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My Complicated Relationship with the Elf on the Shelf

"Winston is watching!"

Yes, our Elf on the Shelf is called Winston. My oldest named the beady-eyed bastard when she was 3 years old. I have no idea why she picked that name, but there you have it. That Rice Krispie mascot doppelganger who lurks about my tiny home every Christmas shares his name with the long-departed alcoholic British Prime Minister.

I've tried to embrace Winston's presence in our lives. I bought the official "Elf on the Shelf" DVD of "An Elf Story," and I do appreciate that my sweet 4-year-old sings along with Chippy's family as they learn the meaning of Christmas. It really IS a time for love, joy, and peace, I know, but that melody embeds itself deep in my brain matter, and I can't seem to extract it each year long after Christmas has ended.

Then there's the issue of our small home. We have an extremely small number of possible perches for dear Winston. There are a couple of shelves, a picture or two, the top of the refrigerator, and the Christmas tree. That's it. Contrast that with the roughly 30 nights that blasted elf is supposed to fly away and come back, well, things get a bit repetitive. And when we've gotten a little adventurous and put dear Winston in a new location, it has often backfired. On Day 3, the shelf that not one single child has ever run into was suddenly bumped, sending Winston rolling down the backside of it. I had to dig him out with a pair of kitchen tongs while the middle two suspiciously eyed my every move, almost hoping I'd accidentally touch the little demon and steal his magic.

Remembering to move Winston every night in this magical, yet stressful, season has also proved next to impossible. I tried setting a phone reminder, but my son found the note "Move W" on my phone and nearly blew the lid off the entire operation. (Darn literate kids!) There was even a stretch of three days last Christmas where Winston never left the comfort of the middle kitchen light pendant because we were in the throes of newborn baby arrival. He resembled Miley Cyrus on her wrecking ball as he stared me down with his judgy little eyes, personifying my parenting fail.

And in case my own shortcomings weren't enough, there's the fleet of Pinterest moms with their staged scenes: Elf making snow angels on the counter top out of flour. Elf having brown paper lunch sack races with the other stuffed creatures. And the ultimate in loathsome elf vignettes: Elf defecating chocolate chips. "Why does Winston just move?" my children ask, having no idea just how difficult it is for my husband and I to manage that small feat. Furthermore, if the elf is supposed to cause children to behave better, why is he being such a naughty little jerk?

Is the badly behaved elf a cautionary tale or just some sort of Lilliputian hypocrite?

But despise him as I may, my children adore Winston. They are sad to see him go each Christmas Day and spend the whole of November anticipating his return to our homes. I know the days of their believing in magical elves are numbered. I know that this may be the last year my son thinks he saw Winston's eyes move or my oldest even believes in Santa Claus. I know that for all of my complaining, when my children are being wretched to one another and one of them suddenly declares, "I'm going to tell Winston!" it is a thousand times better than having to referee yet another candy cane-fueled squabble. I admit it; I don't mind having Winston as a co-parent in these situations.

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