During my childhood– my Mom’s favorite “form-of-control” was the ol’ left hand forward-motion to grab the hanging, fully corded telephone. This was a time when having a 50 foot curly telephone cord was our version of being “cordless”.
Sue Baumhower, my mom, would use this maneuver anytime after September. This was a direct threat that she was going to pick up the phone, call Santa Claus and report me for being an asshole. She would also implore this very tactic in the non-winter months, but it was with the Police instead.
As a visual reminder– my mom with her perfect left-handed penmanship, would have Santa’s number written on a piece of paper, held by an over-sized clumsy magnet, which also served as a bottle opener for our bottled Pepsi, hanging on the fridge. Our refrigerator was located a mere inches away from our house phone.
As all kids figure out, I would eventually call her bluff, continue my behavior to see if she actually would pick up the phone, start the very exhausting and drawn out dialing exercise. As soon as I heard her finger dial a very short-stroked “1′, I knew she wasn’t calling my grandparents, it was a long distance call being made.
With the phone straddled between her cheek and shoulder, Mrs. Baumhower and I would be having a stare down the entire time the phone rang. Each ringtone heard by her ears and mine, would raise the stakes of the our kitchen Christmas stand-offs.
As soon as my mom would say “Hello… Santa?”–the mood and scenario would change. The tides were turned; I would become instantly apologetic, promising to change my ways, forcing a very crooked smile to help sell the half-truths I was trying to sell. I would start negotiations of things I could accept as punishment instead of the ensuing conversation with Chris Kringle. I would eventually say or do the right thing where my mom would abruptly end the conversation with a “never mind” or “I might have called you too soon Santa”.
As you can imagine, I was not the easiest child to raise. I distinctly remember the mounting pressure that would build in the month of December. Day-by-day, I would be allowed to tear off another length of chain made of green or red construction paper, that we assembled every year at St. Clements school. They didn’t have Pinterest then, nor much imagination, we were Catholic. This chain was supposed to signify the countdown of days until we celebrated the birth of Jesus, but who were they kidding… it was a 7 year-old’s way of understanding how many days until the big man in a red hat would arrive and enter our chimney-less house.
Yes, my mom calling a man who was incredibly busy building the very toys I had requested, who lived far away and who’s call would generate an incredibly expensive long-distance charge on our phone bill, although I had no concept of finance… would scare me straight every time.
Not only would I have no Christmas, but I would have to deal with my father when the phone bill arrived in February.
With every fresh piece of construction paper torn, came a brief moment of relief. For a boy who caused enough daily correspondence between teacher and parent, that somewhere had to inspire email… had somehow survived another day of Santa not having to deal with my mother on the phone. At the time I was convinced I was doing Mr. Claus a favor. It might have been the one act annually that kept my name off the “naughty list:”
I’ve been blessed to have children that act nothing like myself, so I have never had to reach for an imaginary phone with 50 feet of cord. I assume this parental Holiday tactic has remained and evolved some– maybe Santa has an email address or perhaps you can text him at will? You should also know, especially coming from the child who was pleading, smiling and even dancing for another person to hang up the phone– that we try our best to behave during the holidays. Maybe if you didn’t allow seven year children to eat 10 sugar cookies at 8 PM, with a chocolate milk chaser– we could “settle down” or “leave our little baby sister alone”. Just saying.
Parents aren’t perfect either in the month of December.
To every mom who never called Santa and to every son who forced their mom to keep his number on a nearby fridge…. Merry Christmas.