“Alright Elf.” I stare defiantly up at the top of the refrigerator where our Elf on a Shelf recently took up residence. “It’s time we had a little talk. These nightly trips of yours to the North Pole, I resent holding it over my kids’ heads.”

The Elf just stares vacantly back with those conspiratorial doe eyes as if to say, “So what are you gonna do about it?”

Probably nothing. The Elf is right and we both know it.

It bothers me though. There are all these wonderful Christmas happenings around town right now. Yesterday we came across a rock spelling out of the word “Peace” on Tahoe Keys beach which Michael (who is learning to read) sounded out with me, the Barton Festival of Lights in which Jane danced was wonderful, even the blackout that preceded the nonevent snowpocalpse was a chance for our little family to chase each other with flashlights and bond in front of our woodstove. The only thing souring the good cheer is the “phase” that Jane seems to be going through. She’s a bit old for the “terrible twos,” but this is way worse than anything she did last year. Jane has become willful, obstinate, fiercely independent, and immensely frustrating for Wifey and I. And it’s my firm belief that the whole Elf-based-behavior-modification-war-game may actually be hurting rather than helping.

The Elf just continues to glare back at me. “Yeah… tomorrow you’ll be in Elf in the Garbage Disposal or Elf in the Wild, just keep looking at me like that, little snitch.”

First it’s all backwards, extrinsic, and motivated by a hope to have more toys and plastic crap. I mean yesterday I actually caught Michael telling the Elf who was naughty or nice and how his sister didn’t have a good day at preschool.

“That’s it! You can’t enlist my children in your whole tattletale KGB.”

Jane walks into the kitchen. “Why are you upset at the Elf, Daddy?”

“Sorry honey, did you have a good nap?”

“Un hunh. Was it long enough for the Elf?”

“Oh jeez… Jane, the Elf and Santa are okay with whatever size nap you take.”

“Actually?”

“Oh yes. Absolutely.” I pick her up and am half-tempted to let her touch the Elf right then and there, ending this tyrannical pseudo-magic surveillance state nonsense. Instead I say, “The Elf and Santa, they just want… no we all just want you to be nice to your friends at school and nice to your brother. We want you to listen to instructions and not hit. That’s part of Christmas too, just being nice. It’s not all about gifts and candy.”

Jane seems to absorb at least some of this message and I set her back down. Poor thing. It’s hard on us, but it’s got to be harder on her. She puts up fights over the type of utensil she is given to eat with or the exact order in which clothing goes on her body. It might take twenty minutes for her to button her pajamas, but she has to “do it all by myself.” She’s been “out of diapers” for 6 months, but still likes to wear them… no reason, she just wants to. She’ll crawl into bed with Wifey and I on weekend mornings and adjust our bedding and pillows before falling back asleep. We’ve learned, the hard way that if we attempt to return her to her own bed or make a simple request like, “Please don’t put your foot in my ear,” she starts throwing a fit and then no one in the house gets to sleep in.

“Is the Elf going to tell Santa I was a little bad at school?” Jane asks as I cut some apples for a small afternoon snack.

“Jane, first of all, you are not bad. Sometimes you make decisions that aren’t good, but that does not make you a bad person. You’re a good person. The Elf knows it, Mommy knows it, and I know it.”

“Does Santa know it?”

“Of course he does.”

The Elf on the Shelf might just represent everything that is wrong with Christmas. I know that this may be an unpopular opinion, but watching Jane struggle with getting her behavior right, I want her to make good choices not out of fear of getting fewer gifts, but because she cares about her schoolmates and family. It’s a cliché that every kid is different, but Michael was infinitely easier at this age. I want Jane to find her own way, to figure out the right mix of independence and acquiescence. So Wifey and I try to create positive things in her little world, like dancing for Ms. Marcia or being a sous-chef in the kitchen. I’ll keep facilitating the Elf’s nightly migration to different out-of-reach corners of our house, but I’m just not going to talk about it as much. Ultimately, I think that I’m proud of her stubborn attitude and know that it has the potential to serve her well in life. Grit and determination are hallmarks of success, yet in a three-year-old who is struggling with the balancing act between Christmas spirit and finding her own way it’s a bit painful for all of us. I don’t want parenthood to be easy. The victories, like when Jane takes a bow with a hundred other Ms. Marcia dancers or “Shining Stars” as they call themselves, are that much sweeter when compared to the lows. And that spirit, her spunky, willful, infuriating spirit is really what I’m thankful for the most this holiday.

 

 

Elf on a Shelf, Do:

  1. Have fun with the little devil, put it in the strangest possible places.
  2. Keep it light-hearted, the Elf is Santa’s friend not his informant.
  3. Plan a good excuse for when you forget to move it.

 

Elf on a Shelf, Don’t:

  1. Forget that after Christmas, Elfy won’t be there to help.
  2. Propagate Elf-based fear.
  3. Smother the Elf in peanut butter and leave it in your dog’s bowl.