As I write this column I have less than two weeks left of what I like to call “free parenting assistance” and sometimes even “free babysitting.”
Obviously, that’s a stretch, but believe me when I say there are no two words that hold more weight for a 5-year-old than “Santa’s watching.” Those words are so effective that they allow me to leave Mikey to his own devices and trust him with the honor system, to an extent.
“Mikey, I have to go into the other room by myself for 30 minutes (to wrap presents). You can watch a show on TV but don’t get into anything. Santa’s watching.”
“Sure, bud, you can have a cookie. Think you can get it yourself? But you can only have one. Remember, Santa’s watching.”
“Mikey, are you keeping your hands to yourself on the bus? Don’t bother lying to me… Santa’s watching.”
“Hey, kid, you better clean up your toys, because – that’s right – Santa’s watching!”
It’s a shame we only invoke the power of Santa in the last quarter of the year. I could really use his help over the summer when it’s daylight until 9 p.m. and I’m trying to get the little gremlin to sleep.
Pro tip: Never say “I’m telling Santa,” because then you become the tattler and someone to blame. But when you say “Santa’s watching,” it relieves you, as the parent, of all evil doings. “Santa’s watching” means you simply cannot help your child out when they misbehave, because the big guy saw it with his own two eyes.
It helps if, when you say those words, you grimace and shrug your shoulders, like you feel sorry for your little trouble-maker for getting themselves on the naughty list.
So far this season, “Santa’s watching” has gotten us a clean playroom, a few eaten vegetables, less fuss at bath and bed times, and a cleaner car for Mom (that one I’m really proud of), to name a few.
However, there are times when those words, used in haste, can disrupt the entire socio-ecological system of the household. We narrowly escaped one such occasion the other night.
Mikey was being punished for some bad behavior and he was not responding well to his time out in his bedroom. He kept whining and stomping his feet and pushing, pushing, pushing his father. I could see my husband was on edge but before I could interfere I heard the words roll off his tongue: “Santa’s watching and now he’s not going to come!”
Too much! Way, way too much!
He looked back at me in the hallway where I was hiding, shaking my head vehemently and dragging my hand across my throat in an attempt to convey to him, through Charades and telepathy, to pull it back.
But it was too late. The damage was done.
My child let out the most mournful shrill I have ever heard went into complete meltdown mode. Undomesticated animals in the wild fearing for their offspring show more control over their emotions than my little guy did in that moment.
Quickly, my husband backpedaled. “OK, look, Santa is seeing your poor behavior, but that means if you turn it around he will see that, too. OK?”
The crying subsided slightly.
“Maybe if you write a letter to you mother and me telling us you’re sorry, he’ll give you another chance.”
I heard a little hiccupped “OK,” and Mike looked back down the hall at me. I rolled my hand at him, indicating for him to keep going.
“And, uh… If you write a letter to Santa, as well, telling him you won’t behave like that again, I’m sure you’ll be back on the nice list.”
Again, a soft, “Yeah, OK,” came from Mikey’s room.
It was touch-and-go for a while, but we managed to keep the Christmas spirit alive and well in the Crocco household. And, more importantly, we did not compromise the power of “Santa’s watching.”
Holly Crocco is editor of the Putnam County Times/Press and mother of a 5-year-old. She can be reached at email@example.com.