All over the Internet, Elves are leaving their shelves to engage in nightly mischief
Why can’t our Elf on the Shelf be a role model instead of an accomplice?
It’s that time of the year when I reevaluate my relationship with Ruby, our Elf on the Shelf. Like any relationship, Ruby and I have had our ups and downs.
I was smitten with Ruby, at first. It was fun thinking up funny and adventurous places for the kids to find her. One morning she was swinging from her ankles on the pendant light in our kitchen. Another morning she was discovered in a pile of chocolate chips after sneaking into the baking cupboard overnight.
As we got deeper into December, my interest and energy waned and soon Ruby stopped pulling all-nighters. She wasn’t even moving.
After Christmas, I decided to chalk Ruby up as a parenting fail and move on. We would make different Christmas traditions that were less guilt-inducing and created less resentment towards an inanimate object. I gave Ruby away.
When December rolled around the next year, my kids were confused by Ruby absence. “Was it because we’ve been bad this year?” they asked. “Do you mean the time you tried to sell your brother for five cents? Yes, that probably had something to do with it.” I answered, half-joking.
But I was surprised that they remembered Ruby. I started to doubt how I ended things with her. With the discomfort of the previous Christmas season far enough in the past, I headed back to the store for another Elf on the Shelf.
I know what you’re thinking. I’m a glutton for punishment and a very, very slow learner.
The second go-around with our Elf on the Shelf left me feeling more frustrated than before but my kids were invested and to break up with her again feels complicated. One morning I found a hand-written note and drawing from our eight-year-old daughter to Ruby.
“Dear Ruby, I hope you get presents from Elves. If you don’t, I got you one.”
This tiny gesture from my little girl made me realize that Ruby meant something to her, and also that I should have ended things when I had the chance.
“At the heart of the matter though, is my doubt as to the value of her actual job”
According to the book she comes with, Ruby is supposed to serve as Santa’s eyes and ears. She monitors the children’s naughty and nice behaviour and reports back to Santa. As her name clearly suggests, she is supposed to do this from her superior vantage point of THE SHELF.
Unfortunately for me and other parents, the societal expectation is to hide Ruby in creative and amusing places for the children to find. THE SHELF is no longer good enough.
There are websites, Instagram and Facebook posts dedicated to Elves NOT on the shelf. These Elves are usually involved in some kind of mischief that is often not even kid-appropriate. What started as a simple holiday game of hide-and-seek for children has become an entire industry.
And another thing: Ruby takes 11 months of leave. She can’t live in the Christmas box because she’s magic and supposedly returns to the North Pole. She has to be carefully stored away in a box not labelled ‘Christmas’ until the following Nov. 30 when you begin searching for her whereabouts.
This year, I couldn’t find Ruby. Back to the store. Buy a third one.
But the real difficulty with the Elf on the Shelf is remembering to move it. After a long day with kids and work and the multitude of other jobs that need to get done before your head hits the pillow, the Elf on the Shelf is one more thing to do.
I have tucked myself into bed on more than one occasion only to realize that I didn’t move the effing Elf. There have been even more nights when I just plain forgot. It is in those moments that I truly resent this skinny red waif and plot her banishment from our home.
At the heart of the matter though, is my doubt as to the value of her actual job. If she is supposed to be Santa’s eyes and ears, watching out for bad behaviour, why is she herself getting into mischief? The only message I can imagine my kids get from seeing Ruby in a mess of her own making is that she’s just like them and therefore not someone they need to impress.
In other words, instead of a role model, my kids have an accomplice.
To truly live up to her life’s purpose, Ruby should be setting a good example for our children. I would like my children to find her doing the chores that I so often have to nag them to do.
Imagine if they found Ruby taking it upon herself to empty the dishwasher without being asked, making her own lunch or cleaning up the Lego. That kind of goody-two-shoes behaviour may be just the ticket to turn my kids against Ruby forever.
Possibly the surest sign that a relationship has soured is when you start to resent the mere presence of the other person. As I write this, we are a few weeks away from the holiday season and I can already feel the stirrings of resentment.
I long for the simpler days when the chocolate Advent calendar was magic enough.
Sarah Seitz has two children. She lives in Victoria and also writes a column for Island Parent magazine.
