From our nine year old daughter’s letter to her elf Snow Ball:
Dear Snow Ball,
I’m so sorry for bringing you to school today and keeping you in a plastic bag in the bottom of my back pack. The one time I used the barbecue tongs to bring you out during snack, _______________ made fun of you. I hope your feelings aren’t hurt. I promise I won’t ever do that to you again.
As a mom who was never going to participate in Elves on Shelves, my father in law changed all that three years ago. I’ve written about elves for what feels like a lifetime now, so the least I can do is thank him for the comedic material; the first time being “Elf on the Shelf and Gay Marriage“, followed by “This is Elfing Unbelievable” and just last year “Gifts from the Heart: Elves, Body Belongings, and Tooth Fairy Criminals.” But here’s the thing about Elf on the Shelf traditions, every family’s is different, and some don’t celebrate elves at all– and that is ok. Our elves have a mail box where they write letters back and forth to our children. One day they will, maybe, appreciate me being a writer. Maybe. What they share with their elves is NOT supposed to be read by us, their parents, or somehow the magic is less– or this is what our now fifth and fourth grade children tell us.
So when I read our girl’s apology note to her elf, I wanted to write back and give that child in her class a piece of my mind. I wanted to hug my girl and tell her Snow Ball was fine, that being stuck at the bottom of her school bag in a plastic bag did not hurt her as she is not real. I wanted to tell her that her good friend, like her, can be mean and well meaning all in the same day. I wanted to tell her that when she is 12 and 14 and 16, she is going to need to use her words more loudly if she wants to be really be heard. I wanted even just to talk with her about why she snuck her elf into her bag and didn’t tell me. But here’s the thing– I could make none of these choices because I wasn’t supposed to know. She shared this with her elf in confidence. So instead, I wrote her a letter back and dropped Snow Ball’s words into the Elf Mail Box which actually sits on our turtle tank. Snow Ball told our girl that she liked coming to school with her because she learned a lot and feels even smarter. More importantly, she got to see Greta in her school life, which is pretty awesome. She told her that so and so’s words did not hurt her, and they should not hurt Greta either because she just wasn’t thinking about her words. Snow Ball liked how funny her classmates were and that her teacher seemed really kind and caring and what a lucky girl she was to come to a school like this one. Crushed it. I watched her read my note, I mean Snow Ball’s, and smile thoughtfully and, when I asked if I could read it, she said, “No, it was just for me. Can I burn it in the fire so no one else reads it?” Gulp. Sure, honey.
But here is where my husband Geoff and I have no business being Elf Parents. I shared with Geoff what our sad child had written in her letter to Snow Ball. Geoff was like, “Are you going to call _____________ mom?” No, first of all, this is not a huge detail, except that an elf was involved. Can you even imagine that conversation? Your daughter made fun of my daughter’s elf. Hilarious. But that was beside the point– We are not supposed to know about this, remember! He is really having a hard time about what the kids tell us versus what they share with their elf. So much so that in the morning before we head off to school, he actually says aloud to our daughter, “Now, you make sure no one gives you a hard time today.” And I could not glare at him quickly enough before he figured out he was going down a very hard road alone. He followed up with a pretty convincing remark that saved the day, but still, it was a close call.
“Yeah, Dad, I’ll have a good day, love you,” and she heads out the front door, and Geoff looked at me as if his 50 years of life could not have prepared him for how stressful the Elf on the Shelf is during December. I tell my high school students little tidbits of these stories to end class, and they laugh and reminisce fondly about when they had an elf, or moved the elf for a younger sibling, or remember being in 6th grade when so and so finally convinced them that Santa wasn’t as real as they wanted to believe. They share their own Christmas or Hanukah traditions (and pandemic modifications), and, even though we are all wearing masks, I know they are smiling underneath. For many teenagers, they enjoy being reminded of what it was like at 9 and 10 and not 14 or 16 with life’s responsibilities starting to pile on. And I’m lucky because at this writing, my own children do not read these columns, but I hope one day when they are older they will, and they will make them smile at the memory. Or, they will hate us. It’s a crapshoot really.
I do generally stink at remembering to move the elves, which is why I’m up at 4 this morning writing this on the couch while the rest of my family sleeps– nor do I put them in super clever positions around the house, nor do I make every advent day leading up to Christmas magical. But that is okay– our kids have heart, and they love their elves. Every cardboard box that comes into our domain turns into an Elf Condo somewhere. Our son even left a thank you note in the mail box following a scavenger hunt on Saturday morning which had them running all over the place. He is usually not that grateful, so this unprompted gratitude gave me some hope. Jingle Bells, his elf, had suggested that if they struggled with any of the clues, they should Facetime their Aunt Allison and Uncle Brian who live in Germany. They won’t be making it home for Christmas this year due to COVID travel restrictions, but watching our kids run through the house, outside, and back in carrying their faraway aunt and uncle on the phone made them feel a little bit closer. Nailed it. Again.
Trying to remind myself– and those of you out there– that for every time we feel like we are screwing up this parenting gig, chances are we are also doing some good. And again, maybe not. Thinking of you all out there, whether you support the elves this holiday season or not, be well, wear your damn mask, and trust that 2021 carries with her with enough COVID vaccines, along with a whole lot of magic.
PS. And to make you laugh if you have been raised Catholic or really in any GOD- centered related religion… we recently watched the 1986 John Denver Christmas special The Christmas Gift with the children. In all seriousness, at one point Carver turned to us and said, “Mom and Dad, don’t worry, if he dies here, it’s okay– he will come back again in three days.” Then he nodded solemnly at us. Geoff and I look at one another quizzically, and I asked our almost 11 year old son, who has been to church, maybe not regularly but certainly enough to know this is not accurate, what he meant. “Mom, this is the guy we celebrate Easter for, the one who died on the cross and then came back to life three days later. The one whose birth we celebrate on Christmas.” Mic drop. Yep, our son confused John Denver for Jesus Christ, so you are likely doing better than us. There might not be time for another blog before the holidays, so if that is the case– Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, Kwanzaa, whatever you celebrate– to you and yours from our little house in North Woodstock, NH!