To Elf or Not to Elf: Incorporating New Traditions (And Leaving Some Out)

One thing that is great about having kids is that you get to experience the holidays like a kid again through their eyes. You buy the "Baby's 1st" holiday bibs, new onesies maybe, take a thousand photos, all that good stuff. Once they are old enough they might sit on Santa's lap and go to the Christmas tree lighting downtown. You remember all of those great family traditions, recipes, memories, things you want them to experience just like you did growing up. You also have an opportunity to incorporate new ones, things you maybe didn't do growing up, things you wish you had done, things you felt you missed out on. Sometimes making it all fit in together can be a challenge, meshing old with new, trying to make it all work, and forging your own family's set of traditions takes on a life of its own. Enter, the Elf on the Shelf. Now, in case you are unfamiliar with this little guy, he's apparently one of Santa's elves that comes to your house the night after Thanksgiving? I think? And he is supposed to watch over your kids from his special perch (sound creepy yet?) and report back every night to Santa. A lot of people think the Elf is really "fun", mostly I have gathered that people (myself included) use the Elf as a sort of watchdog/threat for the preschool set. "I wouldn't do that if I were you, you know who will tell SANTA!" (said while pointing and nodding sagely at the Elf). Our Elf really took on a menacing quality, mostly due to my own efforts. The kids actually would become afraid that the Elf would tell on him, and all of their delight at finding him in the morning would soon evaporate and I swear the Elf's eyes would become narrower and more hawk-like as the days wore on till Christmas. I tried to soften the Elf's image up a bit for the kids, I would tell them not to worry, it would all work itself out come holiday time, but to no avail. If they spilled something, they would immediately start begging me, "Don't tell the elf! Don't tell THE ELF!"

The other fun side to the whole Elf on the Shelf experience is that you too as parents get to have a role. YOU get to hide the Elf every night after the kids go to bed, and by "hide every night" I mean you scramble to throw him somewhere new as the kids are coming down the stairs in the busy morning rush. All of your visions of coming up with cute little hiding places go to hell as you try to rig those skinny little Elf legs around the lampshade praying that he'll stay upright long enough so the kids will buy it. And if he falls on the floor? Guess what! That's his new "hiding place" for the day! Oh, and if you DO come up with a great place and plan it all out ahead of time? They don't notice. That is the day they forget about the old Elf. Which then leads you to trying to remind them, "Oh hey, where is that little Elf guy today? Is he...in the closet??" as your creativity is wasted for the day.

If you need ideas, there are a ton, and I mean a TON of ideas. There are even these crazy ideas of having your Elf be "mischievous" and make "silly messes" in your house. Like the one where your Elf switches the closets around in your house. Now, while I applaud this mom's creativity and desire to inject a little magic in her children's lives, it begs the question that WHO HAS THE TIME TO DO THIS? Furthermore, who would WANT to take the time to switch an entire closet just for one second of surprise? Just to then have to put it all back again? I'm all for fostering imagination and make believe in children but come on. It needs to end here. One site suggests having the Elf "make a mess in the bathroom with the toothpaste". Um, you know what? I already have two little guys who do that perfectly fine all by themselves, and the only thing I can find less appealing than cleaning up their toothpaste mess is cleaning up one I did by myself. Pretending to be an Elf.

And then you have the inevitable mom guilt with the Elf on the Shelf. Here are moms who devote entire websites to Elf ideas and I can't come up with one other place to hang this guy than the same lampshade (he really likes that lampshade). I had one stressful holiday preparation day where I got trapped in a mom guilt spiral that began with an Elf on the Shelf Fail that led to me flipping through a cookbook full of cookie ideas that I couldn't muster up the nerve to try, then failing to locate the Lalaloopsy doll that was at the top of Lev's list and left me wondering why I put myself under this kind of pressure anyway?

I inadvertently sucked all the fun out of something that was supposed to be a great new tradition by creating an Elf on the Shelf Police State in my home and then guilting myself into thinking I wasn't doing ENOUGH with said Elf. I had the best intentions of course, I just wanted them to eat their vegetables and be nice to each other and I wanted to create a new and fun holiday tradition, but I turned the Elf into something we all dreaded for different reasons.

This year, I'm going to keep the Elf, I am. I'm going to read the book the night before and hopefully locate him in the holiday bin in the basement storage area (the Elf's luxurious off season home). I'm going to try to remember to move him, but if I don't, it's going to be on the Elf, not me. He is going to be a lazy Elf this year. Maybe he'll move from the lampshade, maybe he'll set up shop there all season. Either way the lesson should be to make this stuff fun for everyone, cause the kids catch on really quickly if it isn't fun for you. If it's a chore for you it's a chore for them, and no holiday tradition needs to be a chore. Don't like making ten different kinds of cookies? Don't. Chances are the kids will only remember their one favorite kind anyway. Don't want to go nuts decorating the house? Skip it. Have the kids put up their own decorations. Make your holiday special for your family, and if that includes having your Elf come complete with little "doughnuts" handmade from Cheerios then more power to you. My Elf is going to be taking a nap under the coffee table. xoxo