Origin of Elf on a Shelf
The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition is a 2005 children’s picture book, written by Carol Aebersold and her daughter Chanda Bell, and illustrated by Coë Steinwart. The book tells a Christmas-themed story, written in rhyme, that explains how Santa Claus knows who is naughty and nice. It describes elves visiting children from Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve, after which they return to the North Pole until the next holiday season.
Mensch on a Bench
A Jewish counterpart to Elf on the Shelf was designed by Benjamin Goober Elikns: “Mensch on a Bench”, a stuffed toy that looks a bit like a rabbi or a Hasidic Jew. Jewish father Neal Hoffman, a former Hasbro Toys toy marketing executive, raised more than $22,000 using the crowdfunding website Kickstarter to fund the creation of the toy in 2011. “Mensch”, in Yiddish, means a person of integrity or honour.
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The tooth fairy is only human
My daughter lost her first tooth playing outside on a late summer evening. Minutes later, I lost my parental halo after throwing the tooth fairy under the bus.
We had anticipated this milestone for weeks. We did daily tests and teased about how best to speed up the process. “Shall I get some pliers?” I would say, followed with a cartoonishly evil laugh.
And then, playing the good cop, we’d talk about the magical, wonderful tooth fairy who would fly into her room at night, like Tinkerbell, and gently whisk away the tooth, exchanging it for a gift. My daughter, Julia, knew what to expect from the tooth fairy, of course. Based on peer experience, she expected coins under her pillow in the morning.
So when Julia came running into the kitchen with the freshly plucked tooth in her hand, we were ready and excited – our first born’s first lost tooth and my first time in the role of the Tooth Fairy.
After giggling at her new toothless smile in the mirror and marveling at the tiny white tooth in her hand, Julia placed the tooth on the kitchen counter for me to keep safe and went back outside to play. I continued my frenzied post-dinner tidying up – washing dishes and wiping the counters clean.
It wasn’t until Julia came back inside and asked to see her tooth that I realized I had no idea WHERE IT WAS. In my mad rush to clean up, I had forgotten my job as keeper of the tooth and that my daughter’s key to the magical realm of the Tooth Fairy was now most likely in the compost or garbage bin.
I panicked. How to keep this fantasy alive? I feigned surprise and said that the tooth fairy must have taken it when I wasn’t looking. I reasoned that because she was so busy doing the job of gathering up other children’s teeth, the Tooth Fairy was probably already likely in the neighborhood and took Julia’s tooth now instead of coming back at night.
I’m not sure this reason seemed as clever to Julia as it did to someone who places a high value and necessity on multi-tasking, such as myself. However, I explained the tooth fairy would likely circle back in the night and leave some something extra special under her pillow.
I watched the expressions on my daughter’s face while she reconciled what we had told her the tooth fairy would do, and what she was now actually doing. I realized Julia was reaching the only logical explanation: the tooth fairy was unreliable.
Later, as my husband and I scoured the house for toonies or loonies to place under our daughter’s pillow, I regretted how I had handled the lost tooth, not to mention that I had lost it in the first place. If I had told Julia the truth, she would know that the tooth fairy wasn’t real. But my lie had characterized the tooth fairy as flighty and impulsive.
The truth was, I wanted to protect my daughter from the fact that I was sometimes unreliable, impulsive and flighty. I had thrown the tooth fairy under the bus to save myself.
So that night, out of guilt, the tooth fairy left five bucks under Julia’s pillow and vowed to be a more responsible tooth fairy in the future. Full disclosure here: the cash came from Julia’s own piggy bank that I had to busted into. (Who carries cash anymore?)
Several months later, when the next tooth became wiggly, I was ecstatic. Here was my chance to do it right. The tooth fairy would be redeemed. The bonus was that it was my daughters “pirate tooth,” as it was affectionately referred to. Her front left tooth had slowly turned dark after dying from a bonk three years prior. I was not sad to see it go. It came out in the morning before school and I carefully tucked it away for bedtime.
That evening, as my husband and I collapsed onto the couch, I reminded him to remind me to remember that the tooth fairy had to come that evening. This is the identical conversation we have every night mid-December until Christmas Day about the Elf on the Shelf.
