We’re gearing up for Ryan’s third Christmas, and he’s finally old enough to understand that it’s a holiday that involves presents and an old white guy named Santa Claus. What he either doesn’t understand, or chooses to not understand, is that he must be a good boy to get those presents. We’re not religious, so I don’t have to explain baby Jesus or the three wise men to him. Since we’re concentrating on the secular side of the holiday, I get to explain how and why a morbidly obese senior citizen breaks into homes in the middle of the night to visit sleeping children.
I’m not above using the Big-Brother-is-watching “he knows if you’ve been bad or good” Santa list to motivate him to do things like bathe, eat what we make for him, and put his toys away. I remember being terrified that Santa wouldn’t give me presents because of something I’d done, especially things I’d done but not gotten caught in, so I know that that argument can work. Except, of course, when it doesn’t. A few weeks ago, I told him that Santa only gives presents to boys who eat their dinner, and listen to Omma and Appa. He gave me a curious look like I’d suddenly lost 100 IQ points, and said “I don’t want presents. Santa can’t come.” Losing arguments to a toddler is all the more awesome when you consider that I was a debater in high school, and even went to a model UN in college.
Tenacious fellow that I am, I tried this again the next day. We’d just bought another cabinet at Ikea so that the living room would no longer look like an F5 tornado hit a Thomas & Friends convention. The intention, of course, was to have him get into the habit of cleaning up after himself. This time, I said something along the lines of Santa brings all new Thomas and Chuggington toys on Christmas for boys who clean up their toys and books. Just like the day before, he gave me the same “what are you snorting” look, since he couldn’t wrap his head around something so illogical. So, of course, I cleaned up for him, following his directions because he already knew which shelf certain toys belonged (e.g., bag of Legos go on the right side, second shelf from the bottom, Little People airplane and Hess truck on the bottom shelf, etc.). While I haven’t completely stopped using this argument, I’ve cut back a lot, and only try to mention it once a day or so. You know, to properly instill a healthy fear of an omniscient, feckless Santa.
To reinforce the fact that Christmas and Santa are coming, my wife bought a seven-foot tree and thankfully had the foresight to also buy plastic baubles, what he calls “bubbles,” with loops instead of metal hooks in case he decides to pull them and rearrange stuff. Putting the tree together as a family, even if it spread plastic pine needles all over the floor, really got him to drink the holiday Kool Aid. Christmas might have been a more nebulous subject before, but it’s official for him now that we have a tree. Once we were done, he insisted on going down to our building’s lobby to compare trees. Maybe we don’t have the fancy multicolored flashing lights that the lobby tree does, or the mini snow globes, but he knows that our tree is his tree and therefore better. Or, as he put it, “My tree is best!” The hard part was bringing him back upstairs, because he wanted to stay in the lobby and wait for Santa to come.
Thanks also to an early visit from Santa (by way of my mother), he already has a few presents under the tree, with firm instructions to not open any of them until Santa comes back with more presents. My mom argued that this is mean, just let the little man unwrap his presents. I’ve been just as adamant that no, he needs to learn patience, and we’ll open everything on Christmas morning after Santa/Appa is sufficiently caffeinated for the day. This hasn’t curtailed his natural curiosity, of course. His dump truck suddenly became a transporter of the smaller present between the tree and couch – it is precious cargo, after all. It also didn’t stop him from trying to make unnoticeable tears in the wrapping paper and peeking underneath – I was around the corner in the dining room, he thought he was alone in the living room. Finally, a few days ago, I gave in to my mom, who told him that Santa had passed along a message to her: it was okay if he wanted to open one present, but only one. The whole cast of Yo Gabba Gabba could have moved in with us, but he was so happy he wouldn’t have noticed anyway. After a few tentative tears in the wrapping, I showed him how much more fun it was to make big-boy rips in the paper, which led to an Optimus Prime truck.
It’s all good, because he knows Christmas now. We taught him that, and until he realizes that Santa smells like reindeer poo or, God forbid, might not even exist, we have this magic. And no, little man, Santa doesn’t have a little person fetish, those are elves.