I hate the Elf on the Shelf. There, I said it. Every year it makes me feel like a horrible parent. It makes me feel grinchy and ragey. It makes me feel like a bad Christian. It makes me feel disgusted. But this year, I’m not letting that little, weird-looking thing get to me. And you shouldn’t let it get to you either. Why? Because we are better than this. Let’s join forces, come together, and rise up against this Elf on the Shelf nonsense!
This year I decided not to take the elves out the day after Thanksgiving. Yes, we have two elves because my loving mother and grandmother to my children decided a couple of years ago that my two kiddos needed their own elves. (Mom, if you are reading this, now that we have added child #3 into the mix, please don’t buy a third elf!). I didn’t take the elves out because I thought the whole idea was stupid, and I didn’t want to become another victim of the Elf on the Shelf hype once again. But yesterday morning as I was scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed, I noticed something that reminded me of why I really hate the whole elf thing. And in a fit of rage and passion, I marched down my basement stairs and dug out Mongonk and Stella. I wrote a couple of notes to my kiddos, and I hid those little elfers. You see, I don’t really hate the Elf on the Shelf. What I hate is the ugliness it brings out in us.
Every year it’s the same thing. The arguments start. Judgements are made. And all of a sudden you have parents feeling guilty for not having an elf, parents arguing with each other over the true meaning of Christmas and the proper way to teach kindness, and parents judging each other for not having enough Christmas spirit, or for buying into a messed up idea like hiding an elf around the house that creeps on little kids. Oh, and then you have the people who don’t have kids yet or kids old enough to know about the elf putting their own two cents in about how they know what’s better for our kids. You know what’s messed up? All. Of. This. This is messed up. It’s disgusting what shows up in my newsfeed sometimes. It’s sad to see people say and write such horrible things about each other and their parenting styles (because apparently having an elf or not having an elf reveals all of your shortcomings as a parent). And it’s especially disappointing to see that people feel like they can freely treat each other so unkindly on social media. What the elf???
When I read the comments about the elves that appeared in a story on my newsfeed, I couldn’t believe some of the judgements people were making about each other. In fact, I was really angry about it all day. But then I asked myself, “Why do I give a flying elf?” Why do any of us give a flying elf?
If there is anything I have learned from being a parent, it’s that I am in no way a perfect parent. I mess up every day. The other day I accidentally said the f-word in front of my first grader when I dropped and broke a dish in the kitchen. I was waiting all day for a phone call from the principal saying that my daughter decided to teach her friends that word. So far I think I dodged a bullet there. I make mistakes every day as a parent, and I know I am not the only one. We are human. We are imperfect, which means there is no way any of us are perfect parents. While there certainly are exceptions, I believe that all of us love our children, and because we love our children, we are all doing our best to raise our children right. But my way of raising my children is different from yours. And your way of raising your children is different from mine. That is the beauty of parenthood –our experiences are similar, yet also very unique. And perhaps we can learn a few things about parenting from each other along the way. After all, we are a village.
So, if you want to put that elf on your shelf, go for it. Nobody should be stopping you or judging you for it. I’ll admit, I enjoy seeing my kids get excited about looking for their elves in the morning. I also discovered that they have no problem getting out of bed on school days now, so I may just keep the elves around until June. If you think the elf is stupid, well, I get it! But that doesn’t give you a right to judge other parents who think it’s fun and magical. Some parents might think that dying Easter eggs, dressing up for Halloween, and sitting on a strange bearded man’s lap are weird traditions too. If you are confused like me about how you feel about the elf because you care too much about what other people think of you while also having a desire to go against the grain, don’t worry, you’ll figure it out. And if you do something different with a reindeer, Kindness Elf, or Snoop on the Stoop (just google it), that’s totally cool too.
I decided this year that Mongonk and Stella can stay in our home on a few conditions. First, I’m not going to move them to new spots every day. Second, I’m not even going to try to use them as a tool to get my kids to behave better because it hasn’t worked yet. Third, our elves don’t report to Santa or get into mischief. Instead, my kids are getting notes from their elves that highlight their accomplishments and good qualities. That’s it. It’s simple enough for me, and exciting enough for my kiddos. And I don’t give a flying elf about what you decide to do or not do with the elf because I trust that your decision is based on what you think is best for you and your kiddos this holiday season.
So here’s to rising up against the Elf on the Shelf nonsense and coming together to focus on spreading kindness instead of ugliness on the Internet this holiday season! Cheers!
I watch my son pick a dandelion from the front yard by the birch tree. I know what he is going to do next. He can’t resist. It’s in his nature to stir the stillness. Without hesitation, he lifts the dandelion seed head to his mouth and casually blows on the white, feathery seeds. The bristles float in all directions, covering several feet of grass as they land. My husband can’t stand this. He knows that this will only multiply the dandelions in our lawn –making it look exceptionally flawed in comparison to our neighbor’s perfectly manicured emerald carpet. But there is something beautiful, almost magical, in watching a child unknowingly propel new life into the air with a simple breath. And although my son is not one to make wishes on the seeds that he sends into the air, I certainly am.
