We Survived the Elf

We survived the elf.

Our daughter is 17. When she was a little girl…not sure how old, maybe six or seven…”the elf” appeared at our house. You know…the elf who appears the day after Thanksgiving and stays till Santa takes him/her home with him on Christmas Eve? That elf.

“It will be fun,” my friends said, and they got elves too.

And honestly, it was fun.

For those who are not familiar with The Elf on the Shelf, I will get you up to speed. Parents of small children purchase the elf and pretend it magically appears the day after Thanksgiving…sent by Santa to watch the children and report back nightly to the North Pole. The kids are not allowed to touch the elf, because he will lose his magic. He “magically” flies back to the North Pole every night while the kids are asleep to report to Santa, and when he returns, he lands in a different spot in the house…sometimes doing something mischievous or bringing a small gift. But the big deal is that every morning, he will be somewhere different when the kids wake up, so they have to look for him in the house. At first, it’s a lot of fun trying to come up with new hiding places and new fun ideas…till you forget one night.

Imagine this: kid wakes up and walks downstairs to find the elf hasn’t moved from where he was the day before. The kid is horrified that his elf hasn’t moved and questions the parents about the authenticity of the story behind the elf. Parents have to think on their feet. I came up with this: Oh, honey, it was so foggy last night! The elf couldn’t go back to the North Pole in dense fog! Too dangerous! I’m sure he will go back tonight!

Fast forward to about 2am the next day when I woke up and realized I hadn’t moved the elf again. My pulse rate quickened, and I jumped out of bed to try to hurry up and quietly move the elf…yep, 2am. Don’t even ask how long it took me to go back to sleep.

These things happened all the time at our house. I would forget to move the damn elf and have to come up with another excuse. Here’s a list in case you need it for a future elf fail:

  • There’s the first excuse: the fog was too dense. (LIE)
  • It stormed during the night, but you (kid) didn’t hear it. (LIE)
  • Air traffic had planes backed up in the Charlotte area, so it was too dangerous for him to try to get out past all those planes. (LIE)
  • He must think this hiding place is extra special. (LIE)
  • I think he fell asleep, because he was so tired from flying back and forth the last few nights. (LIE)

Seriously, even little kids will question those lame excuses, but they got me through the situation.

But having to hide one elf wasn’t enough. People gave her elves as gifts! At first, she questioned how people could just give them as gifts…she thought they magically appeared, so I had to explain…after we put him on the shelf the first night, he will get his magic during the night and fly back and forth to the North Pole. But that meant I had more than one elf to move and hide creatively.

Oh, it got more complicated. Our young child started writing notes to her various elves with questions. “Do you have a boyfriend?” “Do you have a girlfriend?” “What is your favorite food?” What is your favorite drink?” “Do you have a pet?” “Who is your best friend?” Oh, the questions went on and on, and she expected answers to every question the next morning. So, as a good mom, I had to sit down and come up with a different handwriting for each elf before I went to bed at night…and I had to remember which elf had which handwriting! Insanity…but yes, a small child would notice a discrepancy in the handwriting. Not kidding…

And to make things more complicated, she heard the elves brought gifts to some children, so of course, there had to be gifts. I went to Target and stocked up on every candy and cheap trinket I could find.

The elves had to be mischievous too. They spilled sugar or flour everywhere. They hid in candy bowls. They went ziplining between the banisters on the stair balcony. They wrote words with toothpaste. They even “came in like a wrecking ball.” I know there are some people who think I shouldn’t be proud of that one…but I’m proud of that one. One elf was sitting on an aluminum foil wrecking ball hung by yarn from our oven door…Miley Cyrus-style. And embarrassingly, our daughter knew exactly what it was. Don’t judge.

One year, at about Thanksgiving, before any elves had arrived for the season, my daughter came running into the kitchen, where I was cooking, with an elf in her hand! She had found it in my nightstand drawer and was confused. “Mommy? Look what I found in your drawer?” I’m good. I’m really good. Without batting an eye, I exclaimed, “He’s here! It’s magic! He knew you were going to look in that drawer tonight! He’s magic!” She bought it…hook, line, and sinker.

But the first year, when we had just one elf, heartbreak struck when we had our daughter’s bedroom painted. We bagged up all her “babies,” the stuffed animals she had collected over her lifetime and put them in the garage for “safe keeping” till the room was finished. No big deal…except, somehow, the bag got thrown away. The heartbreak was real when we discovered it. The tears! She was heartbroken, but I was too…so many memories. I had no idea how some of the “babies” would ever be replaced, but fortunately, I had photos of most of them. I got on eBay that night and started searching…and purchasing. I went anywhere and everywhere I could online to find replacements that night. I know…silly…but right then, it was important. And fortunately, I even had duplicates of a couple of special ones hidden away. So that night, after our daughter fell asleep, I got one of the duplicates from a trunk in the attic and propped it up with her elf for her to find the next morning.

