Somewhere on a sandy beach in Bora Bora, Buddy Cuthbert, our Elf on the Shelf of seven years, is sitting with a cold beverage in hand, enjoying a much-needed vacation after years of stupendous holiday cheer. His hiatus is well deserved, because my hot cocoa-chugging, marshmallow-shooting homeboy worked his butt off to entertain my little boys each year between Black Friday and Christmas Eve, even remembering to fly around and create magic after spending hours wrapping presents or returning tipsy from holiday parties.
Buddy was so well known for his antics, like underwear parachutes and Swedish fishing, he had his own hashtag. One year, he even provided a schedule of nightly shenanigans for the month along with a shopping list of supplies to help other Elves be their best. I’m sure he scored major points with Santa for that one.
After the Christmas season of 2017, Buddy and I had a long talk over a glass of wine Christmas Eve night. We discussed that while his recent adventures were “extravaganzalorious,” they weren’t purposeful anymore. Anyone who has read The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition or watched the 22-minute movie on repeat a thousand times knows the whole point of the Elf on the Shelf is to improve behavior in children. In the movie, Chippy’s job was to report back to Santa when the McTuttle kids weren’t being good. Last year, the Cuthbert boys were practically juvenile delinquents, yet Buddy kept the holiday hijinks coming, all while singing “Jingle Bell Rock” and farting snowflakes and glitter.
After days spent dealing with tantrums, fighting, and demands that every toy on every commercial appear under the tree with a bow, Buddy and I felt defeated setting up the next “sledding on paper towels” or “snowman doughnut skewers” scene. What was the point? The boys knew Buddy would move regardless. Even a note saying Santa saw their bad behavior did nothing to change it, and my oldest began to question how a felt figurine could fly to the North Pole each night and report.
So after seven blissful yet exhausting years, I packed up Buddy’s two-inch suitcase and sent him off the grid. But before he started ordering drinks with little umbrellas he left a note for my boys that read a little something like this:
“Hi, boys. I will miss you, but even more than Santa, your mom and dad are watching your behavior this year, and they are the true makers of the holiday magic. If you want Grinch Pancakes on Sundays and special holiday surprises, you have to show Mom and Dad you deserve it. Have a good Christmas, and I hope you earn lots of holiday fun. Love, Buddy.”
That one little handwritten elf note put the power of modified behavior back in my hands, and now it’s game on. If they’re well behaved, eat their dinners without wrestling on the table, and don’t fight me on homework, I may let them have hot cocoa with candy canes or watch a special holiday movie on a school night. They may wake up to special “Golden Tickets” made from fancy cardstock that signify I’m taking them on an impromptu tour of the Christmas lights in the neighborhood. The possibilities are endless, and the best part is they are entirely mine to decide on. If they choose to beat each other senseless in the grocery store while I try to pick out produce, they get nothing. The fun has to be earned.
Ninety-nine percent of my favorite childhood memories come from how amazing my mom made the holidays, and making ours magical is something I will continue to do as my kids grow and one day have littles of their own. I think this year will be the most enjoyable yet, as their happiness won’t be beholden to a tiny little man with a scalloped collar and a tag on his tush. And my stress level won’t either.