Christmas awakening comes as a surprise as old traditions fade

Kansas City Star

DECEMBER 20, 2017

Christmas has always been my favorite holiday as long as I remember. I’m sure I’m not the only child to choose the day when gifts magically appear over playing find-the-hard-boiled-egg in the yard.

However, if you overlook the eggs, which smell of a hint of vinegar, chocolates are a close second. It doesn’t take much to get a young person on board when chocolate is the prize.

From my earliest memories, Christmas would start with a deliberate bang, like a race start pistol. Something would always wake you up and get things moving. As a young child, it never felt like Christmas until my family’s annual tree fight, I mean adventure.

Traveling to the tree farm outside of town and chopping down the perfect one is such a treasured memory. The problem was not one of us strong-minded tree enthusiasts could agree on what perfection was, perhaps because perfection is unattainable.

The adventure always started with a lot of fun and laughs, but my brother and I knew that would end any minute. The amusement would morph into polite, yet stilted, repartee as soon as it was narrowed down to two trees. Poor, poor frightened trees.

Despite the hopes for a pleasant end, it didn’t take long before the name-calling would start. Don’t worry, Mr. and Mrs. Bickerson never called each other names, but smack talk could be heard across the crisp, cold farm air.

The other spouse’s tree would be called “short, squatty” or “spindly and emaciated.” If the trees could have heard them, they would have had body-image issues.

“Really? That’s the one you want? It’s a poor replica of Charlie Brown’s tree during a drought… now this one is perfect!”

To everyone’s surprise, when I hit middle school, my parents gave up on the farm trip and bought a fake tree. I have no idea how my parents agreed to pick a permanent tree, but thankfully they didn’t include my brother and I for that one.

They agreed they didn’t love the extra stress of picking a tree every year, so they chalked it up to trees of Christmas past. Apparently, it’s arduous to argue arbor alternatives within a big-box store, so there wasn’t much debate.

During high school, sometimes I would invite a friend over to decorate the tree. I thought bringing in an audience would ensure everyone would be on their best behavior. Norman Rockwell would have wanted to join our new family tradition of praising the tree. There had to have been divine intervention.

After having my own kids, the timing of the Christmas start-up shot changed.

The Elf on the Shelf brought the Christmas cheer to my children. It wasn’t our tree that started off the season of joy. They could have cared less about the iconic tree. Christmas was now about a spindly, large-faced elf, playing pranks almost every night.

Change is not always for the better.

Toward the beginning of our marriage, my husband and I agreed with one swipe of a credit card that we’d omit the farm experience of chopping down our tree. Who needed to kill another tree? The obscene amounts of Christmas catalogs we received in the mail were already doing that.

This year, the kids are growing up, the magic level has changed and because of this, the Elf has been forced into early retirement. Poor, poor scrappy elf.

So, what was going to start off the season for us? Not the Elf, not the fake tree, not the hordes of Santas covering every open table space in our home, nor the Clark Griswald amount of lights my darling electrical engineer of a hubby displayed.

This year, my Christmas awakening was surprising.

Last Sunday morning, my family attended a friend’s church service. They featured a formal musical cantata in which the singers wore their fancy black gowns and suits. The music was lovely and so was my friend for inviting us.

The best Christmas gift was there that morning. Why shouldn’t I have expected to find the beginning of my season to be where the reason of the season starts? With all the frustrating things going on in the world, the stress melted away during that service as I sat with my family, listening to old friends spread the joy of Christmas through music.

I know hindsight plays a role in this, but I wish I had cherished those few weeks after Thanksgiving. The silly old Elf, covered in powdered sugar while making snow angels on the kitchen counter, may have been what I needed to kick off the season after all — the season of faith, family and friends.

What’s your beginning to Christmas look like?


Elf’s Buttocks Gave me Away

This is not a whimsical narrative of miniature relatives with pointy ears getting married. No, when I got hitched ten years ago, my father gave me away; and truly he looked more like the jolly old man than one of his North Pole elves.

What happened only one week into the month of December is tragic; but it’s necessary I share, so this mistake is not repeated by another unsuspecting parental unit.

Normally the beginning of December warrants a “woe-is-me” blog post written by thousands of parents. And I did not disappoint, I went there too. Even though on some nights I have an ounce of energy and creativity and can place my Elf-on-the-Shelf in “Pinteresting” scenes for my daughters to appreciate the next morning – most of the time, I toss the red sucker up on something high so the kids won’t touch him. Mama’s tired.

After having our elf, Alf, for eight years, my hubby and I knew this probably was the last year for us to “enjoy” the EOTS madness. Can I get an Amen? Yea-ah!!

