Eva Mendes Says She Doesn't Use Santa Claus to Get Her Daughters to Behave

Eva Mendes has fond memories of Christmas growing up, and she loves having the opportunity to pass a similar experience on to her own kids.

“Christmas morning is pretty special, for sure,” the actress, 45, told PEOPLE Thursday at a Coffee with Eva Mendes event for the launch of her upcoming New York & Company collection in Los Angeles. “In a way, I get more excited. I mean — [daughters Amada Lee, 3½, and Esmeralda Amada, 5, are] very excited, don’t get me wrong, but it’s like the joy of life. Playing Santa is quite something.”

“My mom went really big with me when I was little,” Mendes added. “She would make Santa noises while we were asleep. Really sweet stuff. Now that I’m a mom, I just appreciate so much, like all the wrapped presents. [My mom] would hide some presents, and so I’m taking on some of her traditions and taking them to my daughters.”

But has she ever used a threat of a phone call to Santa to get her girls with boyfriend Ryan Gosling to behave?

“Oh no, no!” Mendes said with a laugh. “I don’t end up using it that way!”

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Eva Mendes

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In the meantime as Christmas approaches, the New York & Company collection designer is keeping her eyes peeled for “that special project” now that her daughters are getting older.

“They’re starting school and so I’m feeling like I finally have a little time to myself. But also, I’m starting to find that ambition again that I lost a little bit,” she told PEOPLE. “I was fine with losing it, it was a natural thing, but it transferred — the ambition was in the home.”

“I’m still in the home, but I’m getting more of that call to work again,” Mendes shared. “That’s exciting because it’s happening naturally. It’s exciting to feel that again.”

Eva Mendes (L) and Ryan Gosling

She is also focused on “wellness” and “self-care” — something that, despite Mendes thinking is “an over-used term,” she feels is actually “so important.”

“I’d like to just become a little more healthy,” said The Place Beyond the Pines actress. “I have a sugar addiction that’s actually a real thing! And I get a lot of lab work done. I have an amazing doctor. … She’s so great. I’m excited because I finally have a great relationship with a doctor.”

“So I’m looking forward to wellness and how I can just become healthier so I can enjoy my children,” Mendes added.

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