With two older brothers, my 8-year-old-daughter, Amelia, was street-smart for her age. Santa was on life support after the previous Christmas, when one of the boys pointed out to her that the Santa gifts and the gifts from us were wrapped in the same paper. I was doing my best to keep her "little," but I sensed her sweet, innocent stage was on life support, too.
The day before Thanksgiving last year, I bought an Elf on the Shelf on a whim. I thought it was just a cute decoration. Amelia had been after me to get a tree, but it was way too early. It was meant to hold her off.
She read the enclosure as I was stirring cranberries and sugar and boiling water. Homemade cranberry sauce was the only thing I made from scratch, because it could be done ahead.
"His favorite food is sugar cookies."
"That makes sense."
"If you touch him he loses his magic."
"And every night he flies to the North Pole, so every morning I'll find him in a new place!"
I put my spoon down and read it for myself. What have I done? It's not even Thanksgiving! That's just what I need: something else to do at night.
Eh, she won't really expect that to happen, I thought. And even if she does, I'll just say OF COURSE he can’t travel if it's raining or snowy or foggy, as its tag clearly states spot clean only.
I was just about to announce this amendment, when her brother Aden wrested the elf from her hand. Apparently he'd overheard stipulation number two, and not only touched it with great flourish, but licked it. Amelia was in sobs. I gathered her and the damp elf into my lap. She was too tall for lap sitting...her legs draped over me awkwardly, looking more like they belonged to a teenager than a 3rd grader.
"Mommy, is his magic really gone?"
What did I know? I guess so. I mean, no. Why did I buy this thing?
"Of course not! Santa knows your brother is a pain, and gave the elf extra magic just in case."
She sniffed and brightened just enough to let me know she appreciated my answer, but not so much that Aden would be off the hook.
Damn, does she really think this stiff felt fellow can fly? This is the kid who figured out that the infomercials give the special price to everyone, not just the first 100 to respond. It seemed weirdly unlikely, but her face told another story, so the nightly antics began.
What a drag this was. Often, my husband and I would be nearly asleep, when one or the other would bolt straight up croaking, "The friggin elf!"
We did forget once. Surely, this would make the truth clear? No, Amelia made an excuse for him (rain, ironically). But every other morning she raced around like a kid half her age, squealing and beaming when she found him, in a light fixture, atop the cookie jar, next to a pile of mail. Jolly, as he'd been named along the way, began to grow on me. He made an 8-going-on-14 year old believe in magic. Had she been doing it to pull my chain, or annoy her brother, she would have tired of the routine in a few days. No, she believed that Jolly flew from our high-ranch on Long Island to the North Pole every night (well, except that one).
On Christmas Eve, he left for the last time, as apparently those of his kind do. Christmas Day kept her mind off of him. But on the afternoon of the 26th, I found a picture on the fridge. A girl drawn in blue, with a red bow and tears nearly as big as her head. Underneath: "I miss you Jolly."
Report cards and party invitations have gone up and come down around it. It has a ketchup smear, and the construction paper has gone a little gray, but I won't take it down. I've been afraid to ask her if she still misses Jolly, because in the past 10 months she might have finally crossed the bridge from child to tween.
Is 9 too old to believe?
Jolly will be back the day before Thanksgiving. And I, for one, can't wait.