The Uncle on the Shelf

Imagine waking up every morning for a month with the feeling that someone is watching you. Maybe that someone is staring at you until you get out of bed because you snoozed your alarm, again. How very naughty of you. You could be in some pretty significant trouble now. You carefully sit up and look around. Seeing the coast is clear, you breath a sigh of relief.  But alas, maybe this person is hanging out in the bathroom, waiting to wag a finger at your floss-free regimen. You know you should be flossing, but lately you just haven't had the time or patience. Phew, he's not in there either. Relieved the first two rooms didn't house the little know-it-all, you sleepwalk your way to the kitchen, prepare yourself an English Muffin and put on the kettle to warm up some hot water for your cup of tea.

You feel delightfully cozy and peaceful while you carry your tea and muffin to the living room. Today is going to be a great day. You took the day off to finish up your Christmas shopping and you are going to get it done and wrap up those presents with big, red bows. It will be fabulous. The little red and white tyrant is not even a thought in your head when suddenly, the damn thing appears right in front of you. He's hanging from the Chandelier over your coffee table of all places. You not only scream, but also drop your deliciously buttered English Muffin and spill your ridiculously hot tea - all over yourself.

The elf smiles at you with his big, holier-than-thou grin, speechlessly reminding you to not eat in the living room while butter slides down your cheek. You tell your kids often that they are not allowed to eat in that room, yet there you are - breaking your own rules! You certainly deserved to spill all that morning goodness. After all, a punishment should fit the crime. Surely the elf will tell Santa and you will end up with coal in your stocking.

What a nightmare, right? Now imagine how our kids feel every day during Christmas season. Patrolled and policed by an elf. Creepier still- an elf doll.  Don't get me wrong, this didn't stop me from succumbing to the Elf on the Shelf mania.

I couldn't wait to get the darn thing out of its box last year. Once she was "free" and properly adorned with her new twelve-dollar over-priced, Christmas dress, I launched into the bedroom to show my husband as though I was presenting him with the baby Jesus himself. I get a little pumped up about things. Just ask my family and friends. They've been dealing with my over-excitement for years.

I grabbed my husband's hand and ran him out to the living room so we could introduce Maddie to her new friend, which went something like this...

"Madison, we want you to meet somebody," I said, cheerfully holding out the elf for her to see. I mean, could you imagine what I will do when the new baby is born in March?

Putting her baby doll back into her stroller, Maddie turned and said, "I want a cookie."

"Ok, later, we want you to meet your new friend first," I said while holding onto the couch to contain my enthusiasm.

"Mommy, I want a spiiinkle cookie," Madison insisted.

"Sweetheart," my husband stepped in, it was football Sunday and the Giants were on. Time was of the essence. "Mommy wants you to say hi to your new elf friend. You can have a sprinkle cookie later if you are a good girl."

"Do you want to name her?" I asked.

Maddie looked the little elf up and down, "uuuuuh, no." I mean if looks could kill, people.

"Do you just want to call her Elf?" My husband comes from a writing background as well so I was shocked at his unimaginative idea and shot him a disgusted look.

"Babe, we're naming a doll. Not a kid," he reminded me. Hey, there is a realist in every relationship.

I'm supposed to say that my two-and-a-half-year-old was so brilliant and adorable that she named it herself, but the God's honest truth is that it was a compilation of the three of us piecing it together. Elf turned into El, which turned into Ellie.

Meet Ellie
The first time I used Ellie as a means for disciplining our daughter, like every parent, I warned Maddie that the Elf would tell Santa on her.  The poor kid looked positively paranoid schizophrenic, looking in all directions for Santa. You see, she's not exactly a big fan of Jolly ol' Saint Nick. I didn't realize just how bad her dislike for Santa was until we went to get pictures with him last year. Maddie was crawling up my husband with her little hands and feet like there was a pit of fire beneath her. She had cried on Santa's lap the previous year when she was just a little over one, but I had thought a year would have done a lot of good. Boy was I mistaken. We are going to Santa next weekend and I am hoping to God this year's picture won't be another close up of my daughter's tonsils.

Oh, the things we put our kids through. Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and now... the Elf on the Shelf. These little crumb crunchers live their childhoods being lied to.....As did we. But hey, in this world, I think a little "magic" is warranted and necessary. Keeping a little fantasy alive helps kids dream big and sets the foundation for a positive adult mind....Or so I tell myself.

Still, I can't help but wonder if our parents were doing it better.

Sorry, but I didn't need the Elf on the Shelf to fear the wrath of God during Christmastime. Hell, my Uncle Gerry filled in those blanks. If my shoes were untied or I fumbled the time on the clock, he was sure to let me know. He and my mother's sister, my Aunt Cookie, would spend every Thanksgiving and Christmas Day with us. This gave Uncle Gerry the opportune time to check in with my sisters and I before the start of the Christmas season. My sisters, the cherubs, of course needed no prodding or teasing to assure no coal went in their stockings. I however  was a bit more of a challenge and I knew it. I also knew that I  was up against one of the best and in order to win, some good ol' fanagelling would have to happen. So I did what any other sensible four-year-old would do, I made sure I put my Velcro shoes on when I was asked by my uncle if I could tie my shoes.

"Santa won't like it if you can't tie your shoes," he would tease.

"I tied dem," I would say in my father's Little Italy accent.

"I don't think so, kid! That's velcro," I do remember him hiding his laugh, I can only assume, somewhat impressed by my inner sass.  Nothing beats that in-person heckling. Nothing. Every kid should have an Uncle like I did growing up.... Someone who was willing to challenge them without reservation.

As I got older, similar prodding would happen when I was learning to tell time. I insisted on using the digital clock on our microwave whenever Uncle Gerry asked me what time it was.

I remember it as though it were yesterday....
"What time is it?" My Uncle would query during our Thanksgiving festivities. My aunt would go to answer and he would stop her, "Nicole, do you know what time it is?"

I would freeze. Time to play? Time to eat? I wasn't sure. I had to be around five or six at the time. My nose would wrinkle while I looked at his watch. It was complete jibberish to me!

Five, dot, dot, zero, zero" I would say for 5 p.m, while looking at the numbers displayed on the microwave.

My uncle had a field day with this as well, "Hey, no dessert for you miss dot, dot, zero zero. You better learn how to tell time before Christmas or else Santa will bring you a big clock as your gift instead of toys."

.....You bet your ass I knew how to tell time by the time Christmas came that year!

You see, the interactions I had with my uncle growing up are irreplaceable and ones I hold close to my heart. Santa Claus and the made-up characters of my yesterday don't provide that sort of sustenance.  That's not to say that they were not a special part of my childhood. They helped instill the believe in magic that we all need sometimes, but the lessons and love instilled in me from people like my uncle is truly priceless. I suppose that's Christmas magic personified. And really, what it is all about. Santa, The Elf on the Shelf and Rudolf help bring us all together, but it's what we do with that time with family and friends that's makes it all so meaningful.

So when you turn the corner of your house and see that Elf on the Shelf smiling at you with it's perky-pants grin, remember that your kid is going to pay you back one day for teaming up with the little know-it-all. I suppose this is all the more reason to put it at the end of your kid's bed. I mean, if you know you are going to pay the price anyway, you may as well have some fun with it now. I know if Elf on the Shelf was around when I was little my mother would have had a field day and the darn thing would have been dressed to the nines. A 12-dollar glitter dress would have been nothing. Our elf probably would have had high heels on as well.........


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