If you didn’t have a chance to buy the amazing book I was a part of last year, Scary Mommy’s Guide To The Holidays, you can finally stop bathing in guilt because I am gifting you with my chapter below. It’s about how to scare the crap out of your kids while staying within the boundaries of good parenting. You’re welcome.
The idea of a strange bearded man breaking into my home in the middle of the night once a year was quite unnerving to me as a child. The fact that he somehow knew every detail of my daily behavior, both good and bad, made it that much creepier. My memories of Christmas Eve include sleeping with the covers pulled so tightly over my face that I could barely breathe, praying he didn’t decide to sneak into my room and harvest my kidneys on a whim.
Our yearly in-the-flesh encounters were brief yet horrific. Every Christmas my parents took my sisters and me down to the VFW hall, which usually got the third-string Santas. They were the ones with the fake beards who smelled like bourbon and hoarding.
As my family neared the front of the line, the screams of those who came before me became louder and more desperate. I considered offering my sisters up as sacrificial lambs and telling my mom I had to poop —that always made her hustle. Ultimately what kept me there was the promise of toys, which is pretty compelling when you’re a kid.
Suddenly the crowd parted and there he was, fishing wax out of his ear with his car keys, sitting on a metal folding chair. Nevermind. Screw the toys. I always had a change of heart and my little fingers busily searched for whatever would provide a good grip. These efforts were futile; I was pried loose and wiped on his lap as my parents smiled and slowly backed away.
It was the ultimate act of betrayal; them ignoring my outstretched arms and frantic screams for help while I was one-on-one with this furry velveteen beast. “Tell Santa what you want for Christmas,” they encouraged from afar. Oh, you want to know what I want? I want to get the fuck out of here, that’s what.
That was good and scary, but what came the following year made that experience look like a day at the park.
My dad worked overnights at a grocery store, which meant his days were free to do things like be volunteered by my mom to dress up as Santa for my preschool class. I imagine that he probably met this appointment with the same enthusiasm as if he were hit in the face with a bag of dicks. Of course him showing up to my classroom was news to me, and probably equally terrifying for both of us as most kids were “sort of” potty trained.
Seeing him all suited up in the doorway, I didn’t know the details but I guessed it had something to do with body snatching. Santa was my new father, and he would be coming home with us. Life as I knew it was over. “Were you the one wiping your boogers on the side of the couch?” he would say, winking at me as he scribbled something down in his notepad. My mom fished me out from under the activity table and explained what was going on, but the images fueling the night-terror train had already left the station.
I grew up wondering why any parent would deliberately place their precious child in such a terrifying situation. At Christmastime I bustled by droves of little kids lined up in the mall experiencing communal heart attacks at the faintest sound of jingle bells. Why would otherwise loving, responsible parents put their terrified children on the lap of a bearded devil?
Five years ago, I became a parent for the first time and it didn’t take long for me to figure it out. Summer days are long; winter days are longer. My kids and I were on day three of a horrific snowstorm and tensions ran high. Anything that could be argued over was argued over; even the fish couldn’t take it anymore and committed suicide by jumping out of his bowl. I hit rock bottom when two of them were coming to blows over a moldy piece of firewood. I was pushed to my limit and moments away from trudging through the show to hop a plane to Botswana.
Then . . . the unthinkable. Out of nowhere I went caregiver rogue. . . diverting from anything I learned in baby safety class or in Parents magazine or on Twitter. Raw instinct kicked in. “GIRLS!” I hissed. “Stop it ! Santa is watching, and if you keep fighting he is going to bring you nothing! NOTHING! Do you understand me?” They froze and looked at each other like they had just walked into the bathroom to find a large Bengal tiger painting his toenails. Quiet play was enjoyed the rest of the afternoon.
I had struck gold; everything became clear. From that moment on the Santa threat has been the most powerful weapon in my parenting arsenal. I am a woman possessed. Everything is “Santa is watching this” and “Santa is watching that.” And I never wait until December; the threats usually begin around Groundhog Day. The culmination of the charade is taking the kids to see him in person, lest there has been any doubt as to his existence.
“Is this healthy?” my husband questions from time to time. It’s not something I’m proud of. I know it’s a cheap shot, probably with some sort of lasting psychological damage. I guess the adult equivalent would be my priest informing me we are going to see God after church to explain a few things about last weekend. Or the president calling to tell me that North Korea just pointed its nukes at my house because I ran a red light. I feel bad, but not bad enough to test drive another strategy.
Parenting is hard. Right now my choices are Santa or sedation. And sedation isn’t going to get the dishes done.