I awoke the next morning with my daughter beside my bed. “Mom,” she said, “the tooth fairy didn’t come and take my tooth.” My heart sank. To mess up the Tooth Fairy once – understandable. Twice? I need a new cover story!
“Do you think it’s because it was my pirate tooth and she doesn’t take teeth that aren’t white?” she asked. No, I told her. It’s probably because the tooth fairy was so overloaded with teeth jobs the night before that she wasn’t able to get to all of the houses and that tonight she was sure to come. Julia said, “ I know what happened. The tooth fairy works at a busy office with lots of computers and they got so many messages that she didn’t get mine so she will come tonight.”
The earnestness in her little voice warmed my heart. I vowed that tonight I would remember. My husband put a reminder in his phone. I asked my sister to text me. This trifecta of reminders was my only hope and redemption.
That night, the tooth fairy did come and she left a little note thanking Julia for her patience and understanding during a very busy time. I told myself it was an opportunity to discuss patience, compassion and other values with my daughter that wouldn’t have happened if I had been perfect.
The truth is, I am a flawed parent. It’s something the Tooth Fairy understands.
Sarah Seitz is a former Comox Valley resident and now the mother of two children. She lives in Victoria. This essay first appeared in Island Parent Magazine. (Full disclosure, Seitz is the daughter of Decafnation publisher, George Le Masurier.)
THE TOOTH FAIRY TURNED INTO A BAD MOVIE
20th Century Fox presents this family comedy following a star hockey player’s (Dwayne Johnson, The Rock) temporary transformation into a full-fledged tooth fairy as penalty for discouraging a young fan. Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 18 percent ratiing.
— Rotten Tomatoes
THE TOOTH FAIRY IS YOUNGER THAN YOU MIGHT EXPECT
Compared to the two other main figures in modern American mythology, the Tooth Fairy is the new kid on the block. Santa Claus can be traced back to Saint Nicholas, born around 280 CE, and the Easter Bunny arrived in the United States with German immigrants during the 1700s, but the very earliest reference to the Tooth Fairy appears in a Chicago Daily Tribune “Household Hints” column from September 1908.
Tribune reader Lillian Brown wrote in to suggest that “Many a refractory child will allow a loose tooth to be removed if he knows about the tooth fairy. If he takes his little tooth and puts it under the pillow when he goes to bed the tooth fairy will come in the night and take it away, and in its place will leave some little gift.” The story was further popularized by Esther Watkins Arnold’s 1927 play for children, The Tooth Fairy.
NO ONE’S QUITE SURE WHAT THE TOOTH FAIRY LOOKS LIKE …
Unlike Santa, there isn’t a widely-held consensus on the Fairy’s appearance. Most cartoons and books depict a winged female sprite or pixie, much like Tinkerbell, bearing a wand and trailing sparkles in her wake. But a 1984 survey found that while 74 percent viewed the Tooth Fairy as female, another 12 percent envisioned the Fairy as neither male nor female. Other responders gave less traditional answers: Some imagined the Tooth Fairy as a bear, a bat, a dragon, or even “a potbellied, cigar smoking, jeans clad tiny flying male.”
— Mental Floss
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Editor’s note: Decafnation originally published this essay a year ago. For a silly version of the annual holiday letter, go here.
At this season I seldom had a visitor. When the snow lay deepest, no wanderer ventured near my house for a week or a fortnight at a time, but there I lived as snug as a meadow mouse.
… Thoreau in Walden
I/dropcap] once took a series of photographs of a man named Harry. In his own way, Harry modeled the life of Thoreau. He lived alone in a shack he built himself 25 years earlier, while he was slipping into legally blindness. When technology made it possible to transplant new sight into his eye sockets, Harry vowed to see the world from a different perspective.
During each subsequent Christmas season, this individualist shared the view from his perch in a letter he wrote “to the world.”
Like Thoreau at Walden, Harry drew much out of his solitude, contending that his treasures are memories tucked away in his mind “to be brought forth when the long nights become lonely, like this one.” He wrote this letter on one of those lonely nights.
