The conversation went something like this:
“Brrr. It sure is cold out here. I can’t believe it’s December already!” I was waiting in the Walker line to pick my oldest son up from school when the woman in front of me got chatty.
“I know,” I agreed. I wanted to say that 45 degrees really isn’t all that cold when you spend the first 33 years of your life shivering in the arctic mitten known as Michigan, but I wasn’t in the mood for sharing the frigid stories of my past.
“And I have so much Christmas shopping left to do,” she sighed. “Plus I forgot to do our elf last night. This morning I had to put Tinsel Toes in the fridge hanging from Johnny’s lunchbox. It was last minute, but it got a good laugh!”
“Yep,” I replied. “Those elves are tough.”
“What’s your elf’s name?” she asked.
“We don’t have an elf,” I confessed, readying myself for the look of horror.
The woman took a step back and gasped, her hands clenching her chest in dismay. “You don’t have an elf?”
“Nope. We don’t have an elf.”
“Oh. Do you celebrate Christmas?”
We were magically saved by the pitter-patter of little feet lunging towards us after a long day of learning. The frazzled woman shuffled quickly away, anxious to escape the heathen family that celebrates Christmas WITHOUT an elf.
For the last few days my Facebook feed has been bombarded with pictures of those sassy little Elves on Shelves doing crazy things like taking marshmallow bubble baths and joyriding in Barbie’s Corvette. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think that these red-clad sprites were traditions as old as time, rituals as deep-rooted as mistletoe and candy canes.
And I must confess – I do have an elf. It was gifted to my oldest son on his first Christmas, though I don’t remember by whom. But he never left the shelf, and, by the time my kids were old enough to understand the whole Elf on a Shelf concept, that little imp was tucked safely away from prying hands and joyous hearts.
Why, you might ask, don’t I have an elf? Well, it’s simple. I don’t want one.
I know. I’m a terrible mother. I’m reminded of that every day when I open my computer and Mr. Jingles, fresh from playing a heated game of Connect Four with Lalaloopsy, taunts me from the screen.
“Bad Mommy!” he yells, burning a hole in me with those whimsical blue eyes. “If your kids end up in prison, it’s because you didn’t have one of me!”
But here’s the deal. We live in this crazy world where social media allows us inside people’s lives more than ever before. As wonderful as it is, it’s also created a skewed version of perfection, a non-existent ideal that has been meticulously cropped and Instagram filtered.
It’s the age of PTA supermoms and Pinterest perfection. Moms today are supposed to be manicured marathon runners who make their kids gluten-free quinoa nuggets with kale fries and fresh-squeezed milk while crafting seasonal BPA-free wreaths for the front door and knitting chevron infiniti scarves for the homeless.
I’ve fallen into that trap of trying to do it all, and it isn’t pretty. But lucky for me, I saw the light before I was institutionalized. Don’t get me wrong, I do a lot of things for my kids every day of the year, and Christmas is no exception. We have a magical holiday filled with decked trees and sparkly lights and cookie baking and Santa parades. We mail our wish lists to The North Pole and get something special for a child on the Angel Tree. We watch Frosty and Rudolph and The Grinch and deliver tasty holiday treats to our favorite friends and neighbors. But these are all things I want to do. The elf thing? Not so much.
I truly admire all of you who have added an elf to your family tradition, but our Christmas is plenty magical without one. I promise. As simple as it may be for you, adding a Tinkles McKringle to our family for the holidays would put me over the edge, quite possibly ending with the brutal toilet drowning of our beloved pixie long before Christmas Day. My kids don’t need to see that.
So each day I’ll chuckle at the precarious situations of those silly little elves on Facebook, but please. Cut us elf-less moms a little slack. And remember, if you start getting a little too stressed this holiday, it’s never too late for your elf to move back to The North Pole.