Santa Claus, Enforcer
Poppy is explaining the mysteries of Christmas, and Santa Claus in particular, to a very interested Rosie and Daniel.
“No presents? If you’re bad, you doesn’t get any presents?” Daniel digs a bit deeper. I think the boy realizes he has some cause for concern here.
Poppy is firm. “No. No presents for bad children.” She lifts her shoulder and crouches a bit, places her hands beside her cheeks, spreads the fingers, her eyes wide and shifting from side to side, the very posture of sneaky watchfulness. As imagined by a three-year-old, at any rate. Poppy tells her stories as much with her body as with her words. It’s a treat to watch her in action. “Santa Claus watches you aaaaaalllll the time, and you got to be good, and if you’re not?” She stands up suddenly, straight and tall, and slaps her hands together, cleaning imaginary sins and misdemeanors off her palms.
“You don’t get ANYTHING AT ALL!”
I work in a daycare. I have worked in a daycare for closing in on two decades now. I have heard about Santa each and every year. Now, when I was growing up, Santa brought one present. One modest present, at that. The rest were from identifiable people in my life. The big present? The one I’d been waiting for with bated breath for ever and ever? THAT one came from my mother, thank you so very much. I’m thinking she wanted the credit for her efforts. And whyever not?! Let some imaginary dude steal your thunder? Pfft.
So, Santa was part of my childhood Christmases, but not a big one. Lots of other things stood out more.
Thus, I didn’t ‘do’ Santa much with my own children. It didn’t rob us of the joy of the season. At all. In fact, I’ve argued before that shifting the emphasis may even have improved it. (Not, of course, that you can’t shift the emphasis and still have Santa.)
Not that I’ve ever once even considered disabusing a daycare tot of their belief in Santa. That’s totally their parents’ call, and I support whatever decisions they’ve made.
This year? It’s because of Poppy, I know. That “nothing if you’re bad” conversation has happened routinely over the past couple of weeks. The message is obviously being hammered home hard from someone in her life, and there is no doubt it is being absorbed. And the more I hear it, the more it rings in my ears like a really obvious — and not very kind or loving — form of manipulation.
“Be good or else!”
Behavioural blackmail, emotional blackmail. A threat.
Not, I confess, that Poppy seems traumatized by it. She’s more excited, far as I can make out. Excited and intrigued. And, of course, there is no worry at all that her tree will be barren of gifts come Christmas morning.
(Which makes it a completely empty threat, doesn’t it? This is a good thing for her tender little psyche, but, as we all know, bad parenting strategy. Technically, anyway. I give this one a Bad Parenting pass, because it’s more a game than anything, and most kids figure that out soon enough. Has Poppy figured it out, or does she just not see how awful the reality would be, were the threat to actually happen? The latter, I’m quite sure. She doesn’t really get it, for all it intrigues her.)
There’s no worry at all, even if it were a real threat. She’s three, of course, but she’s cheerful, cooperative, friendly. She is in no way a ‘handful’. (*cough*unlike Daniel*cough, cough*)
Down through my daycare years, pretty nearly all the kids have heard about Santa. And let me underline, that though I’m not a huge propagator of the Santa myth, I’m not opposed to it. I’m neutral, I guess. I’m sure most children get the “better be good!” warnings, too, but no one has made as much of them as Poppy. No child, ever. In close to twenty years. Is this a function of her character — does she like the mystery, does it tweak her (greatly reduced) tendency to anxiety, is she duly impressed by the need to behave? Has she taken a mild suggestion and just run with it in a big way? Or is someone in her life really, really working this idea?
I think it’s the latter.
And, for the first time in my daycare career, Santa Claus is making me uncomfortable.
This week, I let a little wry humour peek out as I stepped into that conversation.
Daniel was looking a bit worried. “Santa won’t give you anything?”
I ruffled his hair. “Well, you don’t get anything from Santa, no. He’s sort of fickle that way. But the people who know you and really love you? They love you even when you do bad stuff. You will get presents from them.”
I tap Poppy on her nose. “And you, missy? You are not a bad girl. Of course there will be presents for you!!”
And if I’ve thereby completely undermined the Family Child Control Strategy for December?
I. Don’t. Care.