A few weeks ago, our house welcomed a new arrival. My children were overjoyed to see this new arrival and celebrated with much fanfare and glee. It has helped make these magical days before Christmas even more meaningful. Yet I would like to ask it one thing: I wish it would stop staring at me.
This arrival is, of course, an Elf on Shelf.
I first heard of this Elf on a Shelf two years ago from a former student who works at a local East Greenwich bookstore. She knew I had young children and asked me if we had one. I told her that I had never heard of it and she filled me in on its backstory. It seemed cute, but it was not something I ever had when I was young, so I dismissed the thought of starting any new traditions. So the Elf on the Shelf disappeared from my thoughts.
Then, a few weeks ago, my son came home from elementary school and bombarded my wife and I with information at the dinner table:
SON: “Umm … Daddy ... Have you heard of an Elf on a Shelf?”
ME (doing my best ignorant-daddy routine—which I learned from the master—my own father): “No Jon. What is it?”
SON: “Well Dad ... (big breath) ... ItisanelfthatsitsonashelfandeverydayitfliesbacktotheNorthPoleandtellsSantaifyou havebeenbadorgood.Thenhefliesbackandheisalwaysinadifferentspot.Ihopewe getoneIhopewegetone.”
ME: (eyes wide) “It does WHAT?”
SON: “Dad… itisanelfthatsitsonashelfandeverydayitfliesbacktothe NorthPoleandtellsSantaifyou havebeenbadorgood. Thenhefliesbackandheis alwaysinadifferentspot.IhopewegetoneIhopewegetone”
But then, the trump card—Daddy’s little girl dove into the conversation and told me that she had heard of it as well. So, with over-anxious little boy to my left and doe-eyed girl on my right and wife across the way smiling and shrugging at me across the table, the decision was made for me. Elf on the Shelf would soon be coming to our house.
At heart, when it comes to Christmas, I am Clark Griswold from Christmas Vacation—a fact my wife will often point out to me as I wrap lighted garland over any stationary object in our house—so I decided to make the Elf’s arrival memorable. I placed the Elf on the mantle over our fireplace, placed the book next to the fireplace itself, and sprinkled some ashes from the fireplace outside so to make it seem as if the Elf had come down the chimney. Brilliant, no? Surely this will enflame the spirit and wonder of Christmas into their little hearts. I smiled at my creativity and went off to work, a bit saddened that I would not see their smiles when they found the Elf.
So, when I had some time, I sent a text to my wife.
ME: How did Elf go?
WIFE: Not good. Elf fell off shelf. Dog got it and ripped its head off. Kids screaming and crying.
WIFE: Kids upset. I need to drive them to school.
WIFE: LOL Kids love it. They are talking to it now.
And so it began—my love/ hate relationship with this Elf.
Now, no one really made clear to me that this elf was not to become a decoration, but a responsibility. And no one certainly made clear to me that the responsibility would fall solely on me. This has added a whole level of stress to my mornings. The first morning, it was easy. I moved it from one shelf to another as soon as I got up. Simple. The next day, I remembered to move him before I got into the shower and put him on top of window. The next day, I had to run out of the shower ands scramble around before I put him on top of the bookcase. The day after that, I remembered as I walked out of the door to go to work, ran back in, and found myself rearranging knickknacks to find space for him. The day after that: even harder to find space and Elf not moved until I heard little footsteps coming downstairs. The day after that: who knew one’s house only had a limited number of shelves? The next day: I am contemplating a Home Depot run just to make some shelves. The next day: I am now talking to Elf asking for help to find a spot. Next day: Elf sitting back on original mantle staring down at me like the Raven. “Nevermore.”
Besides these epic morning quests, I must abide by the sacred Elf rules. First, no one can touch it. Once it is on the shelf, it is some sort of holy relic that no man can touch or else the magic will go away. So, the Elf must not only sit on a shelf, it must be secure on the shelf. I found this out when I hid the Elf in my office and I sat down to do some work in the morning. I sat there, typing away when I was suddenly heard a loud crash. I looked around and found the Elf lying on the floor.
“My God,” I thought, “I killed the Elf!” I scrambled around like a medic, looking for some something to cover my hand so that I can pick it up safely so as not to sap its magic. I grabbed a towel, made sure the Elf was still alive, and gingerly returned him to a more secure location. My mind raced, thankful that this happened when I was around and not my kids. I could only imagine how that would have sounded:
DAUGHTER: “Hello, Mr. Elf. How are you today. I was wondering if you could tell Santa that I ………..AYIEEEEEEEEEE!....... Mom! The Elf just died!”
It was not until a moment has passed and I saw a towel in my hand and the Elf looking down on me again did I realize what I had just done. “Nevermore.”
Children are allowed to give the Elf notes as well. Again—would have liked to have known this before Elf arrived. At first, the notes were cute: “Dear Elf, have I been good? Circle YES or No.” I would smile when I would read these meticulously folded notes early in the morning. I would circle YES, smile, and return the note. But the notes have slowly gotten more complicated: “Dear Elf, ask Santa why he comes through the chimney.” “Dear Santa, please tell Santa to identify all the things that I need to do to get on the nice list.” “Dear Santa, please identify mankind’s purpose on this planet.” So, as soon as the Elf started forcing me to re-learn my graduate school philosophy, the Elf stopped answering notes. And he just sits there smiling at me smugly. “Nevermore.”
Then one day, he moved. On his own. I did not move him. My wife—who sent a text to me at the start of all this—claimed she did not move him. So I sat on my chair, pondering how this Elf sitting on the pallid bust of a manger scene moved to another shelf. So, true to my deep faith in the Christmas holiday and my Griswold nature, I went into the office, wrote a note, folded it, and placed it in the Elf’s hands.
After all, it is Christmas. You never know.