I'm a lover of all things Christmas. The decorations, both traditional and tacky, the lights, the visits to Santa, the carefully wrapped gifts under the tree . . . I'm a sucker for all of it. Since I became a mom, however, I've discovered a new part of the holiday season that might be the most magical of all: the Elf on the Shelf.
Why, you might ask, is a kind-of-creepy toy at the top of my list of things to appreciate about a season chock-full of joy and wonder? The answer is simple. That little imp might just be the only thing on the planet that actually makes my kids behave. Even more amazingly, considering there have been many days when I question whether they are indeed human children or instead offspring created by the coupling of a comic villain and a wild animal, they seem to actually enjoy acting good. What strange magic lies in that felt and plastic creation?
My 5-year-old daughter started asking about when her elf, which she cleverly named Mary Christmas upon receiving her two years ago, would return long before Thanksgiving. Considering that before the holiday, she had a week off school (i.e., a week to constantly fight with her almost-3-year-old brother and treat me like her own personal assistant all day long), I thought about bringing out Mary long before the turkey. But knowing that her magic, much like my dedication to pre-Christmas dieting, seems to wane as time goes on, I demurred.
"She usually comes back at the beginning of December," I vaguely replied, calculating the value of her return (high) weighed against the annoyance of having to find a new place to put her for an extra week (also high).
Five days and countless meltdowns from both of my kids later, I decided Mary the elf would be returning as soon as we got home.
We headed to grandma's house for Thanksgiving with our eight-foot Frasier fir already fully trimmed in our living room (I told you I love Christmas), but without an elf sighting. Five days and countless meltdowns from both of my kids later, I decided Mary the elf would be returning as soon as we got home.
She arrived Monday morning, perched next to a Santa ornament high on our tree and carrying a long note for my kids (writing with your nondominant hand so your kid doesn't recognize your handwriting is really annoying, by the way).
"Merry Christmas!" it innocently began, "I'm so glad to be back with you again for the Christmas season. I missed you both." Then we got to the nitty-gritty. "I will be watching you every day and reporting back to Santa if you're naughty or nice. Be kind to each other and listen to your mom and dad so you can stay on the nice list. Santa really wants to bring you some special presents on Christmas morning. Love, Mary Christmas."
The effect was almost immediate. My daughter, the same girl who had, the day before, cried because she had only gotten two stuffed toys, a dress, a pair of boots, two shirts, and not a bracelet on our Black Friday shopping excursion, was suddenly sweet as the Thanksgiving apple pie she had declared "disgusting" right in front of its baker.
"Oh, Mary Christmas," she cooed. "How has your year been? I hope it's been good. We are so happy to have you back. I know you can't talk to me, but I know you are magic, and I love you very much."
Then she actually hugged her brother and explained that they had to be good or they wouldn't get any presents because the elf would report them to the North Pole's main man. He looked skeptical, but with his usual sparring partner subdued, he, too, started more like a human child than a wildebeest.
It's been two days, and I've only used the old "Mary the elf is watching" threat about 15-20 times. Undoubtedly it will be in the hundreds by the time she flies back to the North Pole on Christmas Eve because it works every single time. My kids will be sad to see her go and hopeful that they did enough to earn her good favor. Me? I'll just be praying that some of her behavior-modifying magic somehow rubbed off on me.