Embrace the Elf: Making Magic and Memories
By Kate Martin
The first time I laid eyes on the “Elf on the Shelf” box at a Hallmark store, I wanted one. Always a sucker for a good holiday tradition, I snatched it up and brought it home that day.
For those unfamiliar with the Elf on the Shelf, this small stuffed elf is adopted by a family and lives with them for the holiday season. He flies nightly back to the North Pole with a report of the day’s activities, and when the elf returns, he perches in a different spot.
We named our elf Rudy (after the dinosaur on Ice Age). My children have a longstanding tradition of creatively naming toys things like “Little Bear” for a small stuffed bear and “Wolfie” for a stuffed – wait for it – wolf. There was also that confusing time we had a stuffed elf named “Santa” and a stuffed Santa named “Elf.” So, obviously, the name Rudy exceeded my expectations.
Those first years, Rudy was pretty mundane. Perching in different spots was all he did – the shelf, then to the mantle then to the Christmas tree, and usually back to another shelf the next day. His only deviation might be to hang out inside our stockings.
Understanding that no child is perfect, Rudy showed up each year with a letter from Santa. While they should always strive to be good, the letter says, Santa believes in second chances, and he hopes the kids will give Rudy second chances too when he does mischievous things. Deep down, he’s a good little elf, just like they are good kids, even when they mess up.
Santa’s letter at the start of the holiday season kicks off the fun. I love the delight in my children’s eyes as they race around searching for Rudy. Their voices vibrate with excitement as they talk over one another, describing the shenanigans he’s been up to while they slept. But let’s me be clear: Rudy and I do not care to create messes. My sweet darlings do enough of that on their own. Rudy may be naughty, but he keeps his messes contained. He has never and will never switch entire contents of closets or take all the ornaments off of the tree, nor will he dump any kitchen ingredient all over the floor. Ever.
Rudy has been through some harrowing experiences though. Once a band of misfit Ninja Turtles and Lego mini-figures captured him, while a solitary hippie mini-figure picketed for peace on his behalf. Then there was the time he narrowly escaped being eaten by a bear. He’s even battled a cold or two, taking refuge in a washrag bed with a paper-towel pillow while recovering.
Not all of Rudy’s adventures have been as traumatic. He turns our milk green yearly, and he’s downed copious amount of syrup. Tea parties have occurred with the likes of Belle, Doc McStuffins, Mr. Potato Head, and the Ninja Turtles (they decided to coexist peacefully after all). The crew feasted on leftover Halloween candy and used Minnie Mouse’s china. He’s gone fishing for goldfish crackers, hung from a curtain rod wearing a Spiderman mask, and donned a cowboy hat while saddling up on Bullseye from “Toy Story.” For my two boys, some of Rudy’s most appealing antics include the use of underwear or toilet paper. He’s wrapped our tree in toilet paper. He’s also switched out the children’s stockings with their underwear. And once, he strung a short clothesline to suspend himself in Batman undies above the fireplace. (Yes, we’ve had our fair share of explaining to do when unannounced visitors stop by. )
When we moved to Abilene, there was genuine fear that Rudy wouldn’t know where to find us. Not only were those fears unfounded, but Rudy has even come along with us to places like Brownwood, Missouri and Disney World. At Disney World I had the genius idea of getting his photo taken with Mickey Mouse. Embarrassingly, the Disney staff eyed me with suspicion as I tried to keep any little believing eyes from spotting Rudy posing with the talking Mickey. Mickey’s voice was computerized (and creepy, I might add), but I still detected a hint of sarcasm when he agreed to the picture. Rudy may travel with us, but for my pride’s sake, he probably won’t experience the outside world again.
Maybe some agree with Mickey about my sanity. Sometimes I question it, too – like at 4 a.m. when I frantically wake from a deep sleep realizing that I forgot to move Rudy, or when I send a panicked text to my husband asking him to move Rudy before he leaves for work. But here’s my secret: while I love the added measure of magic our elf brings my family at Christmastime, there is also small, selfish gain. That mischievous Rudy often absconds with a particularly obnoxious toy, taking it out of rotation for a day or two. And it can be therapeutic drawing silly faces on your children’s beautifully framed photos with dry erase markers after an exceptionally trying day. But despite the occasional ulterior motive, my kids’ obvious delight when they find Rudy is still the main payoff. Their innocent joy almost makes me feel guilty for taking pleasure in drawing on their faces.
As Christmas rolls around each year, more and more articles express cynicism towards the time-consuming, mischievous elf. I understand that. I know what it’s like to be busy in a season that defines the word busy. I would be lying if I said that I never felt like Rudy was a chore. But I do it for my kids. They are true believers. Once I let them have a moment to say goodbye and to hold Rudy. I thought that one of them would then realize he’s only a stuffed elf, but they hugged him gently like they thought he would break.
When our oldest son started asking questions about the Easter Bunny, we also told him the truth about Santa (and Rudy). He asked if he could still believe in them, despite knowing the truth. Of course we said yes. Just the other night at dinner, he was talking to his younger brother about Rudy and Santa in a way that made my husband and I question whether he blocked that conversation from his memory or was really that good at keeping the magic alive for his siblings.
Whether in the form of an elf or not, take some time to be a true believer in the magic of the season and make memories that bring the joy of the season back into your hearts.
Save Your Sanity, Shelve the Elves
By Allison Bredemeyer
Unless you have been lost at sea for the past several years, you are surely aware of the Christmas-time phenomenon called The Elf on the Shelf.
