Full of hope, she rattled off her list – WebKinz, a bike, a pony, a gigantic Ugly Doll – while staring awestruck at Santa. He nodded and smiled as she spoke. But before he said she’d get her wishes, his face turned serious.
“I hear that you’re not sleeping in your own room,” Santa mused, eyebrows raised in a not-so-jolly way. His eyes flicked over to mom and dad, who stood nearby. “You must start sleeping in your own bed, starting tonight,” he said authoritatively. He never came right out and said, “lump of coal,” but clearly, a large bag of toys was hanging in the balance.
That night, Kaitlan slept peacefully in her own bed, dreaming of sugarplums, fairies and impossible-to-find Elmos.
Meet Behavior Modification Santa: B-Mod, for short.
It all started when my neighbors came over to my parents’ house for some drinks. They lamented about Kaitlan’s princess bed and all the royal accoutrements that went with it, purchased in order to entice their daughter to sleep in her own room. They hadn’t spent one whole night alone since she was born.
Tearful tale told, they delicately asked my white-haired father if he would help them out. They laid out their plan: they’d rent the costume. He’d do the dirty work. My father, holding a merry-making beverage, agreed. And B-Mod Santa was born.
B-Mod quickly became all the rage around our neighborhood. He was kind and generous, but very specific about “naughty and nice.” Behavior parameters could be custom-tailored by the subject’s own parents – covering sleep schedules, eating habits, potty training and etiquette.
I realize that good parenting can achieve the same results without such subterfuge, but even good parents know how quickly a few tired yeses can snowball into lawlessness. As an exhausted parent to two tiny insomniacs, I was all for having B-Mod pay a visit to our house. Perhaps my dad could throw some of that merry magic my way and get my girls to go to bed at eight, eat all of their dinner, and refrain from running around me, giggling maniacally, when I try to get them dressed.
“Come on, girls,” I cooed one morning the following week. I felt perkier than my four hours of sleep usually affords. “Santa’s popping by today! Make a list of all the things that you wish for most!”
My daughter Amina, three and a half, had just taken to catalogs and was suddenly brainwashed by every ad on TV. “I want AquaDots!” she squeaked. That was a milestone for the baby book – her very first made-for-TV must-have. Toy recalls took this one off Santa’s list, but there were plenty more requests where that came from. She also wanted Chutes and Ladders, Hi Ho! Cherry-O, and pages twelve through forty-two of the latest Made-In-China catalog.
My other daughter, Camille, at fourteen months was not yet able to articulate all of her desires, but I hoped that Santa could talk her into not perpetually ransacking the house, overturning trash bins and laundry baskets, and pulling a lawyer’s share of books off the shelf each day. In exchange, I hoped she’d accept Santa’s approval and an oversized plush Hello Kitty.“Come on, girls! Santa’s popping by today!”
I gave B-Mod my own wish list: The girls would retire early to bed on Must-See-TV Thursdays, and give me a little space (just wearing earmuffs would be fine!) so I could watch Weeds. Amina would stop crying every time I suggested she wear something that was seasonally appropriate. They would eat their vegetables.
Santa was waiting, as arranged, on the couch when we returned from the park that afternoon. He nodded at me, acknowledging that he was ready for his mission. The girls scrambled over to him and he brought them up onto his lap. One at a time, they leaned in close. The negotiations began. As Santa explained how it would all go down, they nodded in ascent. The dollar was never stronger than it was at this moment.
That night, they ate, bathed and slept without incident. When they challenged me, I gently reminded them the deal that Santa had cut, and it worked like a charm. With my angels sleeping at ten after nine, I retired to the sofa and systematically watched a year’s worth of TiVo. For me, it was the best Christmas present I could have asked for.