Of all my childhood recollections, the most vivid revolve around Christmas. The tree, the toys, Santa...all of them conjure up wonderful memories of my earlier days. For a kid, it can be the most exciting, suspenseful time of year. For a parent, it can be the most powerful. Powerful, because of one simple phrase..."Do I need to call Santa?"
Nothing works better at eliciting good behavior than the threat of calling Santa. "If you don't put down that ornament, I'm calling Santa" "Your not going to bed?!...lets hear what Santa has to say about that." Sometimes I go as far as picking up the phone and dialing. The slightest infraction, the tiniest misstep all I have to do is mention his name in order to get the desired response. "NO! don't call him!"..."I'll go to bed"..."I won't draw on the dog!"..."I'll get out of the washing machine!"..."I'll clean up my toys!"... Oh how I love that man! I admit, I have gotten heady with the power of it all. Power, however, like most good things can be abused. Use it too much or wield it too carelessly and the threat starts to wear off, the message loses its luster.
I learned this lesson while picking out last years Christmas tree. Excited about getting our tree, we piled into the mini van, all of us in high spirits. We were a happy family in search of the perfect tree. The gentleman selling the Christmas trees was a portly fellow. That in itself is nothing my children would comment on. It was however, the fact that his underwear happened to be sticking out of his ill fitting pants that got all of our attention-particularly Oscar. Once Oscar sees something-something that catches his eye....he MUST comment on it. He is like a dog with a bone-he CAN NOT let go. Knowing this, I tried to gather Oscar to my side before he could say anything....but it was too late. Very softly, in a low robotic voice, Oscar started saying "unnnndddeeerrrwwwweeeaaarrr"(repeatedly) This of course started my other kids laughing..I turned to them and in my sternest mother voice said "Should I call Santa?" and quickly ushered them back into the van. I thought it had worked, that I had averted disaster...but I was wrong. We still needed to tie the tree to the top of the van, and who was going to help us to do that? You guessed it-the portly tree salesman in the ill fitting pants. Now in order to tie the tree to the top of the van we had to leave both side doors open-and sitting on one of those open sides was Oscar. There I was, on full red alert mother mode -trying to catch Oscars eye, ready to invoke the name of Santa, but he was distracted. Through the side of the van, looming just above him, hanging out of his shirt, was the salesman's belly... it was big , it was hairy and it was an inch away from Oscars nose. As I looked on in horror, I started to say "Oscar, think of Santa", but it was once again too late. He glanced at me, and with a gleam in his eye...he said in a very low voice, "Bellllllllyyyyy" as he was ever so slowly reaching up to touch it with his pointed finger. Just in the nick of time, before Oscars finger could reach its destination, the tree was tied on, and the man and his ill fitting pants (and too short shirt) stepped away.
In my relief , after my heart rate returned to normal, I realised that the pull of underwear-the lure of a big belly, these things were even more powerful than the repeated threats to call Santa. That as my kids become more aware of the world around them, and less immersed in the world of our home, my days of Santa threats were numbered.
I wonder if my kids will look back fondly on these Christmas memories-the way I look back on mine. Will they even remember all of these adventures? I was thinking about this yesterday when we went on our Christmas tree quest. This year, getting the tree was uneventful, although when we suggested going back to the same tree lot as last year, Oscar grinned and said "unnnderrrwearrr."