Our Elf on the Shelf has been visiting us for five years now. He arrives Thanksgiving morning, pops in for the day to monitor my son Shawn’s behavior, flies back to the North Pole to report to Santa and then returns every morning to a new spot to observe the good, the bad and the ugly. This daily visit goes on for over a month. This year, Shawn hasn’t been as eager to search for Jingles, our Elf on the Shelf. The awe and wonder he had at five, six, eight years-old vanished just as Jingles does on Christmas morning.
The other day on our drive to school, Shawn asked a series of questions like a dubious detective.
Why did Jingles, the Elf on the Shelf’s pet reindeer Snowflake have a tag sticking out of its butt?
I glanced at my son, a little smirk crossed his face and his eyes studied me.
“Well, that’s the tracking device Santa put on him so he knows which child’s house he is visiting.”
Our car zig-zagged down a winding hill toward the main drag to my son’s elementary school. I tried to redirect the conversation, “Did you brush your teeth today?”
My fingers combed Shawn’s overgrown bangs across his forehead, “What, you gave your teeth a lick and a prayer,” my standard retort.
Shawn was undeterred and stuck to the topic at hand, “The tag says not to give to children three years or younger. Why?”
“Well some reindeer aren’t’ for little kids. Your reindeer is for older kids.”
I thought I saw Shawn roll his eyes at me, “Why does the reindeer look stuffed like a toy.”
“Weren’t you the one who wanted Jingles to have a pet?”
“Well yea? I just don’t get why it has a tag?”
“Santa’s not going to send us a real reindeer? It would wreck the house, snort and neigh all the time.” I made a snort noise and stomped my left foot against the car floor. Shawn laughed so I continued on with my fib, “The reindeer is just a representative of the real reindeer; same with Jingles the elf. If you saw Jingles in real life he’d look like a real boy. What you see at the house is just a prototype; a vessel that is monitoring your behavior. You can’t have a real boy elf sitting around the house watching your every move.”
I glanced at Shawn and he wasn’t’ buying my gibberish. “Are you lying to me?”
“No!” I lied.
Was this the moment to have the talk? We were turning into the entrance of the school. I wanted one more Christmas with Santa being real. I wanted one more year of anticipation before the talk or the quiet, unspoken realization that it was all a childish lie.
I knew what Shawn was getting at. Jingles and his pet reindeer Snowflake hadn’t been fleeing back to the North Pole. There had been three occasions since Thanksgiving when Jingles and Snowflake sat frozen on the kitchen table for two days or stayed hidden behind a photo frame twenty-four hours too long. Was the magic gone? Did someone touch them to snatch away their power? No, Shawn’s mom just forgot to move the damn things.
“I think you might be lying to me. I still believe in Santa,” Shawn admitted, “but somethings not right with Jingles and Snowflake. Why is Jingles’ handwriting similar to your handwriting?”
We were now in the car drop off line, little kids pulling from their SUVs and mini vans French horn cases, weighted down back packs and poster boards displaying a class project.
“I write nothing like Jingles!” For five years Jingles and Shawn had a pen pal exchange every day. A life-long left-hander, I would write Jingles’ notes with my right hand to keep Shawn off track.
“It’s the same handwriting only Jingles’ handwriting is bigger and messier.”
Had I lost my magic? Why wasn’t I on top of this tall tale of fairy elves and their pets? Maybe my sloppy management of Shawn’s childhood anticipation wasn’t an accident. Maybe my subconscious was telling me that the Elf on the Shelf visit was past its prime. I did wonder if talk of Santa and the Elf on the Shelf were topics at sleep away camp and in school. Surely someone asked the question do you still believe? But here my own son was sniffing around for an honest answer and I was the jerk skirting the issue.
Shawn returned home from school and didn’t search for Jingles and Snowflake even though they were reading the latest Christmas card in a new location. Jingles wrote a note about always believing that Shawn never read.
The tutor came, Shawn ate a hot dog, we watched an episode of Property Brothers and looked at million dollar homes in Los Angles where Shawn wants to buy a mega mansion with a view once he becomes either a pop star, an NBA player or a sports agent. Maybe the childhood anticipations are still there, just a little more mature, focused and forward thinking. Maybe dreaming about life in the future is more magical than a creepy doll with a dead, unblinking stare.
Jingles and Snowflake are back on track, disappearing and reappearing as if on cue. No one seems to notice except the dog, who enjoyed chewing on Snowflake and the tag on its butt.