It’s probably not the kind of parenting style that childcare experts would approve of (it’s not the first time I have typed that and it definitely won’t be the last) but I have been pulling the Santa card since the beginning of November.
It’s the first time that my eldest has really understood the concept of Christmas at the age of three. So one Saturday afternoon, while witnessing a full-blown bust up between him and little brother about which of them got to drive a car across the TV screen first (yes, really), I suddenly announced I could see a Christmas elf sat on the roof of the building opposite our living room window. Stanley ran to the window. “Where Mummy? I can’t see him!
Where is he? Why is he looking at us?” As he pressed his face against the window to get a better look, quickly joined by his younger brother shouting “Elf! Elf! Elf!” with literally no idea what he was shouting about, I started to spin a story.
‘The elves are watching you all the time during the day,’ I explained. ‘They’ll be sat on buildings, hiding behind trees, and sat on boats out at sea when we are on the beach. There’s even one at school hiding outside the window of your classroom. And if you are naughty, they will tell Santa Claus straight away.’
As he squinted out of the window, I added: ‘If you are naughty, he will put you straight on the ‘naughty list’ and there will be no presents on Christmas Day. Do you understand?’
He looked at me with wide eyes and nodded in agreement.
‘So be good’, I added. ‘And you will be on the ‘good list’ and you will get lots of nice presents’.
I held my breath and paused, backing away as he continued to peer out the window.
“Ok mummy,” he finally muttered. “I want to be on the ‘good list’.”
The good behaviour continued for a few days and I couldn’t quite believe my luck. Every time I heard a commotion, I mentioned the elves and he snapped back to being perfect. I had this motherhood thing nailed (in November and December, at least).
Until that is, we took a trip to the mall at the weekend and we suddenly heard a piercing shriek. Looking around in confusion, it quickly dawned on me that it was my child. He clung to my husband’s legs as he wailed, before managing to splurt out: “The elf!!! The elf is following us!”
I followed his gaze to a man walking a few yards behind. I’d like to tell you that he was wearing a green outfit and had pointed ears, as it would make a better story – but really, he was just a normal man in a black T-Shirt, sipping a takeaway coffee and chatting to an equally un-elf-like friend. But to my son, who was now attempting to climb up his daddy’s leg in desperation, he was definitely an elf on duty. Definitely. No doubt, about it.
As the man approached, he screamed: “I’ll be good! I’ll be good!” before dissolving into deep sobs. I smiled at the (now totally bemused) man as he passed us, while the baby shouted ‘Elf! Elf! Elf!’ and jabbed his finger in his direction.
Back home, I tried a very different tact.
‘Santa has just called me,’ I announced as he ate his lunch. ‘He says that he won’t be sending elves to watch you anymore as they are too busy. Instead, he’ll be watching you through his special cameras.’
“Which cameras, mummy?” he asked with wide eyes – and I pointed up at the smoke detectors in our apartment, which gave a quick flash, right on cue.
“And how do I know if I’m on the ‘naughty list’?” he asked.
‘Just make sure you’re a good boy and you’ll be on the ‘good list’.’ I quipped back.
“But how do I actually know, mummy?” he pressed.
Thinking on my feet, I blurted: ‘I don’t know, there will be a sign. Maybe the cameras will do a beep or something if Santa is unhappy so you can start being a good boy, otherwise the elves might have to come back.’
“A beep?” he asked. ‘Yes probably,’ I said, as I walked out of the room.
He accepted that and once again, the good behavior continued, for a while.
Whenever a toy was snatched, vegetables were left on his plate, or he refused to go to bed in the evening, I pointed at the “cameras” on the ceiling – and order was restored almost instantly, without me even having to mutter single word.
Until I burnt the toast one morning and the alarms went off in the apartment.
Pandemonium ensued and let’s just say that I immediately regretted starting or telling the whole sorry tale...