Each year around this time, the threat of Santa rides herd on my youngsters. I catch my kids in mid-hit, arm dangling in the air a few inches from their sibling target when they hear the words, “Santa’s watching ...” The arm moves down slowly and the child walks slowly backward away from his or her opponent with an unidentifiable huff.
Santa is watching. Those words have always miraculously turned down the volume of the screams, curbed the sassing, reduced the wrestling and increased tidiness in my household. My kids have always succumbed to the fear that if they misbehave, the “big guy in the red suit” would bring coal to their stockings and leave no presents under our tree on Christmas morning.
But this year, the seasonal threats are getting me nowhere. My kids are rowdy as ever and have absolutely no fear when it comes to Santa. (And I have reminded them of how large he is with his abdominal bowl full of jelly.)
This is the time of year where we read the sweet lines about children nestled all snug in their beds with visions of sugarplums. But no, this year, we are kicking aside T’was the Night Before Christmas and taking a page or two from Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are. Because they are here, in my house, every day, wreaking havoc and ignoring the threats brought on by Old St. Nick. There are no sugarplums dancing around this year.
Where did this threat go awry? Was it just a short run or is this year an anomaly? Santa doesn’t hold the same weight he did in year’s past.
So, despite my disdain for commercialism, we invested in an Elf on the Shelf, thinking that having a creepy little elf with twinkling eyes moving from place to place throughout our home at night would tighten our grasp on the kids’ behavior. We thought it was just the thing to bring the Christmas magic (and threat) back. And for a day it did. But just as fast as we read our Elf on a Shelf book, the kids quickly began a fight over what our resident elf would be named. Connor chose Chip, Ashley wanted Frosty and Carson insisted on Pecker. Yes, Pecker.
Our unnamed elf has moved seven times in six nights but the threat that our elf will be having a discussion with Santa hasn’t changed the kids’ behavior. I’ll admit, it’s a fun and efficient method of getting them out of bed each morning to search for their elf’s whereabouts, but apart from that, our elf is nothing more than a Christmas decoration that moves about the house.
I had just about given up on a solution to wrangle my rambunctious children; and began contemplating and subsequently justifying their wild behavior. I blamed it on the stress of the season, the fact that they’ve been home with a sitter while we’ve been out for dinner or at holiday parties. Maybe it’s just that they need a break from school, more one-on-one time.
Then just on Sunday, while shopping along Laurel Street with my eldest, the Christmas magic made a come back. It wasn’t a Santa sighting, not a busy elf on a shelf. Instead it was in the form of an older woman parked in front of the Union Bank ATM.
We were getting in our car when the woman called over to us. “Wait just one minute, please,” she said.
I looked around to realize she was talking to us.
“Do you need some help with something,” I asked, smiling in wonder.
“No, just wait for me to finish here and I’ll come right over,” said the woman with the green crocheted cap, sunglasses, standing beside her small silver boxcar.
We waited a bit apprehensively and she walked over to us. She asked me how many kids were in the car. I said, just one. She asked how many I had in total and I told her three, two boys and a girl.
She whipped out a wad of cash and pulled out three crisp ones. She looked into my son’s wide eyes and said, “Please take this Christmas dollar and spend it wisely on somebody you love. Be sure to give one to your brother and sister to do the same,” she said.
My first inclination was to insist that the woman keep her money. But then I saw the joy this gave her.
I thanked her profusely. She simply said, “This means more to me than it will to them.” I thanked her again, wished her a very Merry Christmas and she was off in her sporty car.
We got in our car and Connor was mystified. His eyes were aglow and he expressed how nice it was for this lady whom he’d never seen before to give him a Christmas buck to spread some seasonal cheer.
He asked why she did that and quick as a wink, I replied, “Santa works in mysterious ways, he has his helpers, ya know.” I let the thought resonate with him on our short trip home.
It appears all you have to do is convince the oldest child of something. Behavior has improved and the story Connor retold of Santa’s helper to his brother and sister will probably be as much of a Christmas tradition as the elf himself.