Last year, I wrote about my family’s tradition of the holiday elf, who magically appears at our home around the same time as my post-Thanksgiving beer bulge. The elf’s job is to report directly to Santa about my kids’ behavior and misbehavior. While some folks think the jolly old elf intuitively knows who’s been naughty or nice, my family believes his elf spies are the true reporters of naughtiness and niceness.
Of course, most children are equal parts naughty and nice, like most people. But added incentives to strive toward niceness can’t hurt. I grew up with one of our elves, and he kept me in line for many years, at least in the days leading up to Christmas.
Since writing about the elf tradition, which goes back at least 40 years in my family, I discovered that others — in fact, lots of others — grew up with a holiday elf.
Last year around this time, a mother/daughter team published the book/toy phenomenon, Elf on a Shelf, which consists of an elf and a book about the elf, explaining the tradition. My mother sent me a copy, with a note that said, “You should have written this.”
So now we have two elves in our North Asheville home — the one I grew up with and the one who accompanied the book.
Unlike some holiday elves, who write nightly letters to kids, our elves, Cloud Climber and Skittles (so named by my girl), are pretty lazy. Most nights, they simply move to a new surveillance spot — “the better to see you, my dears.” One morning, one elf was hanging from a curtain rod, while the other was nestled in a bunch of bananas. The next night, Cloud Climber ascended to the top of the Christmas tree, while Skittles dangled from a candlestick. Our elves aren’t content to stay on the shelf.
Their other nightly duty is reporting back to Santa, and I frequently remind the kids, “Don’t piss off the elves.” Because our elves’ job is to be tattletales.
Here’s my list of reportable behavior: fighting, arguing, whining, lying, screaming at your parents and ignoring your chores. You’d think keeping the elves happy would be easy. It’s not.
Many of the incidents I’ve listed occur on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis in my house. According to most parents I talk to, this is pretty much par for the course in any household with kids. In fact, I added “arguing” after I told the kids to stop fighting the other day, and my boy said, “But Mom, we aren’t hitting each other.” I told him that arguing counts as fighting. He’s confused, but he doesn’t want to rankle the elves.
Typically, my girl and boy will be whaling on each other over some implied insult (“he looked at me!”) and I’ll yell over the melee, “Don’t piss off the elves!”
Nine out of 10 times, that one sentence gives them pause. Seven out of 10 times, they’ll actually stop hitting each other.
So despite their small size and general indolence, our elves are powerful beings.
The “magical North Pole surveillance” approach to kid discipline is not ideal, of course. Teaching my kids to do the right thing because they want gifts from the jolly old elf may be wrong. But what the hell. I just want some peace and quiet around here.
And clearly some other parents want the same thing. This year, I’ve seen Elf on a Shelf all over town. It seems that the elf business is hot, and that having one of Santa’s ambassadors in the house helps parents get through the holidays. One problem I’ve noticed, however, is that my kids quickly forget about the elves unless they are in proximity. When I remember, I stuff the smaller elf into my handbag when we’re going to be out and about in hopes of maintaining control (yes, I realize how sad that is).
But recently I had a revelation. I’m going to have T-shirts printed that read: “Don’t piss off the elves.” I’ll wear one everywhere during the holidays. I might make the kids wear them as well. Although perhaps that isn’t the best phrase for them to sport at school. “Don’t make the elves angry” just doesn’t have the same power. I bet I can sell “Don’t piss off the elves” shirts to parents and kids everywhere. Who knows? This may be the Edgy Mama answer to both my kids’ misbehavior and my personal economic recession.
Anne Fitten “Edgy Mama” Glenn writes about a number of subjects, including parenting, at www.edgymama.com.