# How many days ‘til Christmas?

How many days ‘til Christmas? I get asked that a lot lately. Mostly it’s Big Man asking the question. His Kindergarten class hasn’t worked their way up to subtraction from such a lofty number as 25 yet. Sometimes Buster will ask me. He knows how to subtract from 25, but why should he have to, when he could just ask a parent? As part of their Christmas cheer and good will, parents should always be ready to announce how many long, tedious days remain between a kid and the most prized morning of the year.

Yesterday it was requested I ask Siri how many days ‘til Christmas. Apparently, my calculations have run up against some doubt in the elementary school mathematics community. Perhaps my results don’t seem optimistic enough. Siri’s information, on the other hand, is ironclad.

I didn’t ask Siri. I will not be doubted.

Big Brother doesn’t ask me about the countdown. He’s trying to play it cool. Or maybe he’s going straight to Siri behind my back.

I wonder what Siri got them for Christmas.

I have more reason than Siri does to know how many days ‘til Christmas. I know exactly the number of days because, to me, they are not long and tedious; they are short and fleeting.

There’s not enough time. People want me to show up for work; others want me to attend holiday events; the schools want to have plays and concerts, the whole time softly coercing parents to show up to support their children. And the kids’ sports programs and music lessons have no mercy either.

Tell me, oh great and powerful Siri, when am I supposed to make Christmas happen?

Siri relaxing and enjoying the Holiday Season in her own unhelpful way.

The Christmas season seems like it would be fun, if you could afford a moment to enjoy it. Imagine sitting down to a nice Christmas movie with your family, without being haunted by the myriad things left to do before that hard deadline that equals 25-0.

As I recall, when I was a kid, Santa Claus picked up a lot of the slack. Saint Nick came through every year. Now, not so much. He’s older now, so maybe he can’t do the heavy lifting he used to do. I guess that’s a valid excuse; I just wish he had let us know he was getting ready to wash his hands of the whole making kids merry thing.

Perhaps Santa could have apprenticed Siri into the role. I mean, wouldn’t it be great if she did a little more than just talking Christmas up to the kids?

Well, maybe I’ll get to relax after Christmas. Boxing Day should be good, except for all the Christmas mess, and the kids wanting to play with all their toys at the same time and getting overstimulated.

But I don’t have to think too hard, or really even get up out of my chair to put a kid in Timeout. So, yeah, the day after Christmas should be fine.

# I’ll ask Santa if he’ll come back next year

Despite my many warnings to the boys about the borderline quality of their behavior leading up to Christmas, Santa came anyway. Nobody can be counted on to give 102nd chances like Santa.

We had a typical Christmas for us. It began with a mega-dose of childish excitement and glee. Then it slowly spiraled into the danger zone known as Too Much Christmas, when three boys, overstimulated and full of adrenalin, can’t process all the new things to play with and turn into Tasmanian Devils.

When Christmas is still fresh and new – before the abundance of toys overloads any synapses.

Just think how fun it will be out of the box!

A small cooling off period sets things right again, or as near as they can be on this day of frenzy. Then it’s the battle to make them sit down long enough to eat some dinner. Fortunately, Big Brother has inherited his father’s unconditional love of the ham. He’d eat it in a box with a fox, or even during the excitement of Christmas Day. It’s only the little ones who can’t see the majesty of the glazed shank beyond the shine of new toys.

About mid-afternoon begins the parental strategizing about how to wear them down so they’ll go to bed at a decent hour, in spite of all the fun stuff calling them to wakefulness from the living room.

The day ends with a drink of Daddy’s new scotch, conveniently delivered by the UPS man on Christmas Eve. If there is a Santa, I’m now convinced his suit is brown rather than red.

And what a scotch it was. This new one is potent. It tried to put hair on my chest. It didn’t realize that my chest is a difficult place put hair. The most difficult place is my head, which retired from hair farming some years ago. At my age, that scotch would have been far more successful seeking fertile ground on my back, but liquor attempts only what it’s trained to do.

In the days following Christmas, things have settled down some. Some. We still have fights between Buster and Big Brother over the best use of certain toys. Big Man keeps everybody on their toes with his penchant for disassembling LEGO creations whenever one is left unattended and within his reach.  This causes much gnashing of teeth, yet never causes anyone to learn to keep their LEGOs up high.

There used to be a laser turret here. But after Big Man tore that off, Jar Jar makes a good substitute.

Pieces are broken or lost. This is the natural order of things. Instinctively, they are making room for the next Christmas.

On the third night after Christmas, Buster considered his built, then unbuilt, then half-built again LEGO toy. “Daddy, “ he said.

“Yes?”

“I want more Christmas.”

There’s a little Buster in me that always wants more Christmas too. But when the Daddy in me reflected upon the dizzying roller coaster that is Christmas with three boys, even my inner child shook his head. There’s not enough scotch in the world for that.

“Maybe we’ll have another one next year. I’ll ask Santa how he feels about it.”

# All the daddies do it

It’s that time of year again. It’s the height of the season when parents use Santa Claus leverage to pry good behavior from their children. But I would never hijack a beloved icon to extort good behavior from my kids.

