As a child, there was a little Christmas song that would often bring me to the brink of a nervous breakdown. It's catchy tune would induce gnawed nails, sorry's and didn't mean that's. You know the one, "Santa Claus is Coming to Town."
The song was a hip pocket favorite for my folks come December. We'd be mid Christmas memory when the record player would reach this track. My mom would stop her cookie dough rolling to direct us to listen.
"Do you hear that?" she would say, "Turns out, he SEES you when you're sleeping. He KNOWS when you're awake. He KNOWS if you've been bad or good, so be GOOD for goodness sake!"
I got the message. So my pants were a little wetter, to my mom, what was a little laundry when the payoff was bed by 5:30? In my head, I would confess all sins and negotiate for mercy from Santa. Some moments of truth:
4 YR. OLD ME: So I drew a giant T.V. in brown crayon on my Holly Hobbie bedspread. Mom already spanked me, so we're good, right?
8 YR. OLD ME: So I pulled Mary Ann Barnes' ear while waiting in line at our ninetieth field trip to the planetarium today, and then ran. But she called my friend, Gail, a boy on the bus, so that doesn't count, right?
11 YR. OLD ME: So I baked a piece of dog food in the croissant I offered to my brother. He was mean and never, ever, ever, EVER even attempts to get the phone when it rings. I know I'm too old to actually believe in Santa and I'm too young to be baking croissants and that I eventually missed my calling, but you can't punish me for that already, right?
The sweat rolls made an impression and sent a message to my future self: NEVER, ever, EVER specifically remind your children of these lyrics. It's too stressful. Let them enjoy the season without anxiety over whether Santa uses a pen or a pencil to make his lists.
I broke that little kid promise today and probably contributed to the snowball of nerves my son will build over the course of a lifetime. Today, I dragged all three kids to a big box electronics store in the early afternoon to pick up an item for me, and me alone.
First, the timing was off. I admit that. Lunch in the car after the park was unsatisfying and naps were just around the bend. Crabbyhood had already set in for T. He finished his bag of sliced apples while I made my headphone selection. Then he asked if he and Dee could ride the back end of the cart through the vast expanse of store that lay between us and the cash registers. I thought I was home free.
I thought I could zip around like a choo-choo train, make involved-mom conversation with the kids, then pay and leave. Unfortunately, brightly colored child items, mostly brought to us by Disney, cluttered the route. T wanted to stop every two seconds until we landed at the Leapster display that contained the "Buzz Lightyear Leapfrog just like Leo's" that T is wishing for.
Apparently, T forgot that Santa is omnipresent, or didn't care. When I informed him that his turn was over he ran away and screamed at the top of his lungs, "I waaaaaaaaaannnnnnnnnt a tuuuuuuuuuuurrrrrrrrrrrnnnnnnn!"
While a gaggle of clerks in bright blue polos circled us, I reached for T's arm, leaned in to his ear and with gritted teeth, sputtered, "Santa is WATCHING. Stop it. Santa can SEE YOU. Hold on to the cart and let's go."
Ultimately, T did not hold the cart. I had to pull him to the register while paying and urging his sister to follow us. T continued to scream through all of it, out to the car and for another five minutes after we were on the road.
Later, much later, when we were at home reading stories on the couch, "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" cued on the radio. While the song played, T looked up and asked me,
"Mama, is I nice?"
In the quiet of my home and distanced from the panicked state of a public meltdown, my allegiances officially shifted. I didn't need just a quick fix. I really wanted T to think Santa was disappointed and to adjust his behavior accordingly. Forever. So I told T that of course he's nice (in the larger sense of the word), but we also talked about the screamfest at the store.
Maybe he gets it. Maybe he'll be better tomorrow. That's more than we can eke from "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus," no? That's just confusing.