After hearing rave reviews of kids driven to astoundingly good behavior because of it, I ordered the popular Elf on the Shelf book a couple of weeks ago. I know of several kids who seriously clean up their acts when reminded that the Elf is watching and also, it just seems like a fun family tradition.
The basic premise is a book that tells the story of an Elf who serves as Santa's helper. In the book, readers learn that the Elf comes to their house each morning to check on their holiday behavior and then reports to Santa on the household happenings, presumably to help Santa during his busy season as he keeps his naughty and nice lists. The fun is that the Elf is supposed to reappear in a different place within the home each morning, giving the youngest residents a reason to keep a look out for him. The book comes with a small stuffed elf that is yours to name and impress.
The boys and I opened ours last night and read the book, dutifully keeping the Elf in his clear case at the back of the book, as the story instructs you not to touch the Elf because touching him could prevent him from making his flight to the North Pole to report about your great choices. The book also instructs you to name your Elf, which the boys did unanimously and without hesitation. Wait for it...Scott.
After the boys were in bed last night I intended to go up, free Scott from his case, and find a suitable locale for his first day in our home. I planned to make it someplace obvious to ease us into the habit of looking for him. I was partly excited about this because I can envision years down the road, long after anyone is actually concerned that the Elf is watching, still having a fun game and tradition where we continue to hide the Elf, but obscurity of hiding location is what makes it fun. (Just go with me here. My boys are getting so big. I have to believe that they'll humor me if I bribe them as they grow.)
Instead, I ended up lying down in Thomas' room because the poor child just couldn't stop coughing. Predictably, I fell asleep and woke up at 3 a.m., when I stumbled downstairs in a daze. I slept soundly until 7 a.m., when Thomas appeared by my bedside asking, "Where's the Elf? I looked and I can't find him anywhere."
I played it off and assured him that the Elf must be around somewhere. A bit later, his brother appeared. He was also asking about the Elf. He, however, had already looked in the box and discovered that our new friend, Scott, was still safely strapped in his holding chamber.
I did a little of my finest tap dancing and they moved on with their Saturday. Late this afternoon when they were outside I ran upstairs and ripped that little Scott from his twist-tie prison and placed him squarely on the shelves in front of where we read bedtime books. Subtle, right?
When bedtime rolled around we sat down for books and for several minutes no one noticed the little red-suited creature staring at us from across the room. Finally Andrew spotted him and was full. of. questions. He was just positive that Scott had not been there earlier, despite my trying to convince him that he just hadn't noticed him there until now. After some conversation we went on with the book we had selected but I noticed that Andrew just wasn't paying attention. He was busy staring cautiously back at Scott.
After books I took Thomas to his room and in his sleepy fog he told me he was going to get up earlier than Andrew so he could be sure to find Scott first. While enticing him to make wake-up time a competition wasn't in the plan, I was thrilled he had listened to the story and was ready to play along. As I was finishing up with Thomas, Andrew stuck his head in and said, "Mommy, when you come into my room I have some questions for you. You need to get ready for a serious discussion."
I took a deep breath before entering his room and psyched myself up for what I was sure was going to be an inquisition about the jolly man in the red suit. I was basically sweating and wondering, aloud, why I'm always the one who does bedtime. I was also berating myself for having dragged us all downtown last night to see Santa be rescued off the roof of a local department store by the fire department. He had seemed to be so engaged but now I was doubting whether his interest had been sincere.
When I sat down on his bed, he looked up at me with the biggest blue eyes he could muster and said, "Mommy, we need to talk about that Elf." I asked him what he wanted to talk about and he said, "He's really freaking me out."
Hmmm. That's not quite where I thought this was going.
I asked what about Scott freaked him out and he said, "Well, I'm just thinking about this and there's no really no way that he moved out of that box by himself. I think a person did that and I'm worried how that person would get in our house and whether they're still here." For a split second I thought he was about to call me out but then those big eyes started to well up with tears and I realized he was just truly scared.
I assured him that there wouldn't be any reason to worry about that and reminded him that the book told us Scott had magical powers so it was just fun and we needed to go with it. He nodded and tried to look brave. Then he said, "I'm also kind of worried that I'm not on the good list and that he's going to know it now."
Now who feels like a creep?
We had some conversation about having a good heart and about living your life in such a way that you're always sure that others would have a favorable impression of your character. He seemed to get all of that but was basically still terrified. He was terrorized by the notion of this little red felt Elf floating around our house at night and not believing for a minute that some stranger off the street wasn't coming in and messing with us. I sat there for a few minutes and tried to talk him off the ledge, but eventually realized that if I left his room tonight telling him not to worry about it, he would anyway and that any fun of having the Elf on our shelf was going to be lost in his cloud of confusion, doubt and analytics.
I finally just leaned down and asked him if he could keep a very important secret between me and him. He nodded, very seriously, that he could and pinky promised me. I went and got the Elf off the shelf and brought it into his room. Then I confessed that he was indeed correct in his thinking that an eight-inch tall skinny Elf with velcro on his hands and feet couldn't move on its own. And, I told him that I was the person who had moved it. He promised me, through tears of relief, that he would not tell Thomas and that he would still have fun looking for the Elf each morning. I think I believe him.
I'm left wondering how my inquisitive, left-brained child has gotten so big. I'm a little heartbroken for him - and for me - because this is obviously the first of many mythical creatures about whom he'll have questions, sooner rather than later. I'm also so proud of his logic and ability to reason and willingness to share his concern. And, I'm a little amused that my kid-of-much-bravado was terrified of a toy Elf.
So, tomorrow morning is the first test. I've moved the Elf to a location that will require them to look a little harder and I'm hoping he'll do the right thing. He still wants to be on the big man in red's good list so hopefully he'll choose to be a good brother and keep his pinky promise to me. In the meantime I'll be seriously hoping that that semi-loose front tooth of his stays put for another month. I don't know if I can handle the demise of the tooth fairy right now.