Yesterday morning when our sixth grade son– almost 12 years old– woke up to search for his beloved elves, Snowball, Snickers, and Jingle Bells, he mentioned, “I really need to write a note to my elves today. They haven’t been writing to us as much this December as in past years. Maybe they are waiting for me to take more initiative.”
The sweetness of his innocence is not lost on me at the moment, but I can’t help but believe a boy who uses the word “initiative” is also unlikely to still believe in the magic of elves on shelves. Our friends will tell you they have never known a child to know all there is to know about puberty and terminology related to sexual intercourse and how babies are made–even in vitro fertilization– yet still believe as fiercely as he does in Santa Claus.
His elves haven’t been writing as much this holiday season because they are goddamn tired, and now that the kids go to bed at nine, the same time as the head elf writer- there just isn’t a lot of time to jam it all in. But knock on wood, with only 4 sleeps left to move those suckers, the elves haven’t forgotten to move once yet.
What’s helpful is that the younger no one no longer believes in our elves on shelves. She has participated in the elf moving as well as reminding. This summer, newly 10 years old, she patted the bed next to me as we folded laundry, signaling it was time to have an important chat.
“Give it to me straight, Mom. I need to know whether Santa is real or not.” And so we chatted about how Santa is a concrete symbol for children as they learn important life values about giving and putting others first, and then as they grow older the idea of Santa remains throughout the magic of Christmas. We make a point of participating in local gift giving for the Rotary, the food pantry, and understanding the spirit of community through service. Blah, blah, blah. “Ok, Mom, that is sort of what I thought, but what about the elves? Are they also not real?”
This was a harder loss for her to wrap her two blond French braids around. But she promised that she would “not ruin it” for her brother as long as she could help to move the elves. Always a negotiator, her point was a good one. Santa and his elves could always use more help. That’s the point right- spread the cheer all through the year or something paraphrased like that according to Will Farrell’s character Buddy the Elf.
This morning though when the two of them were WWF fighting over something really ridiculous like who was playing the trumpet too loudly first thing in the morning or whose turn it was with the advent calendar or who didn’t flush the toilet or who brushed their teeth with the wrong toothbrush just to incense the other– this morning though, I saw the thought flash through her angry blue eyes. I saw her thinking about blurting out her truth just to destroy her brother’s Santa heart four days before Christmas. So I did what all good mothers in America do: I yanked them apart and walked her to the car, bribing her with the notion of sitting in the front seat on the way to school. Santa saved again, just in the Nick of Time.
He even chose to be an Elf on the Shelf for Halloween, and, when his costume arrived in the mail, I literally had never seen him so happy. Well, maybe one other time, when his grandfather purchased the Elf on the Shelf against my wishes and gave it to our children under the Christmas tree. Then he purchased another for our son’s birthday, and a friend also gifted Carver an elf for a birthday present as it was known all across the land how much he wanted another one to build his own tribe of elves.
In fact, we went big this Halloween as a family of Elves on Shelves, except for our daughter who only added a Santa hat to her zombie cheerleader costume, much to her brother’s dismay. “It doesn’t count,” he continued to repeat as we tried to capture our Christmas photo, “she just added a Santa hat to a death costume, which is just so un-Christmas– spirit –like!” Over and over again. His profound belief in the elves really seemed extra solid this fall leading up to Christmas so I sought professional advice from my friend Shawn, also our school guidance counselor.
My fear was that one of the more “wordly” eighth graders in his homeroom might destroy the magic of Christmas for him before he was really ready to accept that Santa is more an idea than a person. Should we just “give it to him straight” now before Christmas or wait until afterwards given that he is halfway through sixth grade, and maybe the only true believer left? At first, Shawn agreed that we might save him more heartache and humiliation if we told him now before another kid could destroy him. But that was before I showed him the picture of Carver the day his Elf on the Shelf Halloween costume arrived.
Oh dear. Shawn told me then I had to wait until after Christmas or his big holiday heart would be ripped from his chest. Awesome parenting advice right? Rip his heart out now or just wait until after the holidays are over?
Coupled with the fact that I could not find the freaking sweetbabyJesus elves for many days leading up to Thanksgiving, which is when our family’s elves are supposed to arrive. The problem was that they weren’t packed away with the Christmas supplies because the boy had, well, written them a letter begging for them to remain just through his birthday which is in mid- January. This did not seem like a big deal until they did not get packed away with Christmas. Instead, I apparently packed them in an Elf-like coffin, a silver cookie tin on a top shelf in the bathroom. Obviously, this ought to have been the first place I looked in the many days and hours I searched before Thanksgiving because as a full time teacher and mom what else did I really have going on?
So here we are, December 21, 2021, and the magic is real. Until it isn’t. Thinking of everyone this holiday season— those with too much on their calendars and still those without enough. I’ll miss writing about these elves at Christmastime, but I am certain our children will enjoy the memories when they grow up– or maybe they won’t. Feel free to comment on the best ways you’ve heard to “let them down easy.”
Elf on the Shelf and Gay Marriage Dec. 2015
This is Elfing Unbelievable Nov. 2018
Gifts from the Heart: Body Belongings, Elves, and Tooth Fairy Criminals Dec. 2019
Dear Esteemed Elves of Christmastime Dec. 2020