Children, motherhood, parenting

The Elf on the Shelf: Blessing or Curse?

Children all over the world have been scared into submission by Santa for centuries. Starting with December 1, if not sooner, parents have had a disciplinary lever in Kris Kringle to shove their little ones under their thumbs. And then came the Elf on the Shelf. Holy holly berries! Now there was tangible proof of Santa knowing each child’s every misdeed. Never mind the millions the mother/daughter team likely made exploiting their family tradition and the warped fun parents can have placing their elf in compromising positions each day, this was parenting gold.

Image from

We could scare the shit out of our kids with that freaky little face and make them work for their gifts, putting the merry back into a season usually packed with mania.

Until the morning you wander downstairs, still in a fog of sleep, and are met by the faces of your little cherubs who want to know why Mikey is in the same spot. Because Mommy has more important things to do than move a felt-covered elf with his hands and feet sewn together, that’s why! But, no, that’s not what you say. You weave some elaborate story about how he must have been so tired from all his work that he had to rest last night instead of flying back to Santa. Or you just feign ignorance. Oh, I don’t know! Maybe he’s really cozy there. You don’t tell them that Mikey had too much eggnog and couldn’t find his way back to the North Pole.

Or until he shows up for the first time this season and uber-scares the shit out of your sensitive child. Perching him above the newly acquired bunk beds so he can check them out may not have been such a good idea as he appears to be giving her the hairy eyeball as she tries to sleep mere inches from him on the top bunk. Her younger sister alights the bunk to stare lovingly into his rosy-cheeked face, agog at this Christmas marvel. But as bedtime approaches, the sensitive one dissolves into tears and you want to rip the friggin’ thing off the ceiling fan and fling it. But then he’d lose his magic! Luckily, your husband has the brilliant idea of rotating the fan blades to avert his gaze.

About fifty times between dinnertime and your little ones’ bedtime, you look at Mikey and say, Must remember to move him before I go to bed, and wrack your brain for some creative spot for him (with the new added stress this year of one that won’t cause your sensitive child irreparable psychological damage). Once the children are in bed, like the magic that flies Mikey back to the North Pole and that allows the Weeping Angels to sneak up on us, some memory sweeping phenomenon takes place and Mikey doesn’t get a new home.

That is, until 1:41 AM when you bolt upright in bed and realize you didn’t move him. After the obligatory mid-night bladder deballast that occurs in all mothers, you drag a dining chair to the foyer and remove Mikey from the chandelier. You manage to complete this feat of physical prowess while still half-asleep and live to see your pillow again, but you wake with no recollection of it. When your child asks you where Mikey is this morning, you freak out all over again. You raise your eyes reluctantly to his perch from yesterday, dreading that your child has already seen that flash of flannel. But he’s not there. How can it be? Oh, you did move him. Imagine that.

Sometimes, the elf on the shelf hides so well, no one can find him. Not even the mommy who placed him in the Elf Protection Program so his ruse of returning to the North Pole upon hearing Santa’s bell wouldn’t be blown. Mommy rips apart the bins of Christmas shmagma in the basement while Daddy keeps the cherubs busy upstairs – after she forgot to locate and place the elf while they were out of the house – surprise, surprise.

All those elves perched on the shelves of holiday houses throughout the land aren’t really keeping mischievous kids in line; they’re slowly driving parents crazy. Instead of scaring the shit out of misbehavers, they’re scaring the shit out of memory-challenged mothers and fathers. The shock of coal in the stocking is nothing compared to that early morning shock of parents who forgot to move the elf! In a world where parents can’t even go to the bathroom by themselves, stealing a spare minute or two to feign a flying elf is a Christmas miracle in and of itself.

And that’s really why we do it, isn’t it?

Preserving the childlike wonder of Christmas is part of all these machinations. Seeing the awe in their eyes makes it all worthwhile. If we can get them to behave – while avoiding nightmares – it’s all good. Just don’t ask me how I feel about it at 3 o’clock tomorrow morning.