2020 · parenting · single mom

the day i shelved the elf

Several years ago when I lived in my first apartment, alone with my son, I decided to get an Elf on the Shelf at the recommendation (and, OK, the shaming) of friends and colleagues. Everyone assured me that it would be totally worth it to drive myself perfectly insane propping a toy elf around our apartment to surprise and dazzle my four-year-old. I figured they were right, I was wrong, and besides – isn’t this what moms are supposed to do nowadays?

So the elf came home.

I don’t think we even named our elf. Within only a few days, I hated the whole song and dance and my kid was (mostly) disinterested by the antics. I might have gotten one good giggle about the elf being in a box of cereal or hanging upside down out of a cookie jar. Maybe once. In fact, everything was pretty ho-hum when it came to the elf I was quickly running out of ideas for.

Until the day the Elf on the Shelf was discussed in his preschool classroom.

That afternoon, F came home and he was acting strangely. As we took off our boots and jackets at the front door, he peered down the hallway. While he’d have normally shot down the hall to dive into the toys in his room or to the kitchen to find a snack, he stood anxiously next to me. Then he asked where the elf was.

On this particular day, the elf was perched atop the light that hung over our dining room table in the large room that served as an open concept living and dining area. From the light fixture, the elf could see into the kitchen, into the living room, onto our balcony, and partway down the hall. I can still see my son peering uncertainly at the elf, with his arms wedged into the light fixture to keep him in place. I didn’t think much of it.

A few mornings – maybe a week? – later, F had an accident involving the milk in his cereal bowl. Where I’d normally have heard an “oops,” came terrified sobs. I ran from the kitchen to him and asked him what was wrong. He was convinced the elf was going to cancel Christmas for him. As we talked it through, I learned he believed that the elf was watching him and making a list of all the things he did wrong after the kids from preschool explained that that’s why the elves came. It was to watch out for naughty children who, of course, wouldn’t get presents from Santa that year.

What was supposed to be a fun and magical thing for him was making him fearful and anxious.

And so, I hauled the elf down, told my kid the whole thing was a sham, and I threw the elf into our storage closet. He lived on a little shelf behind a closed door for a little while until I decided he could at least be a toy (and it was a toy which was never played with and quickly made its way to a donation centre nearby).

NOW.

None of this is to say that I’m judging or disapproving of the families who DO have (and love) their elf. In fact, quite the opposite: I think it’s fantastic! My intent when purchasing our Elf on the Shelf was to inject a little extra magic and fun into my favourite season but it was undone quickly by the notion that the elf was reporting all of F’s “poor behaviour” (which he thought included mistakes) back to Santa.

Every year, around this time, I hear and see questions around whether or not to get an elf or how to explain to your child why your family doesn’t have one. I’m not entirely sure my son understood when I told him the elf wasn’t real, and I know for sure that he realises some of his friend’s families have an Elf on the Shelf and that ours doesn’t.

In fact, this year he asked if we were going to have one. After some consideration, I said “no”. Why? Because, frankly, I don’t want it. And I explained it like this:

Our family has a mom, a step-dad, a kid, and a dog. We have two cars. Our neighbours have two cars, three kids, a mom and dad, and no pets. Another family might have a grandmother and a cat. Every family looks different and every family has different traditions and activities that are meaningful to them. None of these things make one family better than the other.

If yours is a house with an Elf on the Shelf, I hope it brings you oodles of joy and excitement! If not, I hope the same. And, at a time when we all need more merriness, let’s focus on that instead.

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