Monday, December 25, 2006

Seasonal Shock and Awe

About a month ago, we introduced the concept of a continuing dialogue with Santa as a disciplinary technique. It was around the time Gwen hung up the big cloth Advent calendar we put up every year, with little pockets sewn around the days from December 1 through the 24th. We filled the pockets - I should say Gwen filled the pockets - with stickers, lip balm, bubble bath, candy, miniature pens, micro post-it notes and other items that delighted Madison and Ava and served as a daily first-thing-in-the-morning pre-holiday treat.

The day-to-day reinforcement that Christmas was coming has been exciting for the girls, and the the idea that Santa "was watching" and making last-minute assessments has been very helpful from the standpoint of effective and impactful parenting. For the most part, our kids have been good and cooperative during the countdown to this most favorite of holidays, and Santa threats have been relatively few.

But a few days ago, in the haze of school parties, too much sugar and not enough sleep, I found myself in need of something extra, and discovered in moment of divine inspiration what can only be considered the nuclear weapon in the battle against juvenile bad behavior - the E-MAIL TO SANTA!

I threw the line out as a lark in a moment of peak parenting frustration. The girls were engaged in some form of extended bickering, and making some kind of mess, their little bloodstreams trying to process the latest holiday cupcake or chocolate - no light through the darkness, at least none that I could see. Somehow, a gentle "Santa's watching" reminder seemed utterly incapable of cutting through the clutter. And then it hit me:

"GIRLS! That is IT! I'm going into the office right now and I am going to SEND AN E-MAIL TO SANTA! I'm going to tell him all about what you are doing and how you're behaving!"

The result was stunning, and absolute. No parenting threat or admonition has come anywhere close to the immediate behavior modification induced by the idea of an e-mail to Santa, a helpful little missive to make sure he was in possession of the most current and relevant information when making final toy assessments. 180-degree turnaround doesn't begin to capture it. Total silence, followed by heartfelt pleas against this stated course of action, followed by model behavior. Nearly 6, Madison was old and sophisticated enough to respond to this threat with such visceral, wild-eyed and frantic terror I felt like a German scientist back in the 1930s. You could have told her she was off gum and candy for the next year and the reaction would have been muted indifference by comparison.

I wound up using the line a handful of times over the last few days, not something I'm particularly proud of, and the results were identical every time. There was no building up a tolerance to the idea of a Santa e-mail. I experienced no drop-off in the effectiveness of the threat, although I did augment the presentation a bit in its final use - on the way to our family Christmas Eve party - when the girls began battling in the back seat. I pulled out my Treo, held it high enough to be seen over the headrests, and began wildly punching at the buttons - significant elbow movement thrown in for effect - while delivering the verbal e-mail threat. If anything, the apocalyptic reaction intensified as a result of the visual cue. I credit the innate good behavior of my children with the fact that I never got to, "OK, I'm pushing send now... I'm about to push SEND!"

And now it's gone, as quickly as it arrived. The toys have been delivered. The girls are happy. Santa never did get his e-mail. And my nuclear option in is in mothballs.

For at least another 11 months.


Blogger Jake said...

I just stumbled onto this story, and it brings back so many memories of my parents threatening the same to my Brother and I. Such a strong belief in Santa. I miss that blind faith.

Thank you for the memories!

9:44 AM  

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