I never really appreciated Santa Claus until I became a parent. Sure, I loved him when I was a kid the same way all kids do. He’s a guy with rosy cheeks who shows up once a year with a big bag of presents; what’s not to like? But it wasn’t until I had kids of my own that I realized Santa’s actual purpose during the holidays: leverage.
Once Sam and Jack were old enough to fully understand the concept of Santa—if you’re good, a fat man and his flying reindeer will come down the chimney and give you toys, if you’re bad, you get nada—my husband Chris and I were finally privy to what generations of parents had known for years. “You mean we can just tell them Santa won’t come to our house if they’re not good boys?” Chris asked. “And they’ll believe us?”
“Yeah!” I answered. “Isn’t that fantastic? It’s so much better than using any real parenting skills!”
So now each holiday season (which for us starts as soon as the Austin temperatures drop into the double digits), we’re able to keep the kids well behaved by dangling the threat of Santa Claus over their heads. Sure it’s a little Orwellian to let them think that there’s a magic man who records their every move, then writes their names on either a “good” list or a “bad list,” but who cares? I’ll support anything that makes Jack think twice about putting toothpaste on the cat again.
In recent years, our behavior reports to St. Nick have also become increasingly high-tech. The old, quaint days of letter writing are long gone; now we can just pull out our smart phones or laptops and give Santa the 411 on what the boys are doing in real-time.
“Does Santa really have email?” Sam asked nervously when he saw me furiously typing a message on my phone after he put a handful of marbles in the toilet.
“Uh-huh. He sure does,” I told him. “He had the elves in the North Pole IT department put Wi-Fi in his sleigh last year. I think Rudolph’s nose is the modem.”
Of course, both Chris and I realize that sooner or later the boys will be too old to believe in Santa any longer, but we’re desperate for the charade to last as long as possible. That’s why we went into high alert last December when our neighborhood had a St. Nick whistle-blower in the form of a sassy 5-year-old named Ethan. Apparently, Ethan’s parents had decided that he should know the whole truth about Santa, and Ethan then made it his mission to inform the rest of the kids on the block that they were nothing but gullible little patsies being controlled by their parents’ made-up stories.
“Guess what, Miss Wendi? I know Santa’s not real!” he blabbed to me one day while I was wrestling with a string of Christmas lights in the driveway. “He’s really just our parents!”
“What’d you say?” I yelled, whirling around and almost tripping over a decorative wreath in my blind panic. “No, no, no! You’re wrong, kid! Santa’s real! He’s totally real! He’s in the North Pole right now! In fact, I just texted him! Now if you know what’s good for you, you’ll zip your lip or you’re going to find yourself on the ‘naughty’ list, got it, narc?” Then I sprinted away to yank my boys inside before he spilled the beans and forever wrecked my holiday discipline strategy.
It wasn’t long before everyone on the block was following my lead and hustling their kids into the house as soon as they saw Ethan the Informant stomping their way in his light-up tennis shoes. There was just no way we were going to let him tell our children the truth. (Or as he put it, “the troof.”) Most of us wanted our kids to believe in Santa until they were on their second marriage. “Run!” we’d yell when he charged into the cul-de-sac. “Run for your lives! It’s the holiday Deep Throat! He’s gonna squeal! He’s gonna ruin for everyone!” I still wonder if his mother ever figured out why the poor kid didn’t have a single playdate the entire month of December.
But even though we managed to avoid Ethan last year, unfortunately now it looks like the jig is finally up. Last week, Sam confessed to me that he didn’t find the Santa story very “plausible” anymore. And I suppose once your kid’s using words like “plausible,” it’s time to finally let go of childhood’s imaginary characters and face the real world.
At least until Easter.
(The original version of this was seen in the December ’09 issue of Austin Woman Magazine.)
Happy holidays, everyone! Thank you all for reading, and I’ll see you next year!