinked twice. "I will, Finn, if you don't come out now!"
He said, "Dat's okay. Call him."
I picked up the phone, thinking to myself: I totally deserve this. I pretended to dial, asked to speak to Santa, and announced to the dead air on the other end of the phone that Finn was having trouble listening. Finn giggled.
"So, Santa, you're saying that if Finn doesn't start listening better, you'll know about it?" I fumble. I don't actually want to say that he won't get presents; I'm uncomfortable with that, and Finn knows it.
"Thank you very much, Santa, I'll tell Finn," I continued, stalling for time and thinking madly: tell him what?
I hung up the phone and looked down at Finn. He has a huge grin on his face. "What did Santa say, Momma?" he asked.
"He said you need to listen better, and that he's watching you," I say. "He wants your listening to get better, and soon."
"So, if I don't listen bettah, I'll get coal for Christmas?"
I don't want to say yes, and I don't really know why. I'm so deep into it now, so far afield from any parenting tools I ever possessed, that I say, "he said if you don't listen better he'll call you himself and talk to you," mentally ticking through a list of men with gravelly voices I could actually get to do this.
Finn ponders this. "I'll listen bettah," he says. "But if Santa does want to talk to me, I going to tell him that you yell too much and you should get coal, too."
"Fair enough," I reply, thinking: at this rate coal is what I deserve.
Later that day Greta and Finn are playing in the next room, and I hear Finn tell Greta that he wasn't listening and that I called Santa. "She DID? You better be good now, Finn," she says. "It's a big deal if Momma has to call him."
A few minutes later she comes up to me and whispers in my ear, "Good thinking, Momma." My heart skips a beat - has she figured it out? Is this her way of telling me she doesn't believe in Santa anymore?
"What do you mean?" I ask.
"I know you didn't really call him," she says.
I gulp. "You DO?"
"Yes," she grins at me conspiratorially, "there are no phone lines to the North Pole."