When I was a child, my mom threatened me with every imaginary character and wives’ tale imaginable.
(I may have been a handful.)
If I made an ugly face, she told me I had better stop lest my face get “stuck like that.”
(The thought of walking around with my tongue permanently stuck out of my mouth nipped me sticking my tongue out at her right in the bud.)
If she suspected I was lying, she would feign shock at my growing nose.
(I always gave my dishonesty away by reaching up to check that my nose had not suddenly grown three inches.)
And if it were Christmastime? She would play the Santa card.
(I think we can all agree we don’t need Dr. Freud to figure out where my Grinchyness got it’s start.)
Because of my mother’s parenting style (child abuse), I’ve always been really careful with my own children to reinforce the positive aspects of Santa Claus.
Despite my efforts, something went awry with my daughter.
The year she turned three, the trouble began. One evening I was driving my minivan down Stepford’s Main Street past the Fire Station that always has a huge inflatable Santa on it’s roof. My son says to my daughter, “Hey look! There’s Santa up there on the roof!”
My daughter burst into tears.
I adjusted the rear view mirror so I could see her and said, “Honey, what’s the matter?”
She sobbed, “I’m so naughty.”
I reassured her, “Oh Honey, no you’re not.”
She screamed, “YES I AM!”
Honestly, I didn’t know what to do with that. Neither of my children have ever been particularly naughty. They’ve had their moments, sure. Like the time I told my son he couldn’t have Rolos in the checkout line only to turn around and see chocolate and gold foil covering his chin. Or like the time my daughter was so angry with me she yelled, “THAT’S IT! YOU. ARE. FIRED!”
(Seriously? Who fires their mother? I mean, hell, even my mother hasn’t managed to get herself removed from her post.)
The next year, when my daughter was four, same problem. She would cry and carry on about being naughty every time Santa was even mentioned.
And the year she was five, same issue.
Then the year she turned six, we had a break through. One afternoon I scolded my daughter about something minor. The infraction was so minor that I cannot for the life of me even remember what it was. A short time later I walked into her room with some laundry to put away and found her crying on her bed.
I asked, “Honey, what’s wrong? I’m not mad at you.”
She said, “I’m so naughty.”
By this time, we had a pretty set dialogue for how this conversation was going to go... except this time after I said, “No Honey, you’re not ...”
She said, “YES! YES I AM! Mom, you have no idea what I say about you to myself. I say bad things about you and I use bad words. REALLY bad words. I’m not nice to you when you can’t hear me. I’M NAUGHTY.”
I was speechless. I mean, cussing me behind my back is kind of, you know, naughty. If she had done that to my face, all hell would have certainly broken loose. And she knew this. So she ... she ... had been covertly cussing my very name. And for years. Years.
Nothing in my prior parenting experience could have prepared me for this. To make matters worse my son entered the room to find out what exactly had busted loose in our house. Because I was unable to speak, my daughter filled him in.
My son says, rolling his eyes, “GAWD. You ruin everything. Don’t you know by now you’re not supposed to tell Mom what we say about her? It will hurt her feelings!”
(WE??????????? Both of my angelic children have been cussing me behind my back?)
At this, my daughter throws herself onto the floor and begins to wail, “Now I’m naughty because I’ve hurt your feelings!”
Well, it was banner day to say the least. However, it was also very cathartic.
My daughter learned that no matter what egregious sin she committed I would love her anyway.
My son learned not to confess to said egregious sins before confirming he had been implicated therein.
And I learned that I’m not a perfect mom. I learned that my kids do indeed sometimes not like me.
And most importantly, I learned that I can live with that imperfection.