When our daughter woke up and came downstairs the next morning…all puffy-eyed from crying so much before bed…she walked around looking for her elf. He was sitting on the sofa in the living room…with the duplicate rag doll that was identical to something that had been accidentally thrown away. When she found them, her face lit up…and she actually cried tears of joy! And so did I. Eventually, most of the babies were replaced by the elf over the course of the next couple of weeks. She really believed in her elf after that!

We were thankful we had the elf that first year, even though I woke up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night numerous times when I realized I hadn’t moved the elf. His ability to make those “babies” reappear earned him a special place in my heart. And it earned him a special place in our daughter’s heart too.

He was so special, in fact, that after opening gifts and having family lunch on Christmas Day, our daughter just didn’t seem herself. I sat her down and asked if something was wrong. Was she disappointed with her Christmas gifts? And she broke down in tears! She explained to me that no, she wasn’t disappointed with her gifts; she was sad her elf had gone back with Santa!

And you know what I did. I broke every elf rule. I comforted her for a while, and then I went into the kitchen and had a word with my husband, explaining to him that I needed him to go get the elf out of my nightstand drawer when I gave him the cue…and he needed to place it on the dining room table. Oh, I was thinking on the fly. I went back into the living room and told our daughter…so sweet…that since it was still Christmas Day, she could make a Christmas wish, and it might come true. Maybe she should make a wish that he would come back? I got a candle and told her to close her eyes and make a wish, then blow out the candle…close her eyes again and count to 20…slowly. While she did all that, my husband was quietly retrieving the elf and placing it in the dining room. We were breaking all the rules, but who wants to have a desperately unhappy child on Christmas Day?!?! I know…it could have been a valuable teaching moment…whatever. When she opened her eyes, I told her to see if her wish had come true. When she found that elf in the dining room, you’d have thought she had found Santa himself! We had more tears…of joy. And because it was after Christmas, we let her hold that damn elf for the rest of the day. I think he might have even slept in her bed that night. But I told her he could only stay for one more month, and he would likely stay in one place the whole time.

Whew! That was long ago. Go ahead…I get 30 lashes with a wet noodle for breaking every elf rule, but desperate times call for desperate measures. And really…was she harmed psychologically by any of it? No. Does she still believe in the elf at 17? No. In fact, a couple of years ago, a neighbor/friend posted a photo of her child’s elf that had accidentally melted when it was placed too close to a lamp. She put out a desperate plea to see if someone had an elf that looked like it. Guess who did?!?! We did! I asked my daughter if I could give it to them, and she was thrilled to get to save the day! I called my friend and said, “Come get it! It’s yours!” If you have an elf and hate it, just know you’ll get some good memories out of it. One day, you’ll look back on it fondly. And if you need some elf ideas, here are a few pics of some things we did back in the day…

Leaving the Group

Leaving the group.

Remember when you were a teenager? I do. I remember my parents telling me that if I attended a gathering where things started to get “out of hand” or “go awry” or if I were uncomfortable, to leave. Get myself out of the situation. At different stages of life, that could mean different things. As a teenager, maybe people were getting too rowdy. Or maybe I had the choice of whether or not to get into a car with someone I didn’t really trust. In college, maybe there were drugs present that I didn’t need to around. Maybe there was a mob mentality about something, and people were about to do something they wouldn’t have done if they were alone.

Recently, I found myself in a virtual group that started to scare me. By “virtual,” I mean it was the Facebook page for a group I joined long ago. According to the Facebook page of this group I remember as always quite civilized and respectful, the goal of the page is stated to be “to build a network of [members]…to share resources and opportunities.” It states clearly in the group rules that there is to be no hate speech or bullying. “Communicate with courtesy and respect,” it says.

Imagine my surprise when communication on this same page recently turned quite ugly and disrespectful. People are calling each other names. People are addressing members in ways I wouldn’t address anyone. People are using profanity left and right as a means of conveying their viewpoints, instead of using respectful speech.

Don’t get me wrong. Generally speaking, I don’t care about profanity, but I don’t like when it is hurled at someone…especially in a setting where we should be treating each other with respect. Imagine hurling obscenities at your coworkers in a professional setting. Or imagine your children hurling them at their teachers in the classroom setting. I don’t know about you, but the school wouldn’t even have to punish my child; she would be in big enough trouble at home.

I’ve seen kids on sports fields and sports courts in recent years sassing referees and gesturing after what they believe is a bad call, and every time, I think, “Holy smokes. My daddy would have walked out there and snatched me off that field.” I’ve been watching when my daughter was playing high school sports, and when a girl behaves poorly or with poor sportsmanship on the field, I’ve thought, “My daughter’s coach surely knows that I would take her home right now if she acted that way on the field.”

That brings me back to my group. Apparently, a lot of people don’t feel the same way. They think respecting others is no longer important. They think it’s OK to get out there and say whatever you want and say it however you want to whomever you want, without regard for others. They think it’s OK to use profanity in every sentence when they are trying to make a point. In this particular group, someone actually typed out these words to another member recently: Sit the hell down. 