“It’s Christmas time again. White ruffled curtains are sifting the moonlight. The soft yellow lights from the neighbor’s kitchen are buttering the falling snow. Yesterday’s puddles wear a grey skin of ice and our ponds have shut their eyelids on the winter cold. The evergreens are mittened with frost.”
Harry spent a lot of time with nature. He loved birds and animals. He was never an important man by the standards of status and financial success. He was a logger for a while and finished his working career as a janitor.
But he was a keen observer, a rough poet, a witty, wise old man who had a long love affair with clouds and stars.
“I stood in awe and wonder. Dawn started emerging from the womb of night, and slowly the sun was chinning itself on the horizon. Pillowed clouds, gently aired by a slight breeze, seemed like hooded friars telling their beads in the morning sun.”
Harry often turned nostalgic.
“I grew up in the days when you could buy a nickel’s worth of something, when sex education was learning to kiss without bumping noses, when buying on time meant getting there before the store closed, when health foods were whatever your mother said you’d better eat and when it cost less to educate your son that it does now to amuse his children.”
A man of little formal education, Harry spent most of his hours of solitude reading classics. He also kept up with current events and lamented the frenetic modern world.
“When I was young, we had little mental anguish, no tense nerves to frustrate the spirit. The hardships were usually resolved by a good night’s sleep. Our lives were tranquil and uncomplicated, not plagued by the traumatic turmoil or the age of the spaceship and the terrorist. We didn’t want much because we didn’t see much to want.
“The answer to the world’s problems may be in that statement.”
There was a small marsh near where he lived. He spent more time than usual before his small wood stove that year. At 80 years, it felt colder than it really was.
Harry never became pessimistic. He embraced nature as a buffer to a world he did not fully understand. Or didn’t want to. He died during his sleep some years back, probably after his nightly ritual.
“The last thing I do every night before retiring is to step out the back door and look upward.”
To continue his love affair with the clouds and the stars.
While doing some seriously complicated scientific research on the most ergonomic entry and exit of the common household hammock, I came upon a startling statistic: more men are injured while mowing lawns each year than those who sit around and drink beer.
In fact, more than 200,000 people are injured in lawn-mowing accidents every year, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. They say 16,000 kids per year get run over by lawn mowers and that 95 percent of lawn mowing accidents at John Hopkins pediatric trauma center involve amputations.
This tells me that only trained professionals should operate lawn mowers. Also, if the kids had actually operated the lawn mowers, as God intended them to do, they wouldn’t have been lying around randomly in the grass where some incompetent older guy, who’d rather be golfing, could run them over.
That’s why those of us who really care about the current state of lawn safety leave our lawn mowers outside during the winter. Lawn Safety Advocates such as myself have figured out that if the mower won’t start, we won’t have to cut the lawn, ergo, we minimize the chance of injury to ourselves and any children that might be hiding in our lawns.
I was pondering this theory recently as I sat up from my hammock just long enough to notice Fran marching towards the garage, obviously in a lawn mowing mood. Just as I was settling back down, wondering if the neighbors would appreciate “our” dedication to the beautification of the street, the news that the mower wouldn’t start hit me like a rain cloud. I even had to remove the custom-designed, carbon-fiber sun-tanning toothpicks from between my toes.
I spent the next hour getting all greasy taking apart a machine I pretended to know something abut, cursing and hoping the lawn would take pity on me and suck itself back down to a respectable length.
Just as I was about to stab it to death with a screwdriver, I looked up to find a small teenaged boy from down the street staring at me, trying to figure out what all the commotion was about. When he saw I was working on an engine, his eyes lit up.
“Lost your spark?” he asked.
“I beg your pardon,” I huffed, hoping he wasn’t making a snide comment about my age.
Once he determined that I had indeed lost my spark, he proceeded to tell me about removing the flywheel to polish the points and why I would need a brass punch. He started reducing my mower to about 8,000 separate pieces, announced he had found the problem and fixed it in about 10 minutes.
“But I have to get home for lunch, can you get it back together?” he asked.
“Are you kidding?” I said, kidding.
“Oh, good,” he said, and left.
I panicked. But after two more hours, it was back together again. I just threw all the extra pieces in the garbage.
It started on the second crank.
About that time, Fran came outside surprised to see the lawn mower was working again.
“Have any trouble with it,” she asked.
