My oldest daughter, who loves holidays, came home from school and told me she wants an Elf on the Shelf.
"What's that?" I asked.
"It's this doll who comes to life at night and causes mischief!"
I stopped putting away groceries. "You mean Chucky?"
"No!" she exclaimed.
The traumatized preteen inside me who should never have seen Child's Play at the mall breathed a sigh of relief.
I put away a box of macaroni. "So, what kind of mischief does this elf thing cause?"
"At my friend Susie's house, he pulled all the tinsel off the tree! At Britney's, he duct-taped the doggy door shut! At Julie's house, he pulled all the toilet paper out of the package!" She was giggling so hard that she could hardly say this last part.
I stared at her dumbfounded, thinking, why on earth would I spend money for some little f&*ker who's gonna TP my house? I don't have enough to clean?
"Can we get one?" my daughter persisted. "I really want one! They're so funny!"
I went to my computer and googled "Elf on the Shelf." For $29.95, I can have some creepy Pinocchio/Rice Krispie dwarf hybrid that "watches" our naughty-or-nice behavior all day, then goes to the North Pole every night to file a report with Santa Claus. It's sort of like visits from Supernanny, but much more demented. The Elf likes to "hide" and mess things up around the house. Just in time for the holidays, when I need to clean for company.
I looked over at my daughter and wondered where she got her hearty constitution. If someone gave me a doll-man and told me it would watch my every move and then astrally project itself at night, I'd have chronic diarrhea and never sleep again.
I called a neighbor and asked if she had Elf on the Shelf.
"Oh yes, and it's darling! The kids just love it!"
"So, what do you make it do?"
"Well, one night he spread my night cream across the mirror! Another time, he ripped apart all our garbage... although that may have been a raccoon... oh, and one night, he crawled into bed with John and me! Oh, it's fun!"
I hung up the phone. Parents across the country were vandalizing their homes and having threesomes with gnomes, all for the sake of entertaining their kids. As a society, exactly how bored are we?
That night, I told my husband about Elf on the Shelf. He said, "Why not? We'll just have him do little things. The kids will get a kick out of it."
My girls were ecstatic when I perched Mr. Fluff (as my middle daughter the cat-lover-who-is-allergic-to-cats named him) on our mantel.
"I wonder what Mr. Fluff's gonna do?!" they squealed.
That week, Mr. Fluff polished my husband's ratchet set, cleaned out my pantry, replaced my empty paper towel roll, dusted my chandelier, straightened my picture frames and set up a lovely tea service for himself.
My daughters were not impressed. "This isn't even messy," one of them said.
"Yeah," said the other one. "Bella's elf threw glass in their sump pump. That was cool."
I shrugged. "Well, our elf is cleaner. And doesn't flood our basement."
The next day, during breakfast, my 6-year-old's loose tooth came out when she bit into her waffle.
"The Tooth Fairy'th coming tonight!" she said excitedly. "Maybe I'll get fifty dollarth!"
I somehow got them off to school amid the excitement about the lost tooth. Then, I took my 3-year-old to the dentist.
"Her bite doesn't look good," he told me. "She needs to give up her pacifier."
"Easy for you to say," I told him. "Want to babysit a 3-year-old with withdrawal symptoms for the next five days?"
"Just have the Paci Fairy take it. Put it under her pillow, take it away and leave a gift."
That night, I raced around completing my stealth missions. I repositioned Mr. Fluff, took my 6-year-old's loose tooth and left a dollar under her pillow, and then took my 3-year-old's pacifier and left the flashlight.
The next morning, I woke up to my 6-year-old's wails.
"There's no money under my pillow! The Tooth Fairy didn't come!"
"Look!" my oldest daughter told her. "Mr. Fluff is next to your bed! He stole the money! And he dropped his flashlight! He used it to find your money in the dark!"
"I HATE YOU, MR. FLUFF!" my 6-year-old screamed.
I was in a panic. I must've dropped Mr. Fluff when I took her tooth. And if the flashlight was by her bed, what was under my 3-year-old's pillow?
I ran into her room. She was sitting in her crib* tearing up a dollar bill and howling for her pacifier.
I went into my closet and called my friend, sobbing. "I can't take it anymore! The deception! The lies! I can't keep track of all the lies! I have to get rid of Mr. Fluff!"
Just then, her husband called in the background. "Not now!" I heard her whisper to him urgently. "I think Erica's having an affair! With a guy named Mr. Fluff!"
"I'm talking about the Elf on the Shelf!" I hollered.
"You're having an affair with your Elf on the Shelf? Erica, you're making no sense."
"I'm not having an affair with anyone! I bought an Elf on the Shelf and it's so stressful to keep pretending he's alive and he's always watching, watching...."
"You're losing it," my friend said. "I can't believe you gave into this commercial nonsense. Christmas should be about Jesus. Now, we got a real Christmas toy this year."
"What is it?" I was glad someone was finally talking some sense.
"It's this statue you put in your Nativity scene to remind your kids that they're supposed to focus on the true meaning of Christmas. It's called "Stranger in the Manger." He's a hunched-over guy with a long cloak and a sword -- it looks kind of like that hot guy in Star Wars, what's his name? Oh yeah, Obi-Wan Kenobi. So, you put the Stranger in the Manger next to Mary and-"
I hung up the phone.
* Yeah, my 3-year-old is still in a crib. Don't judge. She's my last child and I like her confined.
Erica Ford is the author of Scotch Tape is Cheaper than Botox: and other insights for parents, spouses and other tired people, available at Amazon.