Do you remember when the Elf on the Shelf first came on the Christmas scene? It was back in the day when small bookstores still dotted neighborhoods, which is where I first saw the Elf, and his book. This was back before the Elf had clothes, gender identity, pets, or any other marketing accouterments. He had a BOOK. And in the book, he explained to children that he was coming from the North Pole every morning to watch them, and their behavior, and then skip off to the North Pole each evening to report to Santa. I stood in the little bookstore (which has since closed, sadly) and read the entire book (as one can do in a little book store) and dreamed of what this could mean for me in my house during the month of December. The original publication date was 2005, but I don’t think the elf came around to our house until 2006. 2006 was Katie’s first Christmas, and I was in the throws of making a magical Christmas for my toddler Alex, with a newborn Katie strapped to me in a baby bjorn or sling or some baby holding device since she did not want to be put down, and I was feeling a wee bit tired. So an elf, on a shelf, reminding a toddler boy to be well behaved and not throw legos or other choking hazards at his baby sister? I might have day-dreamed in the store, thinking about how all I would need to do would be to point at the elf after any infraction and Alex’s toddler behavior would self-correct, and I could go back to regular life, like emptying a dishwasher while holding an infant. The elf would save time! The elf would help behavior! The elf would be the Christmas miracle I needed!
Now, I admit, there is a definite creep factor involved with this. My Katie, who is now 11, pointed out just last week that the elf is much like the creepy Christmas carol “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”. We were in the car listening to Christmas carols, as one does, and the song came on. “Mom, just listen to the actual WORDS,” Katie implored, and so I did:
You better watch out
You better not cry
Better not pout
I’m telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town…
He sees you when you’re sleeping
He knows when you’re awake
He knows if you’ve been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake!
“Mom,” explained my Katie. “Santa and his weird elf on a shelf are serious freaking stalkers. I mean what does ‘for goodness sake’ even mean? What happens to you if you’re not? This song makes them sound like serial killers.”
It was hard to argue with her. Santa and the Elf are really weird and creepy when you think of it that way. I’m not sure what parenting brilliance started all of this deflection in December – you better behave or some old fat stalking stranger won’t bring you presents (I mean, don’t worry about behaving just for me, I’m just your actual parent who loves you and takes care of you 365 days a year, no need to listen to me when I tell you to not to use the curtains as a climbing wall). And then, on Christmas morning you will believe in magic as the source of your presents and I, your parent, will get zero gratitude or appreciation for making magic happen. That’s fine. I am an excellent martyr. I am a mother after all. I understand this whole kid thing is like a blue chip investment. I am hoping in 20 years we will all be happier and more appreciative of each other and life will be good. No need to say thank you until then. I’m fine. Maybe you’ll just be well-behaved for this felt and plastic doll that I am telling you is a real creature and we can all believe this nonsense together, since it’s going to make you well-behaved.
Because even the “you better behave” threat has turned into something else, and our leverage as parents is gone. Who is to blame for this? Kids? Parents? Marketing Geniuses? Or can I pin this on the social media monsters – Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, and all the rest. Why should we parents take any blame or credit? It’s social media’s fault.
On this planet, there are two kinds of people. There are the people who look at Pinterest and other social media “ideas” and stand back with their hands out, like a preacher blessing a Sunday congregation, and say “I’ve got this.” And then there are the rest of us, including me, who look at Pinterest with the sort of head-tilted gaze you would find in a museum, saying things like “Huh, look how clever and impressive they are.” I suppose you could argue that on occasion there is a third kind of person, one who tries Pinterest challenges and posts their fails. I do love those people. Anyone who masters the art of self-deprecation is an inspiration to my kind of humanity. But really those people are people just like us, keeping the creative challenge bar where it belongs – buried under the ground so I don’t trip on it.
So to you people who are Pinterest Preachers and post your elf making mischief and messes and swimming in “hot tubs” of marshmallows, good for you.
The rest of us? We are way too tired to keep up with the elf, especially since we feel like the elf tricked us into adopting him (false pretenses of ensuring well-behaved children) and set us up with one more thing “TO DO”.
The elf sucks the fun and life out of us Christmas slackers. I wish we could rebel. My kids know I am the source of Christmas magic in our house now, so the parsing out of gifts from parents versus Santa and moving the elf doesn’t exist, and honestly my life is easier because of it. I thought I would be sad when the Santa magic was gone. I wasn’t. I breathed a giant exhale of relief for how much easier Christmas became, and how I could actually get a little credit for all the work I do around here in our magic house. But for my friends with children who still believe in third-party magic, vs. mommy magic, I have enduring empathy for you. The elf was supposed to be there (on a SHELF for Christmas sake) to watch our bratty children and report to Santa if there was bad behavior. Nice or naughty. Period. Then it became another thing for parents to do to entertain their children. Whose elf can make mischief and a mess! Who can be creative and amazing? How can we make this Christmas even more of a time suck and competition? If my kids still believed I think I would be evil about this too. Or I can pretend I would be evil anyway. “Oh, your friends have an elf who is in a different place every day and does really fun things? I wonder if that is because those friends are actually well-behaved and their elf can spend time doing fun things? Your elf is tired and is sitting his felt-butt down because he had to spend all of last night telling Santa how much extra work your mom is doing. And how you don’t help do jack-crap around here. And how naughty you are when you argue with each other and me. Your elf is exhausted for Mommy. ”
In the history of elves, I prefer the ones who are helpful rather than mischievous. The shoemaker’s elves made shoes overnight and they were finished in the morning when the shoemaker woke up, allowing him to most likely catch eight hours of sleep. Santa has an entire elf workforce who cheerfully work all year long to make toys and presents for the children of the world. Fairies – cousins to the elves – grant wishes, clean up messes, protect princesses, sing with furry animals and all kinds of other wonderful magical things. Of all the elves to choose, why would we have a mischievous, mess-making, time-consuming piece of crap come at Christmastime? It’s time for an elf-revolution. An Elfolution, if you will. Elves across the country need to get a hold of themselves and stop the madness. Instead of showing up in a new and hilarious child-pleasing situation tomorrow morning, every elf on the planet should find themselves on a shelf, with a note in their weird hands without opposable thumbs.
“Dear children of this wonderful magical family, I apologize for being so silly and full of mischief. I have gotten out of control and I need to refocus my magical efforts in being more helpful. Here is a list of chores that I suggest the young people do in order to show they are kind, empathetic humans, rather than self-centered needing-to-be-entertained lunatics. Your parents need and deserve more help. Get to it. Respectfully, your elf, on a freaking shelf.”
Several things could happen, but I think there are two that are most likely. Either children across the country will pick up their chore lists and get to work, or they will admit that they didn’t believe that this plastic and felt elf thing was magical anyway, and the façade of believing in magic while it’s working for entertainment and presents will shift away as soon as being good and helpful is again a requirement. Christmas magic (and mommy magic) only works while mommy is mentally stable. Moms too would like to enjoy the Christmas season. Let’s get back to keeping things more simple so that can actually happen. Merry Christmas, Bah Humbug, Blessed Yule. And to all a good night.
“And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”
— Theodor Seuss Geisel