My 6-year-old is a sweet kid. She’s very people-y and can read your mood with a single glance at your face. She’s kind and snugly and wants nothing more than for everyone to get along. She’s also a major space cadet who wears her heart on her sleeve then wipes her chocolate milk mustache on it. My husband and I joke that of our three children, the 6-year-old is the easiest yet hardest to love: her sincerity lures you into a world of high maintenance everything. The child asks questions then forgets to stick around for the answers.
She’s fabulously infuriating like that.
So the other day when she started asking me 63 questions about tags, I admit I was only half listening.
Her: My shirts have tags, right?
Her: My pants have tags?
Her: Toys have tags? Towels have tags? Shoes have tags? Our couch has a tag?!
Me, brain melting under her rapid-fire nonsense: Yessssssssss.
Her: Things with tags come from stores?
Me, obliviously wading into her quicksand: Tags, stores. Sure.
So imagine my surprise when her big brown eyes bore into my soul and she stated very matter-of-factly: The Elf on the Shelf has a tag.
Me, internally: Shit.
Her: Is the Elf on a Shelf from a store, not Santa? Don’t lie! Tell. Me. The. Truth.
Let me rewind to the beginning of this December. Many of our friends have these friggin’ elves. They hang from light fixtures in the kitchen, create mischief in the bathroom, and brandish notes from Santa himself. VERY EXCITING. Except we don’t have an Elf on the Shelf because…I’m lazy? They’re expensive? I think they’re dumb? They’re just another way we’re commercializing Christmas don’t even get me started? Anyway, at one point earlier this month, my 6-year-old cornered me (never her Dad–WHY NEVER HER DAD?!) and ordered me to tell her why we don’t have an elf. As I prepared my dissertation, her lip started quivering and she wondered aloud if she had been bad. “Is that why Santa didn’t bring me one?”
I assured her she had been wonderful and Santa was very pleased with her behavior. I explained it’s up to the parents to allow the elves to be part of their holiday, and Daddy (threw him right under the bus so I did) opted for no elf because we already do our big Christmas countdown. This appeased her. Until…
The week before Christmas break, her older brother came home from school and announced a boy in his class told everyone there is no Santa Claus. “Is that true?!” he demanded. I studied my son’s face before responding, a trick I learned from those who have come before me: speak less, listen more. Also, I was biding my time because AHHHHH!
Taking another page out of Mother Wisdom’s book, I answered his question with another question. “What do you believe?” True to his zero-tolerance-for-conflict approach to life, my son emphatically stated the boy in his class was wrong: “There is a Santa.” I know he’s secretly wrestling with the truth, but if he wasn’t letting on, neither was I. DONE!
Then here comes the 6-year-old and her elf business. She insisted on the truth. She literally said, “Do not lie to me.” What’s a parent to do?! I always promised myself I’d be the mother who would lay it on the line when my kids asked me to. No beating around the bush. No fluffing up the cold, hard truth. I kept my promise. I explained to my sweet kiddo that the Elf on the Shelf was something parents did for their kids to make the holidays more exciting (also to scare them into behaving because if we can’t use Santa as leverage, are we even parents?). I compared the elf to our Christmas countdown and reminded her everyone has different traditions. A slow smile crept onto her face as she exclaimed, “I KNOWED IT!”
Such a grown-up realization juxtaposed with her “knowed it” was a little gut-punch. So here we are, now straddling the worlds of childhood innocence vs. knowing the things all because of that damn elf. And I’m all too aware that telling the truth about the Elf on the Shelf has only teed up the Santa conversation. I have been mentally preparing myself just in case. For the next 365 days, I will be on my toes. Come at me, son.