Tuesday, December 13, 2016

to elf or not to elf? that is the question.

the elf thing.
for me, it might be the most conflicting element of the christmas season.

to have elves or not to have elves? … that is the question.

really jody? are you seriously spending even an ounce of energy asking that question?

but alas, i am. i’m a woman with kids and we do life in the south and—though i’m not entirely sure about other parts of the country—where we live, school age kids everywhere have elves.

truth is, i’ve never been exactly sure how i feel about this cultural norm.

even after moving to georgia with our first two kiddos, i was able to keep it all at bay for awhile. when emily and tyler were little i could monitor everything about them: what they ate, what they watched, who they played with … and, yes, even the elf thing. they never did get swept up in it. i had control. but by the time children numbers 3 and 4 came along, like in most every other area, the control began to crumble and crack and the christmas elves were inevitably introduced (as was the disney channel, sugar cereal and the occasional lunchable). and i’ll admit, there were some pretty cute things about having elves. but still, i always had this nagging thought, this itch deep inside, wondering if i should be expending any of my precious mama energy on precocious elves.

and then bella arrived on the scene and how could we not do elves with her? her first christmas home and it was like we had our own little life-sized christmas elf. so of course we did elves with bella. we even found one that sort of resembled our tiny dark-haired gal. by this time, the older kids got involved and that made it easier. i was happy to turn over the elf thing to their creativity. and so emily and tyler began setting up elf displays for the younger ones.

some of you are reading this and wondering what in the world “having elves” even means.

oh gosh. i know. and it makes me a little crazy to even explain that. but, here in the south, someone came up with the idea of having elves (little dolls) show up the month before christmas and get into all sorts of mischief — especially after the children go to bed.

so what that looks like is when the kids are finally asleep, worn out parents are cooking up creative messes with a bunch of dolls. (because the month of december has nothing else going on). and thanks to social media, i’ve seen some pretty spectacular displays over the years.

* snowball fights and winter blizzards re-enacted on kitchen counters with powdered sugar.
* edible bonfires created with pretzels and mini marshmallows toasted.
* chandelier circus act set up in the dining room.
* toilet-papered christmas trees.
* zip lines constructed from one corner of the house to another.

you name it, i’ve seen it.

one year, tyler set up all of connor's
action figures parade style
clearly, we owned too many action figures

i even knew one woman who removed all of the dishes from her kitchen cabinets and then excitedly announced to her children the next morning, “the elves did it.” i heard that and was like, okay, that’s it. i’m out. no matter how cool i want my kids to think i am, i’m not drinking the kool-aid which suggests i should create that level of chaos in my kitchen in the month of december to entertain my children, who are, in fact, already over-entertained.

the magic of christmas only goes so far in the mcnatt house. i’m sorry. i’m out.

except, i wasn’t.

i did the elves anyway.

i felt like an elf-addict; a creative-christmas-mom-wanna-be. and so i did it. sometimes exhausted and slightly over-wrought from a busy, bustling day, but i did it.

and then we moved to minnesota and really no one up there “does elves.” i assure you, they are way too busy digging themselves out of their driveways and trying to stay alive in negative 10 degree weather to have time for creating mischief in their kitchens. not that they aren’t fun people, but they just aren’t re-enacting bonfires with pretzels sticks for their children’s wonder, they are, instead, burning real wood to stay warm.

and so, with our move north, the elf thing kind of all fell away.

but y’all know the story: we came back south. and, come christmas, found that the elves were still going strong down here below the mason dixon line. maybe even stronger than before we had left. yes, i had to revisit this conflict once again.

now, at this point, i realize i am 658 words into an essay about elves. i haven’t once mentioned the birth of Jesus or advent or anything which really matters. i am merely writing about pretend elves and their antics. (as opposed to real elves, jody)? okay, moving on.

it’s ludicrous right? and that’s been my dilemma all along. with all that this month means, magical and merry as i might want to be, i just don’t know if i have it in me to whip out the elf stuff night after night. for some reason, especially in this season of make-believe, i am more aware than ever of the most brutal reality of so many. there are too many people in our world who have nothing elf-like about their lives. and no matter how many lights or shiny things we hang around our house, the needs and pain of others hangs heavy. and, truth is, trying to create some kind of spectacular elf spectacle can easily leave me at a loss.

it’s not just the hard stuff that has prevented my full and fun embracing of elves, but even the stuff i think is a thousand times more important to focus on: advent—preparing our hearts for the birth of Jesus.  elves are nice, but it was the newborn babe who came to save the world. and how in the world can we do the advent wreath and the jesse tree and the real christmas story and still have time for elf mischief? i’m telling you, if we add up all that and the shopping and baking and wrapping and arranging and caroling and shipping and card addressing … it’s no wonder mamas might start drinking heavily or find themselves dead tired and delirious come christmas eve.

all that said, after a substantial hiatus, the elves returned to our home last night.

yes, you read that right.

what??? you’re head is spinning? mine's spinning, too. i realize i just made a complete case for the banning of elves from christmas forever.

except …

except bella is in 3rd grade now. and because she has four older siblings who have gone ahead and pretty much grown up on us, we know, all too well, that these years of child-like wonder are slipping right by us like minnesotans on a sledding hill. we will blink and she will be a teenager. and her december will be filled with final exams and other less than festive activities. and i look at my four teens and then i look at my little girl—still 8 years old and desperately hoping an elf will show up sometime soon—and there’s really no way i can hold back the elves this year any longer. i just can’t. i thought i could. but i'm caving. a few nights ago she prayed out loud about it and then last night, switching from God to santa, she even wrote out her request in her little journal. yes, she did.

so here we are.

after tucking bella in, i was sitting in front of the christmas tree deliberating over the great elf decision last night. connor, my only teenager still spending much time at our house these days, came down from his room, and hearing my big debate, said, “mom, i’ll do it! i’ll take care of the whole elf thing. don’t worry, i’ve got it covered!”

and without any hesitation he headed for the storage room to retrieve the elves from their crate and began constructing a zip line across our family room for their grand entrance.

and my heart, conflicted as it might be, swelled a bit with pride, because my boy, teenager or not, still loves this stuff, and even more, he loves his little sister. just like his older siblings took great pleasure in setting up grand displays for him every night, he will, in these next two weeks, do the same for bella. i will, however, absolutely forbid him to shower my kitchen with powdered sugar or remove all the dishes from my cabinets, but i will give him free rein to love on his little sister through the antics of her elves. because as magical as the elves might be to her, there’s nothing make-believe about the love of a big bother. it’s real and it’s right and as ridiculous as the whole elf thing might be, it’s even okay.

so here's the deal: i still don't know how i feel about elves. i'm so wishy-washy about it all you could probably convince me either way most days. i would love to hear your thoughts and even your argument, but, please don't judge me. i promise you, there's not a bit of judgment coming your way. no matter how many elves you have or don't have, there's no judgment. none. i don't know how i feel about elves, but i do know i feel great about a big brother doing something sweet for his little sister. and, so that's that.

to elf or not to elf? who the heck really knows.

but, in our house, the elves are back. at least for now.

connor (age 5) and the elves. the sparkle in his eyes says it all.
bella, today.

1 comment:

Simply LKJ said...

So thankful they weren't around when my girls were little. However, it's very sweet for Connor to take over and do for Bella what his siblings did for him.
I have seen many Christian ideas too for the elves, such as the elf encouraging a random act of kindness. I think a healthy mix of antics and pointing to the true meaning is best.