Saturday, December 14, 2013

Joining The Ranks Of The Saps: Elf On The Shelf and The Wonder Of Childhood

Short version of long story: I gave in and bought a damn Elf on the Shelf.

When I first heard about Elf on the Shelf, I was adamant that I would never own one. The thing is creepy as hell. And when Elf on the Shelf ideas started to flood my Pinterest page, I only hated it even more. I didn't want to be subjected to millions of photos of creepy smiling elf dolls doing ridiculous things. I swore Elf on the Shelf was a big conspiracy established by toy corporations to drive up holiday sales. And, I must admit, I thought all the parents who were going along on this ridiculous game were just a bunch of saps. Big, old saps. happened. My first parental encounter with Keeping Up. Keeping Up is a phenomenon whereby your children, who are otherwise perfectly content and happy to play with cardboard boxes, are suddenly placed in dangerously close contact with a foreign object (usually a toy) and instantly infected by the must-haves. Your child did not even know this thing existed yesterday. And now it consumes his every thought.

I'm not a fan of Keeping Up. I couldn't give a crap that my children don't have the latest in technological toys, the most advanced educational tools, or the latest fashions. I'm proud to buy my sons' pants at Goodwill (and every time a hole magically appears in the knee, I feel righteously vindicated in doing so). Jacob's favorite toy is a $3 used transformer that he stumbled upon at Goodwill. I don't want my children to instantly have everything they ever happen to want. Just because Tommy has it, doesn't mean they need to have it.

I felt that my parental ethics in this regard were strong. That I could withstand hurricanes of 1,000 pathetic whines for days on end without budging.....But I forgot one little thing. When it comes to the task of keeping the wonder of childhood fantasies alive, I'm a big fat dum-dum sucker. I'd go miles in a snowstorm out of my way to keep Christmas magic alive for my children. Because childhood is a self-contained, fragile snow globe landscape perched on a ledge. Childhood is a wondrous land of innocence, naivete, imagination, suspended disbelief. It's a time when the whole world is a play land for discovery. Where evilness is incomprehensible. Where acceptance is unbounded. Where possibilities are free flowing. Adults look at the world and we see flaws. A snapshot of the world through a child's eyes is magnified, beautified, and brightened three-fold. But this world only stays alive so long as it is kept apart, untainted, untouched.

That is why the state of childhood is so fragile. External forces are always at play, trying to shatter this pure snowglobish world. And where these external forces do not succeed, internal ones eventually will. As the child grows and sees more of the world, new forces spring forth. Doubt. Skepticism. Disbelief. Scrutiny. The need for logic at any price. These things will eventually bring the whole globe down, shattered and broken.

The short, rare years of early childhood: I would preserve them for my children at all cost. Even if it means perpetuating a ridiculous ritual.

This week my son was introduced to Elf on the Shelf through his friend. My first reaction was to hold my ground and not give in to this newly fabricated "tradition." But as we drove away from the friend's house, my son recounted for me the tale of the Elf on the Shelf. As he did so, his voice carried the distinct and rare elements of amazement and belief. He told me all about his friend's Elf in the same tone and manner that I would use to tell the first person I saw about an incredible encounter with a purple genie riding a unicorn.

Despite his recountings, I was still unconvinced, until Jacob asked, in a sincere and sweet voice, "Mommy, why did Santa send an elf to Tommy's house and not to my house? Will he send one to me?"

And as much as the good parent in me so desperately wanted to quash any notion in my son's brain that the very fact that his friends have something is a perfectly justifiable reason for him to have one also, I just couldn't come out and say "no." "No, Santa will not send you an elf." I just couldn't do it. Instead, I reveled in the fact that he was so innocent and untainted by the reality of life that he actually had the ability to believe, and with so much passion. I wanted to encourage that. I wanted to keep that little piece of magic alive for him.

I realize that all these lies about Santa and the Easter Bunny and now the damn Elf on the Shelf are probably just contributing to the darkness of reality that a child faces when he leaves his childhood behind. I understand that we as parents may be adding to the harshness of adulthood by manipulating these gullible little minds and allowing them to think grandiose thoughts about reality that, in fact, are not true at all. But, looking back on my own childhood and the grandness of the snow globe world in which I lived, I truly believe that it is all worth it. While Santa and the Easter Bunny and magic may not be real, these happy myths leave little imprints on us that we carry well into adulthood. Even if we stop believing as adults, we hopefully carry with us an important lesson on the power of perspective and how perspective influences happiness.

Most people look fondly and happily on their childhoods. It often seems like childhood is a much simpler and happier time compared to the adult drudgery we live in today. And yet, even though WE have grown, the world is still the same. There is hope that if we can just change our adult perspective, the happiness of our childhood may return, if just in minute amounts. There is ever the possibility that if we can adopt a childlike perspective, the world could be a little brighter for us.

And THIS my friends, right or wrong, is why I gave in to a felt doll with a creepy, painted plastic face.

Elfy's grand entrance.

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