And that’s when I knew I needed to leave the group. That was that moment my parents had warned me about. When things start to go awry or you are uncomfortable, leave. So I left the Facebook page of a group I’ve been a member of most of my life. It broke my heart, because I really wanted to try to make a difference. I’m really good at listening to other people’s viewpoints. I know everyone doesn’t feel the same way about everything…and I think that’s OK. That’s what makes the world go around. But I will not tolerate disrespectful behavior. I do not want to be a part of a group that communicates that way.

If it had been a one off situation, I could have gotten past it. But it wasn’t. People were accusing each other of horrible things. Worst of all, no one was hearing anyone else. And as soon as I saw “sit the hell down,” I was done. I left the Facebook page of a group I’ve loved for years…a group I have dedicated time and financial resources to…a group that, for me, was always a soft place to land, a place I made lifelong friends. I had to leave the Facebook page. I hope the behavior of those people is not indicative of the members of the group as a whole. Is civility dead?!?!

I keep getting messages from friends who are still in the group. I’ve received six or eight from people who have left it too, but I’m getting messages showing me screenshots of some of the posts, and I’m brokenhearted. I’m disappointed. I don’t want to be a part of a group that behaves that way.

So I left the Facebook group. I had to. My parents would be proud that I chose not to participate in the insanity, because that’s what it looked like to me. It looked like a bunch of spoiled, entitled, participation-trophy kids who think they’re the smartest things on the planet, and they’re probably 25 years old. They think their education makes them knowledgeable about life, I guess. At 53, I know that’s not true. They know very little, but they’re not even smart enough to realize that yet. When they’re 53, hopefully, they will look back and realize just how incredibly rude they were.

I’m out.

 

 

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Let’s Talk Curfews

My 15-year-old daughter went to a Travis Scott concert called Astroworld with some friends last weekend. An adult who had been to a previous show assured me it would be pretty tame. My daughter doesn’t have a driver’s license, and almost all her friends can’t drive yet either, so I dropped off four of them at the concert with the understanding they would be sleeping over at one house.

A few hours before the concert, the mother with whom they would be staying texted the rest of the moms, telling us, “I told my daughter they had to be home by midnight. She acted like I’m the mean mom. What do you think?”

I assured her that I agreed with her, and the other moms did too.

Before we picked up all the others on the way to the concert, my daughter and I had this exchange:

  • Me: You understand that you have to be in by midnight, right?”
  • Daughter: Yes ma’am.
  • Me: Even if the concert isn’t over, you have to be back to your friend’s house by midnight. Understand?
  • Daughter: Yes ma’am.
  • Me: That doesn’t mean you can wander around uptown after the concert if it ends at 10:30.
  • Daughter: What?!? Why would we wander around uptown?!?

Whew! She does have sense! Sometimes, when you’re the parent of a teenager, you wonder if they have sense, and sometimes, you wonder if you’ve lost your mind.

So all that curfew talk led to more questions from her. She is rapidly approaching driving age. She asked what would happen to her if she misses curfew when she can drive.

I explained to her that I would rather have her get home a couple of minutes late than drive too fast trying to get home. She has been in the car with me three times when a teenager in our neighborhood nearly ran us off the road trying to make it home in time for her curfew. (For the record, if you’re reading this, the teenager is not yours.) I told her that the best case scenario would be for her to call me if she is going to be late, and of course, she asked, “What if I’m driving?” I told her she should know before she leaves somewhere if she is going to be late, but if she finds herself stuck in traffic, it’s OK to use voice text and let me know, but do not pick up the phone.

We discussed the fact that curfew isn’t just to make her come home; it’s also a way for me to know she is safe. If she doesn’t make curfew, I will start worrying, and we might need to start looking for her…not because we don’t trust her, but because something might have happened.

In addition, I explained to her that if she frivolously or repeatedly misses curfew or breaks other rules along the way, the gravy train stops. She will stop getting to do things she wants. She will stop getting things she wants. She will stop having so much freedom. We don’t reward bad behavior. As long as she follows our rules, she will continue to have “privileges.”

Oh my gosh…I am my mother.

It made me think of when I was a teenager back in the 80s. Good times. Back then, we didn’t have cell phones, so our parents didn’t always know where we were, and they couldn’t always get in touch with us. Back then, if I were going to be late, I had to call my parents from a pay phone and let them know. I’d be hard pressed to find a pay phone now!

My little exchange with my daughter about curfew didn’t turn into a lecture or argument. It was simply a conversation outlining expectations. It is a conversation we will have many times before she goes off to college, and frankly, I’m glad we’re talking about it now.

Maybe that Travis Scott Astroworld concert was a good thing…a good opportunity for the two of us to talk about expectations. And she even texted me from the concert, sending me video clips and saying how much I would have enjoyed it. Seriously, it looked pretty tame. And for the record, they were home a little after 11:00.

Thanks, Travis Scott. Who thought I’d ever say that?!?

 

 

 

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