With his shiny box, quasi-creepy blue eyes and impish grin, he has wormed his way into many a home in America. It’s understandable. Standing over the display in Barnes & Noble, he seemed harmless, dare I say, even fun.
The game is simple. Your child’s very own elf keeps watch over his or her behavior by day and then flies off nightly to report to Santa on your child’s naughty- or nice-ness. When he returns, he lands elsewhere in the home, and your child has to find him each morning. But once we have him out of the box and settled in at home, it becomes clear that we have shackled and enslaved ourselves to the tiniest of new masters.
Whether waiting on Santa or the birth of Christ, the majority of December is spent with breath-holding anticipation of something magical. The elf is the single greatest threat we have to ruining this magic. Here’s why:
First: the elaborate backstory. This is how the conversation should go: “Small Child of Mine, Santa is real because of magic. Isn’t Christmas wonderful?” The end. Cookies and eggnog for all! But in order to make the elf last beyond the age of 7, you have to enlist the help of Pixar and Spielberg to convince the growing mind that your elf is in fact one of Santa’s chosen. Now the conversation starts to look like this: “You see, Tiny Human, the elf has been sent from the North Pole (manufacturer in China) by way of a magical delivery system (trans oceanic cargo ship) to Santa-approved warehouses (large retailer distribution center) and then whisked away by another magical delivery system (heavy haul trucking) to a North Pole approved retailer to you! He was hand picked by Santa just for you and you alone (after digging for a blonde elf for 30 minutes in the display pile).”
Second: too much work! We have over-busied ourselves into madness. Pageants, cookie exchanges, parties, gift giving – we’ve taken these small acts of joy and turned them in to a ‘round the clock job for twenty-five full days. Why voluntarily add one more thing to your list of have to’s? Listen carefully: that elf isn’t going to move all by himself (no matter how hard you believe), and after a full day of hyper-organized merriment, the last thing anyone will remember to do is to relocate his tiny hiney.
Finally: the elf undermines parental authority. Parent friends, a toy should not outrank us. We don’t need an elf to keep our kids’ behavior in check, and if we do, well, we should work on that the other eleven months out of the year. As much as we hate always being the bad guy, we should refuse to shift the responsibility to that stuffed troll. Mama doesn’t care what the elf saw. Mama saw you! And if that doesn’t get your attention, well know this: Mama has Santa on speed dial.
Now, this is all good in theory, but it’s full confession time: the house in which I live does in fact have its very own elf. As parents we may kick and scream about the tyrannical strong hold the elf has on America, but at the end of the day maybe this mama is just a bit of a Grinch and needs to lighten up. If that’s the case, allow me to suggest some rules to maintain order and balance in your home. You’ve seen the movie “Gremlins,” right? It’s a slippery slope. Proceed with caution.
Rule #1: Stay away from Pinterest. This actually should apply to your entire life, but that’s a rant for another day. Pinterest, in principle, is amazing. A wonderful online index of all the things you found on the Internet, perfectly pinned for you to reference later. In reality it is the “that which you will try and fail” and the “look what a slacker you are if you don’t do” website. Read the box that your elf came in out loud. What does it say? “The ELF on the SHELF!” It tells you right there that he’s perfectly at peace just gingerly hopping from shelf to shelf. Don’t believe the hype, people. This is one area it is not only acceptable but also advisable to be an underachiever.
Rule #2: Only one Elf per house. This should be obvious, but you’d be amazed at how many smart, talented parental figures have bestowed upon each of their children their very own elf. Think about this: four kids, four elves to move, four people playing find-the-elf each morning. This is the stuff of nightmares, and it’ll take at least four glasses of wine to unravel that knot.
Rule #3: Pay attention to what you are doing. The Elf book clearly states that you cannot touch him. By day he is a stuffed toy. By night he is Santa’s lackey zipping off to the North Pole to rat out your kids. He will lose all power if anyone touches him. So even if you have broken Rules 1 and 2, you need to stop and take a breath before you break number 3. Oh, you think it’d be hilarious if the elf was perched on the toilet seat and tinkled green in to the bowl? (This is a real idea found on Pinterest, by the way.) Well, now that toilet is useless until tomorrow. Or perhaps your elf landed between your refrigerator handles. Sure hope you like eating out because no one can get in to the fridge until after bedtime. And if you do decide to move the elf off of the shower head because the kid really cannot skip today’s bath, now you’re back to creating more elaborate back story of how mommies have magic dust, and they are allowed to move him if necessary. Keep it simple. The elf stays on a shelf.
Rule #4: No mischief. It’s quite vogue and comical for your elf to tear up your house or frolick playfully in a big pile of flour on the kitchen counter making “snow angels.” But think for a moment. Who is going to clean that up? The elf? I think you know the answer. Do not make more work for yourself at the busiest time of year. And for the love of tinsel, stop letting the elf do things that you don’t want your children to do. A nightly display of shenanigans and tomfoolery is sending mixed messages, at best. Precious Child, dump a bag of flour on Mama’s countertop and see what happens. I bet you only do it once.
Of course, in no way is this meant to elf-shame anyone. The elf is harmless (we hope), and in reality the sweet moments of childhood are fleeting. So whatever brings your family joy and togetherness should be celebrated in abundance, even if it is a creepy troll from the North Pole. But if you could cool it with the elaborate tableaux, the underachievers would appreciate it. Your elf joining with army men to take Barbie to the drive-in movie each morning is making our elf that moved 1/10th of an inch to the left look bad.