Yesterday when I picked up T. from preschool, I stood outside with the father of T.'s best-friend-forever, J., while the girls played "Ariel and Flounder" on the front lawn. We talked about current behavior woes (4-1/2 seems to be a universal age for these complaints), and I thought about how much I'll miss the chance to share parenting stories with other moms and dads when T. leaves preschool and moves on to kindergarten. We don't have a lot of friends with kids exactly T.'s age, and I enjoy the few minutes in the hallway outside her classroom each day, or outside in front of the church building, when I can talk and share stories with other parents.
While we were commiserating about how overly friendly our girls are (yes, this CAN be a concern), as well as headstrong and argumentative, J.'s father told me that they had discovered an instant remedy for all inappropriate behavior.
"Really?" I asked, incredulous.
He nodded emphatically. "Elf on the Shelf," he told me.
If you don't know The Elf on the Shelf (and I only know it because L.'s first-grade teacher used it), it's a loyal helper of Santa's. He is dispatched every year to homes across America to keep an eye on children's behavior. You, the parent, are supposed to move the elf each night so the kids wake up and find that he has returned from snitching on them and has now taken up a different position in the house.
"Has it really worked that well?" I asked J.'s dad.
It has. Apparently all J.'s dad has to do now is point to the elf and all naughty behavior ceases immediately. I thought to myself, I have to get one of those, and then I did some research. Unfortunately the whole set costs $30, which seems a little steep to me. (And when I checked the link later in the day, the Amazon price had gone up to $32.45!) I told my office-mate/friend about it the next day, and she told me they'd done the same thing one year with a...tomato. And while they did it in the spirit of lightheartedness, she went on to say, even the tomato worked--a perfect example of how the psychology behind the whole idea works. I queried some other parents and found several who made their own elves on shelves, and others who simply bought a random elf doll and used that instead.
Later that day, when I was home from work, I scrounged through the leftover decorations and found a bedraggled, elfish-looking doll that was missing an arm. I glue-gunned it back on, put him up on a shelf in the kitchen after the kids had gone to bed, and told Scott the story of the Elf on the Shelf. But the more we thought about this elf, and the idea of him, the less we liked him. Maybe our elf isn't impish enough, or cute enough, but I tried to imagine how I would feel if I were four, and if I thought some magical and mysterious doll were warily keeping an eye on me every day, all through Christmas. I think I would cave under the pressure eventually, or grow to deeply resent the elf and the tradition. Maybe I'm reading too much into this, but the elf made even ME squirm a little to think about him.
I think we'll dispatch him back to the North Pole for now, where hopefully Santa can find him something more honorable to do than spying--like making toys, for instance, or taking out the trash.