You Better Not Cry

Using Santa Claus as the ultimate weapon of discipline

Trying to raise a child to grow up right in this dark, twisted world is no easy task for any parent. Therefore, I feel perfectly justified in threatening my son with Santa Claus' wrath.

Of course, I didn't intend for us to go down this particular path. As a new father of a drooling babe, I had looked forward to the years ahead when I would be initiating our innocent boy into the hallowed traditions of Christmas. As he grew older, I imagined we would experience an even more ideal version of my already idealized memories from youth: awaiting perfectly formed Christmas cookies to be released from Mom's watchful protection, hiking high atop a snowy mountain to personally chop down our ideal Christmas tree, decorating our warm, crackling hearth with hand-made stockings stuffed with small, European toys carved from wood. Then we would tell him the story of Santa Claus, which he would accept with wide-eyed wonder and a feeling of complete inner joy. I figured this ritual would last a good seven or eight years.

However, I did not anticipate how parenthood might completely obliterate one's every reserve of energy, hope, desire, faith, patience, and the ability to pay bills on time. This occurs during Year Two. Coincidentally, that's also when the shortcuts start being utilized.

First, who has the time or kitchen space to actually bake all those different cookie shapes? And then decorate them? I say, let the professionals at Pepperidge Farm handle this—they know what they're doing. Second, how selfish is it to kill a tree just to re-enact some bizarre druidic procedure? No, let's buy the gold, fold-up tree at Target instead—and save the Earth. And third, do we really want to those Christmas-stocking-sewers in China to lose their jobs, along with their plastic-toy-mold-injector comrades? That's more seasonal guilt than I can bear, thank you—now where are those Blue Light Specials?

But the story of Santa Claus, now that was a custom we could get behind—especially because it included the happy side effect of instilling fear in the little hellion. A fear of no toys.

I believe the first time I used Santa Claus as an ultimatum occurred in Year Three, when he wanted to ride one of the cats in the living room.

"You really shouldn't do that," I muttered to him from the dining table where I was cradling my head.

"Why not?" he called over his shoulder as Junebug ineffectually tried to crawl to safety.

Suddenly, it came to me:

"Because Santa is making his list," I said. "Remember? All the kids on his ‘bad' list don't get toys for Christmas."

"So?"

"Sitting on the cat is bad!" I accused, rising from my chair. "Santa won't bring you any toys!"

This stunned him. I could see he was retracing his steps, calculating just how "bad" he had been just now and what effect it might have on his Christmas-morning haul.

"Wh-wh-what's Santa going to say?" he asked, unsure of himself for the first time in his three-plus years of existence.

That's it. I had him cornered. Finally!

"Santa is very upset, and he told me he's going to put you on the bad list—unless you get off the cat right now," I said in my stern voice of parental wisdom. And he did it. He got off the cat. It worked!

Since then, Santa Claus has become an avenging figure of judgment and retribution in the Turczyn household. And we really couldn't be happier; the balance of power has been restored. For at least another five or six years, anyway.