The Rockwood Files: “You better watch out…”

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

Even though Christmas isn’t over yet, I’m already a little sad that soon it will be. The kids will rip through those hours of shopping and gift-wrapping in about 30 minutes on Christmas morning. Then a few days later, I’ll have to pack away all the fun Christmas decorations and haul them back to the garage. But worst of all, I’ll once again lose one of the most effective parenting tools in my arsenal – the “Santa card”.

Playing the Santa card is an age-old technique that’s still popular today mostly because it works. The closer we get to December 25th, the more I invoke the power of the Santa card. I did it a little earlier today when 3-year-old Kate was whining about not being granted her third cup of chocolate milk for the day.

“But I waaaaaant more chocolate milk,” she said in a nerve-grating, whiny voice.

“Uh-oh. I sure hope Santa doesn’t hear you whining. You know he doesn’t like it when people whine. You better stop that or he might put you on the naughty list,” I said with wide eyes, indicating how terribly tragic it would be to wind up on said naughty list.

“Naughty list?” she said, questioning just how bad that might be.

“Yes, the naughty list. Santa doesn’t bring toys to people on the naughty list,” I said, confirming her worst fears. She was quiet for a few moments, re-evaluating just how severe her need for chocolate milk really was.

“Mama, I not whining. I’m happy now. See?” she said, smiling her biggest, fakest smile.

“Oh, good. I’m so glad you’re not on the naughty list. Go play while Mama puts away the dishes,” I said, smiling as she trotted away. The Santa card wins again.

Maybe it’s wrong to basically blackmail one’s children with one of the most beloved Christmas icons of all time. But wrong or not, I don’t know one single parent who doesn’t secretly look forward to November – when Christmas is close enough that kids are extra careful not to tick off Old Saint Nick.

One time, during a heated moment when 5-year-old Jack had done something that really made me crazy, I said “Jack! If you don’t stop that right this second, I am going to pull this van over and call Santa and tell him what you’re doing!”

“But Mom, how do you know Santa’s phone number?” Jack asked, innocently.

“He e-mailed it to me,” I fired back without hesitation.

“Santa has e-mail?” Jack asked.

“You bet he does, and he sent his phone number to all the moms and dads, so you better just remember that and think about what you’re doing,” I said, while Jack sat there imagining Santa fielding calls from angry mothers. Needless to say, Jack straightened up right away when he realized Christmas presents were on the line.

Unfortunately, to preserve the effectiveness of the Santa card, you have to pack it away after the holiday along with the ornaments and garland. Once January rolls around, Christmas is just too far away for kids to worry much about it. On the bright side, I do have a day or so left before Christmas. I might as well enjoy the upper-hand a little while longer, right?

Of course, every now and then, something happens to remind me that I’m not the only one manipulating the season to get the kind of cooperation she wants. Tonight, I walked into the bathroom and noticed that Kate had splashed water out of the tub and all over the floor. I was just about to launch into a sermon about how much Santa dislikes it when kids splash water all over the floor, but Kate saw the irritated look on my face and cut me off at the pass.

“Mama, are you mad?” she asked sweetly.

“Yes, Katie. I’m mad. You got water all over the floor!” I said, pointing to the evidence.

“Don’t be mad, Mama. Santa doesn’t like it when moms are mad.”

And so it goes. The student becomes the master.

From my family to yours, here’s hoping you and your loved ones have a happy, blessed Christmas full of joy and gratitude for the real reason behind the season.

Want to read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files? Click here.