The other day, as Jacob and I were getting in the car after grocery shopping, Jacob asked me if he was good last year. It was a pretty vague question and I really had no idea where he was going with it. I answered somewhere in the "Not really" range, basically alluding to Jacob's obvious issues with listening. He's well aware that we're not thrilled with his behavior a lot of the time, and whatever I said wasn't anything he didn't already know. Basically, he can be a good kid but a lot of the time he just doesn't listen. Anyway...
Upon hearing my answer, he responded with, "So why did Santa bring me toys?" Oh crap. So busted. Apparently it sorta sucks when your kid gets old enough to start making connections and relying on actual logic to think through things. I know there are benefits as well, but the little white lies we tell as parents to simplify life (for both parties) apparently have an expiration date. Ugh.
I did some quick thinking and responded that Mommy and Daddy had to call up Santa and beg him to bring him toys so he wouldn't be sad on Christmas. I explained that we told Santa that he was sorry and he was trying (ha!), so please bring him toys. We also discussed the fact that we give him gifts in addition to Santa, which becomes difficult when I can't remember what I assigned to "Santa" and what we said was from us. I could always tell from the paper I wrapped gifts in (so in pictures I'd have a clue) because I always pick Santa paper for the Santa gifts. So when Jacob asks who bought him his Batcave (pretty sure it was Santa), I have to hope I remember correctly (or fake it really well).
In the end I told Jacob that we really didn't want to have to call Santa again this year, so he really needed to be good and start listening to ensure Santa brings him gifts come Christmas. Bringing up Santa sometimes tends to work in the moment, particularly when we move toward a phone, but I'm not convinced it's going to solve the greater issues we're dealing with. And, of course, what happens this year when Santa does, indeed, bring him gifts even if his behavior doesn't improve? I suppose we have a few options:
1) Say we called Santa again - We could just call Santa again, but I don't really like the precedent of bailing him out. That doesn't bode well for the future.
2) Make all of his gifts from us - We could do this, and given our difficulty surrounding not being home Christmas morning and all that, it would make things simpler...however, I think he's still a little young to go shattering his Christmas dreams like that. It might make quite the statement, though.
3) Give him a "warning shot" of coal - Perhaps if we give him coal in his stocking--we can buy the coal candy and not tell him it's candy since he can't read yet--perhaps that would send the message that if he keeps it up, he's going to get a lot more of the black stuff next time around.
4) Tell him Santa must have seen that he was trying - The cop-out, which is probably a sub-point of #1, is to tell him that Santa must have given him a break since he could see that he was trying to be better. I would probably only use this if we did see moments of vast improvement.
We're in a bit of a bad spell at the moment where most requests are receive a "No" or are ignored completely, or at worst, responded to with a swing, kick or falling-down tantrum. For example, in the morning if he gets ready quickly enough, we use the opportunity to play with his Legos as bait for a smooth morning routine. Of course, when the time comes to leave the house, he just has to do "one more thing" or make everything perfect before he leaves, which time usually doesn't allow for. Same thing goes for bedtime, and usually there's a major meltdown when we try to drag him away. And for the record, we do give him fair warning like you're supposed to do with kids, but no matter what, we get resistance. So, perhaps those opportunities are going to go away completely and he'll learn the extra hard way.
He's also been having quite a crappy run at daycare, which is unfortunate because generally he'd been pretty good there in the past year (since his behavior caused him to miss last year's trip to the pumpkin patch, in fact). There's some talking back, some potty talk or general mean talk (which is a big problem at home, too), and some disrespect toward toys. I know that a lot of this stuff is a product of hanging out with a lot of boys at daycare (there are maybe two or three girls in the room most of the time, as opposed to a LOT of boys), and once in a while we get a, "Well, ______ was saying/doing that," at which point we give the whole "If your friend jumped off a bridge..." talk in terms more appropriate for a four year old. I know he didn't get a lot of this behavior from being in our house, so that part is hard and is definitely the top downfall of daycare.
He insists he wants to be good and do better, but even when we point out times that he's not obeying us, he still can't seem to control himself. He even told us the other day that he doesn't know how to listen. Part of me felt bad for him (because as a parent you fear that perhaps you really did never teach them how), and the other part of me wanted to strangle him (because how hard can it be to just do something?). So, I've been trying to give him specific examples in moments of difficulty that "listening" would entail doing whatever it is I'm telling him to do at that moment.
The tough part of all of this is that aside from these (many) moments where he's giving us a smart mouth or a tantrum, he can be SO awesome. When he's being good, he can be really fun to hang out with. He's got such an imagination and he can say and do the funniest things. His bedtime singing of late (which we hear over the monitor) has been hilarious. It's obvious that he's very smart and has a very good command of language. He can be a very engaging child, and he's a very good independent player. When he puts it all together and cooperates, it's so amazing to hang out with him. But those moments are too few and far between. Most of the time he's fixated on what he wants and won't settle for less. We do our best to not let him win, but I'm at a serious disadvantage since I can't carry him, can't battle him, and have to protect my belly. Yelling doesn't work, threats of discipline make the behavior worse at times, and everything seems to escalate into a bigger battle than it should be, which dilutes the effectiveness of battles in general. But we don't really know what else to do so we feel a little stuck.
Hence why Santa even comes into the picture. This time of year it's about the best threat in our arsenal. Sad, isn't it? Let's just hope we can get it to work well enough to get him in good habits that last...