Twenty months. For the past 20 months I have started and ended every single day with the same wish. I wish to have time to write. I wish to have time to work at my laptop writing in the morning, drinking a hot cup of coffee before everyone wakes. I wish I could ignore the daily household chores while the baby naps and take that time to write outside on the front step with a pen and notebook. I wish I still had energy left in my body and soul at the end of each long day to spend a couple hours drafting the essays that I write in my head while doing dishes, folding laundry, and playing with my children.
Time. There just never seems to be enough time in a day. There is always something else that could have been completed, or started. But time sets limits to what we can do, and many days, all I can see are my limits. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Shower, watch children, and go to work. Laundry, dishes, and cleaning. Emails, bills, and appointments. Planning, planning, and planning. These items are all priorities. My family needs to be fed. Our bills need to be paid. We need to take care of our house. The list goes on, so I continue to tackle “the list.” But the list does go on, and it always will.
I’ve spent the past 20 months making every excuse not to write, and my biggest excuse is time. There are so many priorities in life, especially when you are raising a family. Your first priority is supporting your family with their basic needs. That in itself is a huge task that entails making money, operating a household, and giving your love and attention to each family member’s beautiful soul. And as a mother, I often lose sight of other priorities that need my attention too. I look at my day and plan out everything that I need to do in order to take care of my family, but I forget to do the same for myself. And even though I am in the thick of motherhood, I am human, and I need to allow myself to make my needs a priority too. But how do I find or make the time to do this?
Time. There will never be enough time. There will never be enough time with my kids. There will never be enough time to work on the house or garden. There will never be enough time on this earth. Time places limits; it’s a form of measurement that fills our days. And many days, all I notice is the time. Is it time to wake up? Is it time to leave the house? Is it time for lunch? Is it time for the baby to take a nap? How much time do I have while she naps to accomplish all of the items on my to-do list? Is it time for my husband to get home from work? Is it time to get the kids ready for their evening activities? Is it time for the kids to go to bed? How much time do I have left before I should be going to bed? What time do I need to set my alarm for?
There will never be enough time to write, especially if I continue to measure my days by looking at the time in this way.
My son picks another dandelion, this time near the row of hostas leading to the backyard. And I know what he is going to do next. I’ve witnessed it countless times this summer, and countless times the summer before. I pick a dandelion, too. We breathe in, exhale, and release the dandelions’ seeds into the air. They float for a few seconds before landing in the grass. Over time, dozens of more dandelions will be waiting to be picked next. They will be waiting to be chosen, to be given life with a new breath of air. And the words will float and fall onto the page all in their own time.
She’s here. The wind gently whispers her arrival, and the first set of leaves begin to fall. I push the stroller with one hand, hold my warm mug of coffee in the other, and slowly make my way back home. The big kids are at school now. For the next few hours they will play, learn, and make friends. All on their own. For the next few hours, it’s just me with my baby daughter and baby nephew. We will eat, play, sing, and read. Fingers crossed they will nap well too. Our walk is quite peaceful this morning. It’s just what I need to settle into the day. It’s just what I need to get ready to greet her: Hello, Autumn.
The tree-covered path is still damp from yesterday’s rain. I maneuver the stroller to avoid the muddy patches, but notice that the tires have already begun to collect the first fallen leaves. I watch the brown and yellow colors spin with the wheels as I continue down the path. Some remain stuck to the wheels while others slip off. A gust of wind releases more leaves into the air. I reach out to touch one. It is time to welcome this new season.
The last time the leaves began to change and fall, I was preparing to greet my new daughter. I could hardly wait to see the brilliant shades of orange, red and yellow. I could hardly wait for her arrival. And finally, one October day a big gust of wind came and she was here. I held her tiny body close to my chest while the final leaves fell. I watched her so close, waiting for those first smiles and intentional movements while the snow covered everything around us. Then fresh buds began to speckle the bare branches, and our baby girl delighted us with constant babbling and her growing personality. As the temperature began to rise and the trees became lush with leaves, I watched my daughter learn to crawl, pick grass out of the lawn, and feed herself watermelon. And now, well now I’m listening to her say “Wow!” as she notices the leaves too.
Autumn is beautiful, but the perfectly crisp morning air and vibrant colors never last long enough here in Minnesota. The changing of the leaves will peak soon, and before we know it, the branches will be bare once again. We hold on tight to this fleeting beauty, and we are abruptly forced to let it all go. I watch another wave of leaves fall around us. These leaves that were not here last year and are now suddenly ready to be released from the branches they grew from and clung to over spring and summer. They are released, and more leaves will grow next year, and the year after that. And while I’m reluctant to accept that this season is already beginning to swiftly flee, this new season does bring the promise of space and time for new leaves to grow.
I push the stroller through the waves of falling leaves and acknowledge that this beautiful season with my third baby has already begun to culminate too. She is inching closer to toddlerhood. There are many more firsts to come for her, but this first wave of firsts is so precious. With each child, I held on so tight to their first big moments, and with each baby time forced me to let go so quickly. It all begins, and changes, and passes by swiftly. The leaves continue to fall and glide through the air around me. I collect a few from the damp ground as I make my way back home. These leaves are lovely, and although they are released too quickly, they are mine to press and keep forever in my heart.