The Grape is old enough to understand that elves aren't the indentured toymakers portrayed in too many Christmas specials and holiday ads.
Nope. He knows the truth. Or at least the truth according to my family's tradition: the elfin beings are highly effective agents of espionage.
They could be lurking anywhere, indoors or out, at any hour. Just because the Grape cannot see one personified on a shelf doesn't mean they aren't watching and taking copious notes for Santa.
They see him when he's melting down over nothing, like this morning, when I made him walk (gasp!) three blocks, because we had a large, fragile and unwieldy package to be mailed in the stroller. (It was another fine parenting moment, wherein I just hoped to arrive home before a passerby called CPS. God knows it's probably criminal to make your kid use his legs against his will these days. Aside to neighbors: the Grape's arm evidently stays in its socket no matter how many blocks I haul his resistant, boneless, howling form. Don't worry.)
Or yesterday, when he pitched an epic hissy fit over getting dressed. And another over removing his coat. Or earlier this morning, when he shrieked at Lucy the Kitten for daring to step near his trains.
When faced with a beastly display of three-year-old defiance, I attempt to remain calm and ask, "Are you being naughty or nice? Because nice kids get presents from Santa."
If he's not beside himself, he'll bleat, "I want to be nice!" Or, more to the point, "I want presents."
"Well, then you have to be good."
"I want to be good," he repeats for emphasis, and continues melting down.
I strongly suspect that he thinks the whole thing is BS. Not about the elves, or the big man in red, or the magic reindeer. He buys all that, hook, line and sinker.
It's the nature of the transaction I can't manage to sell. The idea that presents aren't a quid pro quo, but rather a contingent reward that depends on good behavior.
Because obviously they're not. Even if I wanted to declare war on gifts (I don't), the Grape has two fully functional sets of grandparents who will over-buy for the little guy whether he's angelic or demonic in these weeks of the pre-Christmas home stretch.
Christmas will come just the same.
As it should.
Or perhaps the Grape figures the good and bad antics will wash, because he has plenty of angelic moments, too. Mostly at school, where his halo is always firmly affixed above his blond locks. But also at home. Sometimes he's so sweet and cute it's impossible to believe he's the same kid who pushes my buttons so adeptly. He likes holding hands and gazing at the moon. Reading stories to Lila the Dog. Singing songs at his little piano. Snuggling on the couch because that's what he feels like doing and whatever else can wait.
He must figure the elves notice all these harmonious moments, that they'll cancel out the unpleasant episodes that punctuate my days. In kid world, that's probably the right math. I'm still steamed over this morning's tantrum, but to the Grape, it's ancient history. Totally frigging finito.
Just as finito as my fantasy of extorting a month of exemplary behavior through dire warnings of elfin espionage.