Negotiating a Christmas list

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Sometimes limiting your list for Santa can be so difficult you need a partnership.

By Steve Doyle

There was a quiet negotiation going on in the back seat. I caught the words slowly but the meaning very quickly.

 “So,” said the 5-year-old to her 11-year-old brother, “why don’t you ask for a basketball goal, and I’ll ask for crafts?”

Me to the 5-year-old: “You mean you want your brother to ask Santa for a basketball goal so you can have something else on your list?”

Her: “Yes, crafts.”

Me: “Crafts like material to create stuff, like at school?”

Her: “Yes, stuff to make crafts.”

Me: “And you want your brother to ask for the basketball goal so Santa will bring one but you won’t have to have that as one of your things on your list for Santa, right?”

Her: “Yes.”

That’s some shrewd negotiating and oddly out of character for a typically selfless little girl, but you just had to shake your head and smile. She may need to be involved in the “chats” about the “fiscal cliff,” because some of our leaders in Washington appear to be managing the nation’s financial future like a child creates a Christmas list. But I digress.

For reasons founded in family history and guided by the principle of teaching reason and patience, we have a simple rule in our house: A child can ask Santa for three things, and they can’t all be “big” gifts, like, say a pony and a basketball goal.

Both those items, in fact, had been on our 5-year-old’s list, along with the more nebulous “music stuff” and a “puzzle with a pony on it,” which was a late change after the basketball goal was added and the actual pony was eliminated.

Please understand that she recently joined a basketball league, and being a raw neophyte, she realized she needed to practice. Thus, Santa should deliver a goal for that practice.

Did I mention she is sort of driven to succeed?

I don’t know when or why the crafts material emerged, but it was clear she understood that, at the time of our conversation, she continued to hold all her options. She hadn’t delivered that list to Santa’s ear.

She also comprehends – as any parent fully communicates – Santa has elves who visit and constantly update the child’s “file” at the North Pole, such as our Elf on a Shelf, Jackie, who records each day’s activities and then flies to Santa for an overnight debriefing.

This was a real decision point for her, and she knew her brother really wasn’t advanced in his thinking about Christmas gifts. In fact, his list was barely at one uncertain item. She is 5, and she gets straight A’s in math. She thought he might need some help.

You understand that a 3-item list can put a lot of pressure on a little person. I remember during my Roy Rogers days being challenged to limit myself to, say, a Fanner 50 and a stick horse and maybe a cowboy hat (thematic, you understand).

But as I got older and was more inclined to want a baseball glove or a record player – that’s vinyl, for your digital-generation readers – I also had learned that Santa would throw in an extra item or two of his choosing, and he was a pretty good chooser.

I soon limited myself to requesting the glove or record player or a bike and took anything else as gravy. There were plenty of things on the seasonal shelves at Baker & Kasper or Bacon’s or Deiss’s that appealed to me, and I wasn’t above saying so in a manner that Santa might hear – through an elf or another agent. I didn’t worry about being surprised on Christmas, because I had learned to market my desires in a manner that created the best results, without need for a list.

Of course, the 5-year-old and the 11-year-old haven’t developed that understanding or, thankfully, that level of finesse in their strategy. They hear three, and they think three. A finite number. Pressure to decide.

On Saturday, just before leaving for her annual meeting with the Jolly Old Elf, a perch on his lap and access to his ear, that same 5-year-old sat down and methodically wrote out her 3-item list, which she then presented to Santa as a “reminder note.”

After writing that she clearly had been good this year, she requested the puzzle, the “music stuff” and the crafts. There was no mention of a basketball goal.

We may never know whether she simply changed her mind or if our son denied her request. Most likely, though, she just decided that crafts seemed a lot more fun on a cold day than playing basketball outdoors.

Ultimately, though, Santa will know.

After all, he is in charge of delivering.