By Christina Vercelletto
I bought The Elf on the Shelf the day before Thanksgiving in 2011, when my daughter, Amelia, was 8. I thought it was just a cute decoration. Amelia had been after me to start decorating, but it was way too early. The Elf was meant to hold her off.
"His favorite food is sugar cookies," she read from the enclosure.
"That makes sense."
"If anybody but me touches him he loses his magic."
"And every night he flies to the North Pole, so every morning I'll find him in a new place!"
I put my spoon down and read it for myself. What have I done? It's not even Thanksgiving! That's just what I need: something else to do at night. I decided that would be her dad's job.
But she won't really expect that to happen, I thought. And even if she does, I'll just say of course he can't travel if it's raining or snowy or foggy, as its tag clearly states spot clean only.
I was just about to announce this amendment, when her brother wrested the elf from her hand. Apparently he'd overheard stipulation number two, and not only touched it with great flourish, but licked it. Amelia was in sobs.
"Mommy, is his magic really gone?"
What did I know? I guess so. I mean, no. Why did I buy this thing?
"Of course not! Santa knows your brother is a pain, and gave the elf extra magic just in case."
What is going on? She is eight, after all, and smart for her age. Does she really think this stiff felt fellow can fly? This is the kid who figured out that the infomercials give the special price to everyone, not just the first 100 to respond. It seemed unlikely, but her face told another story, so the nightly antics began.
Fast forward to this year. Amelia is 10 and now smarter than me. The antics are still going on, and Jolly the elf has taken a wife, Annie.
What a drag this is. Often, my husband and I will be nearly asleep, when one or the other will bolt straight up croaking, "The friggin' elves!"
Every other morning she races around like a kid half her age, squealing and beaming when she finds them, in a light fixture, atop the cookie jar, next to a pile of mail.
Now, she is 10 years old. A fifth grader. None of her friends believe in Santa anymore. My husband and I struggle with how long to keep this up. (Did I mention she will be 11 in May?)
"Maybe she's doing it to pull our chain? Annoy her brother?"
"For years? I dunno, wouldn't she have tired of the routine by now?"
"But seriously, how can a 10-year-old in 2013 still believe this?"
"I know...but do you see her face in the morning? I don't think she can fake that."
I couldn't believe I was wishing my baby girl would grow up. But it was getting to the point I was afraid she'd be made fun of... and then blame us.
Finally, last week, my husband approached me with a picture he'd found on the coffee table. It showed a girl in a peace-sign tee shirt on a horse. She held the reins with one hand, and in the other clutched the elf couple. Good guess: Amelia is crazy for peace signs and takes horseback riding lessons.
Underneath it said "I wish you could stay all year, Jolly and Annie!"
"I can't take it!" my husband sighed. "What are we going to do?"
None of her friends believe in Santa anymore, she'd told me. But she never specifically said she didn't. I'd only assumed.
Then a few nights ago: "Is there really a Santa Claus? Tell me the truth...please?"
My opening! I took a deep breath and started talking before my brain had fully formed the words.
"No, sweetie, not really. Mommy and daddy put the presents under the tree. Your brothers help us, too. None of us wanted to take make Christmas any less fun for you by telling you. But now you're big enough to know, and you can help us wrap your brothers' gifts. OK?"
She said nothing, so I continued as better thoughts took shape.
"The spirit of Santa is totally real though. The mommies and daddies are like his helpers. His spirit inspires them to try to make their kids as happy as they can at Christmas. It's all about love. Love is always real."
"Well. I'm glad you told me the truth. This could have become verrrry embarrassing, you know."
I bust out laughing. She's a smart cookie, that one. Problem solved: no Santa...no elves!
I gave her a kiss on the head, and as I was pulling back, she suddenly grabbed my cheek and looked me in the eyes.
"But wait...what about Jolly and Annie...!?" Her voice was tinged with panic. It was faint, but it was there.
"OH! The elves...right. Well, of course...I'm glad you asked. The elves...they...well, you know I'm no expert on elves. I really can't tell you much about them. Elves are a whole different thing. They're new. Only started being sold a few years ago, unlike Santa, who's been around forever. I can tell you one thing for sure though: I do not move them at night. I swear. I am as surprised as you to see where they are in the morning."
(This is technically true. I have never once actually moved them myself.)
She ran off.
Sigh. A 10-year-old believing in magic is OK with me.