“Are you kidding?” I laughed, nervously.
And off she went happily mowing the lawn, swerving to miss the kids scattered about, while I returned to my science project over by the hammock.
Today we celebrate the spring equinox, the beginning of a new astrological year, a time when hope and creativity soar and our hearts beat to the rhythm of the Earth’s renewal. And we just pray to the Mother Earth Goddess that it doesn’t fucking snow again.
Because it’s been one pisser of a winter.
In Greek mythology, Gaia is the personification of Earth, the mother of all life, who should have been up at 3:28 a.m. this morning to preside over the moment of renewal and the divine harmony of the equinox, when life exists within equal hours of lightness and darkness.
But I suspect the Mother Earth Goddess slept in this year, or possibly she’s lying on the floor, sprawled among empty Ouzo bottles, hung over from a rough winter binge. Because that’s how the rest of us feel.
Snow. Freezing temperatures. More snow. Power outages. Cars in ditches. Shoveling. More snow. Shoveling, again. More cold.
The worst winter in recent history makes one wonder if the Mother Earth Goddess didn’t spend the winter in Mexico and forgot about the Pacific Northwest.
So, naturally, her absence raises the epistemic question posed by evil in the world.
Here’s how the argument goes. If God exists and is omnipotent and morally perfect, then why doesn’t God eliminate all evil? For some, the existence of evil proves God doesn’t exist.
But the counter-argument posits that evil exists so that we can know goodness.
Or, as Anne Bradstreet said, “If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.”
In other words, without bad stuff, we can’t appreciate the good stuff. Without Trump, we wouldn’t reflect fondly on Obama … hell, even on George W. Bush.
So as we anticipate smelling the flowers in full bloom, we can recall how dark and dreary our life has been, and be glad we aren’t in that place any more.
Streams will soon be bubbling, trees and grass will be green. Temperatures will rise. Gaia, the Mother Earth Goddess, will sober up and rejuvenate.
As Robin Williams once said, “Spring is nature’s way of saying, ‘Let’s party!’”
I’m writing today’s column from The Office of Medical Terror, otherwise known as my bedroom.
I’m doing this because a monster truck of influenza ran over me, then backed up and ran over me again, and afterwards dumped a load of pneumonia on me. The truck also hit my wife at the same time, and turned our house into a disease-ridden wailing ward that we might have to burn down … a popular Comox Valley solution.
I should have gone to the doctor right away, but I figured he would be busy finishing junior high school.
Instead, I self-enrolled myself in the latest scientific treatment for my current condition, which consists primarily of lying around on the couch watching the popular daytime television show called “Whatever’s On,” and drinking enough water to lower the neighborhood aquifer.
During the commercial breaks, when I was able to stay in the room, I enjoyed voluminous advertising for all kinds of new drugs, with names like Confusadril, Preventidrool, Krazyglucosamine and Miketycin.
Each one sounded like just what I needed, because I might be that one person in 200 million suffering from the distilling of my carpal femur. That made me wonder if Dr. Teenager knew about this. Or, if I should have run out and bought some of that Phenaminafenafinaphen myself.
But just as I was mustering the heroic effort required to lift my frail and lifeless body off the couch, I heard somebody who talked faster than an angry Spanish mother-in-law caution me against such rash action. He said:
“Some adverse reactions may occur. These include comas, brain tumors and, in some patients, the rapid growth of hair where you don’t want it. Ears will fall off in less than 1 percent of all users. Some patients may notice the growth of extra toes. You should not take Phenamin if you are drinking orange juice or breathing air. Watching television while taking Phenamin could trigger a hallucinogenic reaction that may cause some patients to spontaneously combust.”
Maybe it was just the high fever, but these commercials seemed to be speaking to me. They seemed to be saying, “Geooorgie, buy these drugs. They might not kill you. You might only grow an extra foot. Get up and go buy them right now, and pick up an extra pair of shoes while you’re at it.”
Call me old-fashioned, but I decided to plop myself back down and use a more traditional cure: boring myself to death … whoops, wrong result. Maybe Dr. Teenager has a study break.
MEDICAL UPDATE: Dr. Teenager prescribed antibiotics, and the travel agent wrote a script for two weeks in Mexico.