We were “lucky” enough to get in on the ground floor of the Elf on the Shelf. Our youngest daughter was on the older end of the range when it became popular here and she wanted an Elf on the Shelf so badly. We thought, “what the heck… this will be fun”… What we didn’t realize was that we were making a multi-year commitment, or that we were eventually going to dream of wiping that little smirk off of his face.
If you are unfamiliar with this holiday treat, it’s a 2005 children’s book that tells the story of how Santa knows who is naughty and who is nice. The elf visits homes from Thanksgiving through Christmas Eve and at nighttime, while everyone is sleeping, returns to the North Pole to report behavior of children to Santa, returning to the home by morning. On Christmas Eve, he or she returns to the North Pole and remains there until the next Thanksgiving.
The relationship with this stinking toy lasted longer than many jobs, friendships, pets and relationships. It went on for years. I should have known when he was given a name. Our daughter chose Urban, after Urban Meyer, loved by all in our house and I suppose a little bit of a jab to all of our hater friends, especially because we live in SEC country.
The Honeymoon Phase
It was all fun and games at first. This was before you could look up ideas on Pinterest; before you could Google Elf on the Shelf and get a bazillion results. It was home grown creativity and we enjoyed coming up with new ideas. As a matter of fact, we initially had so many that we made a list, checked it twice and executed.
It was kind of like when you find a new friend, food, interest, boyfriend, etc. and you can’t get enough. It’s so fun and you don’t see any downside. You are thoroughly enjoying every moment. “Tonight I think Urban should make snow angels in flour on the counter” I would say. “Then tomorrow night Urban can go fishing with a pencil as a fishing rod, string as the line and goldfish (the kind you eat) on the end of the string to show his success!”
The thrill it gave our child was fabulous! Our sweet daughter wrote Urban letters and built him a house out of popsicle sticks. We loved watching her race down the stairs in the morning in search of his latest adventure.
This lasted for two seasons.
The We’re Over it Phase
I’ve often heard people say that the traits that drew you to your spouse initially are the same traits that may drive you crazy long-term. This is exactly what happened with Urban. He “arrives” on Thanksgiving night and doesn’t leave until Christmas Eve. He is supposed to move daily. Every. Single. Night.
We thought we were going to lose our minds. After two years of it, our creativity waned and we got to the point where we were throwing him in a light fixture or on a different part of the Christmas tree. We realized that we had traded late-night-Christmas-Eve toy assembly with ridiculous nightly Urban scenarios. It was common for us to get into bed, turn out the lights and then one of us would say, “did you move the @*&$% elf”???? We’d argue over who had to get up and move him to a different light fixture. The honeymoon was way over.
Elf Management and Development
We decided it was time to bring in reinforcements. We told our oldest daughter we had a very important job for her: Urban Management. We explained this would include creating new, nightly scenarios and she was now in charge with developing and executing the plans.
Unfortunately, we quickly learned she didn’t have the same enthusiasm and commitment we had, nor did she get much joy out of seeing her sister get up every morning and search for Urban. Plus the search was quick with her sister in charge of hiding him, as she didn’t put much into the challenge.
Quickly bored by her new role, our oldest wondered if her sister even still believed in the magic, or if we were being taken for a ride.
Every year when Thanksgiving was here, our daughter would comment about how excited she was to look for Urban the next day. We dreaded late-night Thanksgiving, knowing we had to find him (we couldn’t remember where we put him the first year) and orchestrate a grand entrance.
Our daughter was getting older (too old for the Elf on the Shelf) and while we didn’t want to steal the joy of it, we knew we were hanging on by a thread. We would drop hints and ask questions like, “How many of your friends have an elf”? We were looking for a small, little opportunity to blow this Urban thing wide open. We never found it.
The last year, Urban behaved like Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow. He was unreliable and seemed fairly out of it. He rarely moved and when he did, it was less interesting than the previous spot he occupied and was often a repeat of an already-used caper.
When our child finally said Urban was pretty lame, we explained that the jig was up and there was nowhere else to hide and no more Scooby Doo highjinks requiring his involvement. As it turned out, she had known for some time and was having fun seeing what we came up with.
If you haven’t experienced the Elf on a Shelf, just know it’s not a one-time thing… it’s a commitment. The excitement and joy to see your child or grandchild believe in the magic is so awesome, but go into it with your eyes wide open and your creative juices flowing!
We tucked Urban into a safe place and plan to retrieve him if and when our daughter becomes a mom. As the old saying goes, “you reap what you sow”!