Like hell I wouldn’t. I clobber them over the heads with Santa.

“Santa won’t want to come here if these toys aren’t picked up.”

“Santa looks unfavorably upon little boys who won’t be quiet when Daddy’s watching the game.”

“Santa this; Santa that.” It’s all Santa, all the time. Sometimes it even works. Sort of.

A watched pot never boils, especially when the watcher made noise all through Monday Night Football.

Santa’s pulled a lot of weight around our house when it comes to keeping kids in line, even without the help of that creepy Elf on the Shelf, who has yet to prove he’s officially sanctioned by Santa.

Eventually, Santa will abandon us, and then I don’t know where we’ll be. I can only hope he will have done well enough raising our children that we can take over without a large drop off in behavior or, more importantly, convenience.

But Santa is not the only force of manipulation in our house. Lately, Buster has discovered a new force he’s sure should persuade me to do what he asks.

If I tell him I won’t give him a bowl of gummy bears for breakfast, he looks up at me with big, sincere eyes and tells me. “All the daddies do it.”

I say, “No. Daddies don’t give their children gummy bears for breakfast.”

He gives me a what-rock-have-you-been-living-under? look and insists, “Yes they do. All the daddies.”

The motion is passed. The Council of Daddies decrees that, henceforth, all the daddies will do it.

I’m not sure where he learned about peer pressure, or how he found out what all the daddies are doing these days, but it worked out for him that they are all doing just the sorts of things he would appreciate. Sadly, the only daddy who is out of step with the times is his own. What a rotten luck of the draw.

Lest you think parental peer pressure is reserved for daddies, I have overheard him play the all-the-mommies card as well. Apparently, all the mommies have joined all the daddies in opening up a world of limitless sugar and playing ball in the house to little boys.

It frustrates him that his parents have not joined, or even been invited to, the revolution. But we are older than most parents of three-year-olds, and not very hip. We’re stuck in the old ways. We think he should get his morning dose of sugar from someone we trust, like Cap’n Crunch, not from a fly-by-night mob of nameless bears.

This doesn’t stop him from using the new thinking of all the daddies and mommies to try to influence our parenting. Likewise, a reminder that Santa is watching only keeps him on the straight and narrow for about a minute, but that doesn’t stop me from going to the Santa well at every opportunity.

In either case, you’ve got to do the best you can with the tools you have.

# We’re trying to respect your personal space, Santa

I wanted to take Buster to the Home Depot kids’ workshop, but he threw a wrench at our Saturday morning by refusing to potty. Despite both Mommy’s and Daddy’s coaxing, he was adamant; his three-year-old bladder is tough, even after 10 hours of sleep. He usually sticks to his guns on such matters, but a few minutes later he conceded. “Daddy,” he said, hopping from one leg to the other, “You wight [right]. Mommy wight [right], too. I gotta go potty.” Even in urgent moments, he gives credit where credit is due.

Confident our building project wouldn’t be interrupted by a sudden Men’s Room steeple chase through Home Depot, we set out.

We encountered  an acquaintance sitting in a chair outside the kids’ workshop area. It was an awkward moment, because we weren’t expecting to see him and he didn’t seem to remember us. But Santa meets so many people he can be forgiven for not recognizing us right off. To mitigate the awkwardness, we quickly claimed our kit and set to work.

Meanwhile, Santa, who was on the young side, and planned to spend his day helping customers find pipe fittings when his manager handed him red suit, sat sheepishly in his chair, counting the moments until he could don the more comfortable orange apron.

Santa’s unease with children made more sense when we learned that his father was fatally mauled by a wild band of them.

As Santa stewed in his regret over having drawn the short straw, we set to work building our blocks on a dowel stuck into a wooden base thingy. Buster is getting good with a hammer, which would be all good news if he were 12; for a preschooler it still has the potential to be a mixed blessing. We only made one mistake this time – an improvement for manly men like Buster and me who don’t need no stinking instructions.

On the way out, we passed Santa again. Hoping to lend some value to his time served beside these terrifying little people, I asked Buster to tell Santa what he wants for Christmas. Neither Buster nor Santa appeared keen on the proposed interaction, but I had refrained from any talk about sitting on laps, so neither fled screaming down the aisle.

Meanwhile, Buster’s unease with Santa is based on half-truths and misrepresentations.

At length, Buster whispered, “You tell him.” Santa’s eyes agreed this would be best.

“What do you want?” I asked Buster.

Buster leaned in so Santa couldn’t hear. “Star Wars LEGOs.”

I relayed the message. Santa stared at me for a while. Then, in a moment of inspiration, he replied, “Um, I’ll see what I can do.”

We left Santa to serve out his sentence as best he might and went home. Hours later, as darkness fell, Buster approached me with a sad face. “Star Wars LEGOs not coming,” he lamented. I explained that Santa didn’t come until Christmas, which must be some days away since we didn’t have a tree yet.

Buster was assuaged, but now I’m on the hook for Star Wars LEGOs. It’s one thing that they’re an expensive toy, but Buster’s hammering skills won’t build LEGOs. Guess how I’ll be spending Christmas.