With Christmas right around the corner, my 3- and 6-year-old kids are on their very best behavior. they've been putting away their toys, hugging it out after arguments and remembering their manners.
Of course, it's no coincidence my little devils have changed their ways — they know someone's watching their every move. Someone who sees them when they're sleeping — who knows when they're awake. Someone who is most definitely not Santa Claus.
If you're a parent of an elementary-school-aged child, you know where this is going. For better or worse, Santa's no longer an A-lister among the 7-and-under set. His status as Ultimate Seasonal Behavior Monitor has been eclipsed by a cheap-looking red-and-white doll known simply as the Elf on the Shelf.
I began hearing rumblings about the Elf several years ago, but it wasn't until my mom showed up with one last Thanksgiving that I understood the Pied Piper-like hold that the Elf has over children.
"I just read them the Elf on the Shelf storybook," Mom whispered to me as she came down from the playroom. "Now all you have to do is remember to move him around each night, so they know he's watching. Then, the night before Christmas Eve, make him disappear. They'll think he's gone back to the North Pole to report on them to Santa!"
"Oh, this is going to be fun!" I said.
"Well, there's one problem," Mom said. "The book said the kids weren't allowed to touch the Elf because it would get rid of the magic, but I let them play with him anyway." I frowned. "You'll just have to handle it," she said over her shoulder.
Somehow, I came up with an explanation — the first of many I'd create to keep the Elf magic going. I soon discovered I was hardly alone.
"Five people in my kindergarten class have an Elf on the Shelf just like mine, Mommy," my daughter Punky announced the next time she came home from school. "Now everyone else wants one, too." This year, it's gotten worse.
"When's the Elf on the Shelf going to get here, Mommy?" Punky demanded recently. "Hunter's Elf has already come to his house. And so has Maria's."
"Oh I'm sure ours will be here soon," I laughed. Where was that damned Elf? I'd unpacked our decorations and hadn't seen him anywhere. Finally I located him stuffed in a box underneath some unused garland. The next morning, the kids spotted him clinging to a kitchen cabinet.
"The Elf on the Shelf is back!" Punky screamed deliriously, doing an impromptu happy dance. "He's back! Back! Back! Back! I can't wait to tell all my friends!"
The Elf is pretty much all anyone in first grade is talking about. "Thomas' Elf only moves around his Christmas tree," Punky told me one afternoon. "Steven's knocks things over and makes messes. And Susan's Elf is green. Every Elf is different, right Mommy?"
"Right," I said distractedly.
"But why does our Elf not have feet?" she asked. "I just don't get it." I looked up at the Elf, sitting on the mantel. She was right. He had no feet, just red felt legs that ended in points. What the hell? How was I supposed to explain that? "Ummmmm. Hold on and I'll find out," I said, pulling up Twitter. Quick! I wrote. Why does the Elf on the Shelf have no feet? I'm losing ground here!
Responses poured in. Because he flies around, doesn't walk, therefore doesn't need feet, said one. He's more aerodynamic without feet; has to get to North Pole and back overnight, said another.
And then there was my favorite: It was a tragic sledding accident.
My tweet elicited an impromptu online support network for all things Elf-related. Moms debated when the Elf should arrive; dads mused on handling mornings when the Elf hasn't moved.
Our Elf tradition was fun at first, but its whimsical charm disappeared about four days in. It's hard to remember to move the little guy every night, and I resent the intrusion of another unavoidable tradition in an already full list.
Yep. I think feel a tragic sledding accident coming on.
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