So this one time, just two days before Christmas, I emotionally crushed my son. Like, sent him from overjoyed to shell shocked in 2.7 seconds. Technically Santa did. But it was my fault. Absolutely, 100% my fault. Let me set the scene.
On Friday morning the kids, Matt, and I were getting ready for the day so we could run last minute Christmas errands. We hadn't had much family time lately, so we were excited to get out and about together. Getting ready, though. Whew. It was like herding cats. Let's be honest. If I don't have the luxury of a leisurely day to ease them through the process, most mornings are like herding cats. Parents, you know what I mean.
Before this point, Matt had worked all night and was grabbing four or five hours of sleep. While he slept, I was downstairs trying not to lose my mind with two energetic, is-it-Christmas-yet children. The four-year-old had so much energy that I wanted to give him his mini trampoline early to quell the jumping, rolling, lap running, and banging that comes with each day. We (ahem, Santa) bought him a trampoline to help him move without destroying the house. True story. Like many others, his ability to focus and listen is better when he's able to work out the wiggles. So save the house, save our sanity, and help our child feel and listen better. Win, win, win.
The almost two-year-old is stubborn about speaking, choosing instead to pound on my leg or arm for attention while pointing in any direction to communicate she wants something. If I don't answer or ask her to use words she has, Harper pounds harder and starts screeching. Rest assured that when she chooses to use her words they are beautifully perfect. On a daily basis she randomly spits out a new one. When this girl decides she is ready to speak regularly, I'm pretty sure it's ALL going to be there. Until then, know that any bruises on my thighs and arms are from my mini.
While I was in the bathroom curling my hair and doing my makeup for our family day, both kids were underfoot. By underfoot I mean verbally and physically competing for my attention. As an introvert who had basically been solo parenting one stubborn and two healthily energetic children for several days, I needed space. They could feel that, even without understanding what "that" was. Don't get me wrong. I love my children more than anything and treasure them wanting and needing to be close to me. These days are fleeting. Sometimes, though, I need breathing room. Harper was at my vanity popping the caps off lipstick, dumping powdered cosmetics in the drawer, and enjoying the "pretty" things. Fortunately, when I told her to go pick out clothes for the day she happily headed to her room. Matt went with her and I could hear the commotion of Harper doing everything except completing a task she routinely does. In that moment it wasn't my problem, so I generously let it go.
Jake had responsibly gotten dressed first thing that morning. He only needed to put on his shoes before we walked out the door. In what I thought was a moment of brilliance, I pulled up a Santa app on my phone to create a personalized video for my excited, gentle hearted son. "Hmmmm," I thought as my finger scrolled through the options. "Let's do this five minute elf tour one."
It asked for a few details including whether Jake was nice, almost nice, or naughty. Oh, friends. This is where I inadvertently and royally screwed up. Thinking "he's had a lot of trouble listening lately," I went with almost nice. Santa would just tell him to keep being good but try a little harder, right? Then, without watching the video first, I handed my phone over to my precious son so he could watch it himself.
Jake was leaning on my vanity bench, knees on the floor, mere inches from my hip. The phone, ensconced in its sparkly pink case, rested gently in his hands. I watched Jake's eyes light up when Santa pulled up with his reindeer. Watching him talk to Santa and believe he was the real deal was adorable. That boy was all in and soaking up every moment. My heart was overflowing as I witnessed the scene and a "nicely done" feather was placed firmly in my cap.
...then Santa asked an elf to find Jake's file. They were going to run it through a special machine to see whether he was on the naughty or nice list. I wasn't worried. One look at Jake made it clear he was full of excited, knowing anticipation. Despite trouble listening, he is faithful in loving his sister, taking his dishes to the sink, drinking his milk, brushing his teeth, and going to bed on time. Overall he is a rule follower.
The moment arrived. The results were in! The elves' faces visibly fell and Jake got the Santa smack down. "Hmmm. Looks like your name isn't on the nice list yet. JAKE." There were more words, but I didn't hear them. It was two days before Christmas. Jake looked up at me, mouth slightly ajar. He was visibly shaken. I stuttered through some lame, desperate attempt to make him feel better before falling silent and giving him a hug. Then, despite my already finished makeup, Jake dug into my cosmetics drawer and pulled out a makeup sponge. "Here, Mom," he said quietly. "I'm helping." In that moment I'm pretty sure we both wanted to cry.
About five minutes later, when Harper had been wrestled into her clothes and both kids were putting on shoes and socks, I started to tell Matt that Jake had talked to Santa. Before I could share many details Jake quietly said, "I'm not on the nice list yet." What in the world was I going to do?
Things spiraled a bit from there. Jake didn't listen well all day, threw fits over not getting any toys while we were out, and generally acted like a kid who was not going to make it on the nice list by Christmas. Arg! I had set the tone for the day, set the kid up for failure, and had no idea how to fix it.
When Matt finally got a chance to watch the video he laughed. Hard. "I'm just glad this one's not on me!!!" he said. Then he acknowledged the Santa smack down had to be remedied because guys, my son is a sensitive FOUR not eight- or nine-year-old. Jake had gone to bed replaying the entire day in his head, from not being on the nice list to acting out at every turn. We were confident the conclusions he was drawing were not good. We could not allow a little video with a fake Santa Claus cause this much damage. As an aside, I'm 75% confident he will remember this when he's older.
Fortunately inspiration struck. That nifty little elf we move throughout the season is rumored to fly back to the North Pole each night. We had a loophole! The elf wrote Jake a letter telling him she was distraught to hear Jake wasn't on the nice list because it did not line up with her daily reports to Santa. Per redundancy protocol, she had his file tested again. As it turns out, the machine was malfunctioning and spitting out all kinds of inaccurate results. Jake was in fact on the nice list and Santa felt horrible for the mistake. She even brought him a small gift to say sorry.
Just like that all was well. With Christmas Eve came that little boy's miracle. You could see relief and joy wash over him. Jake was a wonderfully behaved child at home and church that day. Santa even brought an extra toy or two to say sorry. Mom guilt is so very real, guys. This kid ended up making bank on this one.
None of us are perfect parents. We all screw up. I've generally stopped my "put a fifty in the therapy jar" jokes so my kids don't (1) think therapy doesn't have an important place or (2) come to the conclusion that I don't care about their mental and emotional well-being. But this event totally qualifies for a therapy fund.
You know what? While we're at it? I just might add a fifty for myself.
Sarcastically and sufficiently chastened,