It appears that we have a new addition to our household. It’s an elf. No, it’s not a short child. I can be cruel but I’m not that kind of cruel. Even if we had added a dwarf child to our family I would not go around introducing him as our elf, not even at Christmas time. This is a real live stuffed elf. And apparently, we’ve adopted him, although I have to be honest and admit it was not my intention to adopt anything. And certainly not an elf.
It’s the Kindergarten teacher’s fault. She told the children about some mischievous elves that came to her house in the night. Elves that did silly things. Elves that hung Halloween decorations on her Christmas tree. And then, she told the children how they could get their own elves. I wish I could say that you lure them with diamonds and pearls, but that’s not the way it works.
In fact, I’d never even heard about enticing elves to visit until Snags came home from school and started talking about it, telling me how we could attract elves to our house by luring them with crackers and water. “If you want Santa to come,” he said, “you leave out cookies and milk. But if you want the elves to come, you leave out crackers and water!” And then he set about arranging sixteen Ritz crackers and a plastic tumbler of ice water on top of a paper towel at our kitchen table. To lure the elves.
I forgot about the food sitting out on the table until a few hours later when I was heading up to bed. When I saw the crackers arranged so nicely I remembered Snags’ story, and his plan to attract an elf. If he caught one, he said, he’d keep it in a cage. Similar, I suppose, to a zookeeper or to those good parents – the ones I heard about on the news a while back, the ones who kept all of their children in cages…
Now I couldn’t disappoint him, so I shoveled the crackers in my mouth and dumped the water down the sink and sat down to think. I had two brand new Star Wars ornaments hidden away, ornaments I had planned to hang on the tree on Christmas Eve or give to Snags as a gift on Christmas morning. I decided to hang them on the tree and write a note to Snags from the elves. A note saying they’d put something on the tree for him to find, and they were off to do some mischief at other homes, and they’d be back to visit NEXT year.
Only, that wasn’t how the elves were supposed to work. It turned out that Snags hadn’t told me the entire story. He hadn’t told me the part of the story where the elves stayed at your house and looked like a stuffed elf by day, but at night, they came alive, consumed the crackers and water you left them, and performed acts of mischief, every night from December 1st until Santa takes them back to the North Pole on Christmas Eve.
And so, Snags woke up in the morning and ran down the stairs to look for elves. His sharp intake of breath at the sight of the missing crackers and overturned plastic tumbler that once held water for the elves, was so loud that I heard it upstairs, even with my head pressed into the pillow.
Snags ran up the stairs with the note: “Read this! Out loud!” he demanded. After I finished, he ran from my room and down the stairs to search the tree. He found the ornaments but he wasn’t appeased. He kept searching for more, for more evidence that the elves had been around. “Mom,” he asked, “Wasn’t this bag of dog treats on the other counter over here last night? I think the elves moved it.” “Mom,” he went on, “Who left this spoon in the sink? I think the elves did it. I’m going,” he said like Encyclopedia Brown, “to look for more clues.”
And so he went, room to room, hunting for clues, hunting for the elves. When it was time to leave for school, he was unhappy. He hadn’t found the elves. He could not keep them in a cage. If the elves weren’t staying at our house then he wanted them to take the ornaments back. Star Wars be damned.
An hour after school started I received an email from Snags’ teacher. Subject line: elves. “I thought you might want to check this out,” she had written. And then she had included a link to a site that explained the whole story of the mischief making elves, a site where you can order one of your very own. She went on to say she had bought an elf from a craft show, but that she’d seen similar ones for sale at a local store. I’m no dummy, I could read what was left unwritten: Snags told me about the elves that left the Star Wars ornaments on your tree. You did it WRONG! HERE is how you can make it right…
And that is how we ended up adopting our very own elf. My husband picked one up from the local store and brought it home and hid it in Snags’ room. He pulled Kleenex from a box and tossed them on Snag’s floor. He pulled CDs off his dresser and spread them around. I undecorated the tree in his room, spreading the ornaments on the floor, the bed, the furniture. The room looked, in the end, exactly like the kind of mess a mischievous elf might make while your six-year old self is toiling away at Kindergarten.
When I picked Snags up after school he was very excited. “Mom! You HAVE to call Santa Claus. You have to tell him that we want to ADOPT an elf! That’s why the elves didn’t stay. That’s why they said they’d be back next year. Santa has to know you want to ADOPT an elf and then he’ll let them stay! We have to put crackers and water out all over again tonight, okay? Will you call Santa? Will you? Will you mom? Will you?” I said I’d think about it. I told him I’d have to look up Santa’s phone number, even though the truth is, I already had it on my speed dial.
When we got home, Snags begged me once again. “Please mom, do it now. Call Santa and tell him we want to adopt an elf…” But before I could press a button on the phone, my husband’s voice boomed from upstairs: “Snags! Get up here right now!” Snags threw a worried look in my direction and headed up the stairs. I followed.
My husband pointed to the mess in Snags’ room. “You have to clean this up,” he said. And Snags began to protest. “I didn’t make that mess!”
“Snags!” I said, “Did you do this before we left for school? Why would you do something like this? I don’t understand why you would do this!”
“But I didn’t do it,” he insisted. “Maybe the elves did it.”
“There aren’t any elves, Snags,” I said. “You saw the note. They left you a few ornaments and said they’d be back next year. They didn’t stay here.”
And just as tears started to roll down his face at the injustice of it all, at being accused of making a mess he hadn’t made, and of having to clean it up on top of it all, Snags saw the note on his pillow, saw the end of the pointed elf hat peeking out of a box he had left on his nightstand, and his tears turned into joy. “Ha!” he shouted. “It WAS the elf! I told you I didn’t make this mess! This…” he screamed in joy, “This is just like the elf at school! He threw paper on the floor today while we were at lunch. When we got back to class the paper was all over! Yay! I have an elf! I have an elf! I am so happy I have an elf!” And then Snags danced a little dance.
Snags was ready for bed a full hour before his usual bedtime. He took his bath, brushed his teeth, put his pajamas on. He made a table for the elf out of an overturned Kleenex box. He placed two Ritz crackers and a Dixie Cup full of water on top. He filled an empty shirt box with hand towels to make a bed for the elf. He emptied trash cans and turned them upside down, creating a stair case leading from his night stand to the floor, so the elf could go do his mischief without having to jump down, without risking injury from a potential fall. Then he sat on his bed, staring at the elf, as if willing it to come alive before his very eyes.
In the morning, the crackers and water were gone, the family room floor, previously clear and free of toys, was littered with LEGOS and pillows off the sofa. The elf was found hiding in Snags’ Christmas stocking, too tired after all that mischief to make it back up the stairs to Snags’ room and his shirt box bed. And Snags, happy to have his very own elf, cleaned up the LEGOs with hardly any protest after my threat that I would call Santa and tell him to come get the mischievous elf right now if he didn’t clean up the mess. The deal, I said, is that YOU clean up any mischievous messes the elf makes. And if you don’t, the elf, he’s out of here!”
And so this, I think, is going to be fun. Snags is going to clean up messes he didn’t even make! Because I AM that kind of cruel. In fact, tomorrow morning, I think he’ll be folding a load of laundry that the elf brings up from the dryer and dumps all over the sofa. Yes, I think that’s what he’s going do… I just have this feeling about it. Or maybe that feeling is simply hunger, for a cracker…