the elf on the shelf?

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I‘ve of course heard of this Elf On The Shelf business, where you buy a specific elf, then each day, a parent is to reposition this wooden freak of nature in a surprising situation: in the bathroom sink with marshmallow “bubbles;” strapped to a wall, held hostage by some militant action figures; or, I suppose, for those lesser parents, on a shelf. Sometimes the elf has an activity planned. He’s found inside a mixing bowl with a recipe card for sugar cookies. This Elf, parents threaten, reports back to the big bearded jolly man. He’s a fun threat on a shelf, a threat that also makes for great memories. It’s a mixed message, but I sort of understand.

I’m tempted to go there, but I fear that his presence will threaten me. It will be another to-do on the list, something else to distract me, another thing I’ll need to plan, need to click my way through Pinterest in search of ideas to thrill. Am I missing something? I really don’t know how this Elf works, and why I’d want one in my house. Does anyone know?

In the meanwhile, I’m both exhausted and excited. My tree is up, the mistletoe hung, the wreath pinned to the door, with a seasonal doormat. Home is homey and snuggle-friendly. Some gifts have been ordered and wrapped, more to-do’s on the list, more of more of more. I don’t know what I weigh. I keep having dreams of ex-boyfriends, men who never wanted me enough, not until I was someone else’s. I’m trying to cut sugar out of my diet, since none of my clothes fit. Cutting sugar out of your life turns you into no one’s friend fast.

Thanksgiving was a gorge fest. Next year, I will limit myself to one stuffing made with Challah, mushrooms, walnuts, apples, celery, onion, golden raisins and sage. I will make the Corn Pudding. I will make vanilla-roasted pears, and the sugar-pecan brie (“Erica, you have to have Stephanie teach you how to make this.” It’s that good, and that easy). This year I had no time to print coloring pages for the kids, no elaborate Thanksgiving banner, no witty quotes or sayings spread across the table. There wasn’t time. The to-do and to-buy lists were too long. I spent way too much money on table decor and pie. Next year, there will be pecan pie, pumpkin pie, apple pie, and my Not Derby Pie (devoured). No Lady M Crepe Cake, no deep cherry pie with almond (as good as it is). It’s overkill.

December 26, we head to Austin to celebrate New Year’s! The kids in tow, we’ll visit with Norma and our friends, live a life we once loved, eat and play, reconnect. And it will feel as if we never left. It’s amazing to me the way that works, that we can so easily slip back into a life, know the curves of the road, the length of a stoplight, pick up with old friends as if Florida never happened, as if we didn’t now live and love in New York.



  1. Elf on the shelf seems like an exhausting, elaborate game of deceit where the annoyance and risk of getting caught in the lie far outweigh the reward of obedience it might squeeze out of a kid. As for the hope/wonder aspect of the Elf, that’s what Santa and his 50 million books, movies and folklore fulfill. Dude, I can barely manage to feed my pets daily, and I’m supposed to be up at midnight for a month, posing a fucking elf around the house? No way.

  2. I’m 100% with Liz on this. Anything that causes dread around the holidays should be avoided at all cost. Yep – it’s cute now. But then something will change and all of a sudden, you’re a loser for not doing it.

    Case in point. When the darlings were little, I would get one helium balloon per year for ‘birthday breakfast magic’, would make the birthday poster and hang the streamers. This was f-ing adorable until they turned about 7. Imagine stuffing 7 helium balloons into a car with 3 car seats. Then it got insane when they were 13. November 18 and I’m struggling through the snow storm with 18 balloons cured me. 18th birthday was it for all of them. Never again will I start something so ‘cute’. Elf = downfall.

  3. If you feel any part of the holiday cheer becoming an obligation, other people will pick up on this. Kids included. Actually, ESPECIALLY kids, they often have more intuition then adults give them credit for.

    It would be better to have a few genuinely meaningful traditions then a lot of things on a To Do list.

  4. I’ve seen them in the store recently and I thought about it for a split second and kept walking.

    I can barely get my 4-year-old to bed as it is without all the usual distractions of life and now all the hoopla of Christmas (the movies, the parties, the activities at school).

    Plus he’s also at that age where he asks SO MANY questions. Don’t get me wrong, I love his curiosity and we love doing these type of fun things, I can only handle so many things on the to-do list. I got a gingerbread house for us to make together instead. That’s more my speed.

  5. How timely — my daughters just asked for the dreaded Elf. I thought that the 24 wrapped Christmas books was (is) enough for the season. We all love unwrapping the books and reading them together. Not sure I’d have the same warm fuzzes about the Elf.

  6. We literally JUST started Elf on the Shelf — last night. My daughters (ages 6 and 7) were exposed to it at school — each classroom has its own elf. And of course when the elf “appeared,” other classmates started telling stories about their own elves, and how much fun it is.

    So of course my kids were smitten with the idea.

    I had resisted it for the same reasons you’ve resisted it — Mostly that I already have so much to do in the evening, why add ANOTHER thing to the list?

    But eventually I caved and just yesterday our elf showed up. The girls named him Cobra. This morning they found him sitting on the couch, watching a Charlie Brown Christmas, a small bowl of popcorn in his lap. And God help me, I had FUN setting that up. It didn’t feel like a chore — it felt like I was making a little magic. And it started their day off with that little bit of delighted magic, racing around the house to spot him, finding it so funny that he was watching Charlie Brown, giggling that he’d spilled a little popcorn in the process.

    Everyone was all smiles, and it was just nice. So. I am a tentative fan of Elf on the Shelf. (I just figure the time for this innocent belief in magic is soon waning, you know? And it’s just so fun to watch them enjoy it – and know that you helped facilitate that.) I don’t imagine I’ll be setting up those very elaborate scenes, but a little something here and there is totally doable.

    Anyway, just another perspective from a recent Elf on the Shelf convert. To each his own — I totally get not wanting to do it!

  7. You know who we haven’t heard about in a while? Linus. How is he with Lea? And what about Mr. Bikini?

    1. Author

      Linus is in love with Lea. He is her love. Lea texts me with photos of Linus, and we both kind of sigh. I feel like he was my first child, and to this day, whenever I feel sad or can’t sleep, or if I need to relax, I imaging Linus. Truth. Not the birth of my children, but of Linus, sleeping in the nook of my leg, his white and pink body breathing, gently rising as he curls into a bean. I love that dog. He is getting old, and when he dies, Lea won’t be able to function. She for SURE will need a new puppy. No question about it.

      1. But what about Mr. Bikini!?! I think you promised an update about him months ago. I get the feeling that he is no longer with your family.

    2. Guessing mr. Bikini is not the scene anymore since she ignored your question. Hmmm, given away or dead? Off to a better home, I hope.

  8. I also wondered about Mr. Bikini, and I recall a mention a few months back about a forthcoming update. Strange to worry about a total stranger’s dog but … here we are.

    1. Author

      I know. This post is once again long overdue. He is alive and well, living with another family in Austin with another Beagle. That’s the short of it. The long of it is in the long overdue post!

  9. Beagles are the ultimate pack animals. The happiest ones I’ve known live with (at least!) one other beagle. Thanks for the update.

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