Yes, we figured our oldest daughter would hear rumors from her classmates and bring home the dreaded questions which hopefully wouldn’t include the word…shhh! S-A-N-T-A.

I was ready to let go of the elf, but Santa…that’s a whole other can of gummy worms.

Since I had been elf tossing for a couple nights in a row, Thursday night was going to be a stellar theatrical performance. Earlier that afternoon I found a near empty bag of marshmallows under the coffee table, and my creative juices took off from there.

I was one of those moms that 50% of bloggers hate and the other half love. So who gives a hoot, right? I’m not trying to win a popularity contest here, just make my kids crack up in the morning with their stupid big-headed elf.

Grabbing the marshmallows, some toothpicks, a leftover Hersheys bar from my husband’s company picnic several months ago, graham crackers and a Bic lighter I went to work in the kitchen.

The mega marshmallow in flames balanced on toothpicks may not have been the best idea, but no one got hurt. Plus, the smoke detector didn’t go off and no brandishing of my fire extinguisher occurred. Always a good sign of a first-rate Thursday night.

Once I had the “Elf’s S’more” scene set up on the hearth in the living room, I took some photos and then drifted to sleep in my BARCO lounger. I’m much more fun than you would imagine.

The next morning as I put the milk in the kitchen cabinet and/or the cat food in the coffee grinder (aka Zombie Mama’s Breakfast dance), I heard my daughters begin their search for Alf. This is what they found:

elf smores

There was giggling and commentating on Alf’s performance art. The girls loved this setup and I enjoyed a moment of glory.

About 5 minutes later, I heard my youngest daughter, who is seven say to her older sister, “Why does Alf have a tag on his butt?” Normally, I would have corrected her and asked that she call it his “bottom.” But I was paralyzed and strained to listen to the conversation from the next room.

My youngest peered closely at the tag, and said, “There is a ‘T-M’ on it.”

“A ‘T-M’?” her second grade sister asked.

“It’s a toy. Alf’s a toy!” cried my youngest.

My oldest daughter slowly and silently sat beside her elf – her Alf. You could see the sadness creep up from her heart to her eyes as her mind pulled together the details of a long planned ruse.

“All of my stuffies have tags that say that,” she said deflated.

I wanted to pretend like it hadn’t happened. Maybe if I ignored it, they would go on believing.

What did the textbooks say to do about telling your child their elf is a toy? Oh, that’s right, there isn’t one.

The tears began to well up in my eyes as I approached my work of arts: my daughters and…that saccharin elf scene. It was so awesome, but I knew it was soon to be my last.

Oh, dear God, please don’t let them ask about Santa. Please!! The coffee hasn’t finished percolating and I’m already a hot mess.

“Mama, you have been moving Alf, haven’t you?” accused my youngest detective.

THWAP! The verbal punch to the gut hurt more than I thought it would, but I still could speak through it.

“Yes, Honey. But don’t worry, the elf IS a toy. Your grandmother gave him to you when you were babies and we’ve kept up the fun since then,” I apologized.

The eldest started crying, “I’m so sad Alf never was magic and never flew to the North Pole.”

“Don’t worry,” I said. “Even though the elf isn’t magic, it’s Santa who holds the magical powers. He’s been creating magic and beauty for children all over the world for hundreds of years. This Alf toy was made in a shop in China just a few years ago.”

My first born asked, “Did you cry when you learned about your elf, Mama?”

“They didn’t have Elfs-on-the-Shelf when your Daddy and I were kids. We didn’t need a silly elf to tell on us to get on Santa’s good or bad list. Santa always knew and he still knows.”

“Can you keep moving Alf around every night? I’d like that,” asked my sweet girl.

“Of course!” I said with a full heart.

Then after the girls sat staring at the magical toy, whose powers had fizzled in a flash of a butt-tag – my baby girl jumped up and excitedly twirled around in a flourish.

“This means we can FINALLY touch Alf!! I’ve been waiting my whole life to do this.” Drama is in her future.

Then she grabbed the elf, one of her dolls, several character ornaments off the Christmas tree and began to have them sing and dance around the room. It was like some sort of twisted Disney Country Christmas Special.

After all these years, who knew Alf had that kind of talent?



Elf-on-the-Shelf Buyer’s Remorse

Many years ago, when the Elf-on-the-Shelf came out on the, uh, um…shelves; it was such a fabulous idea that if Pinterest had been born, she would have peed down her leg in sheer elation!

It’s so cute! What a novelty! Playing daily pranks on your kids? Fun!

Plus, you can get your kids to behave better in December, by threatening the ridonkulous name you created for your Elf? I’ll buy two!!

After 8 years of having these creativity stripping ledge gnomes in your lives, are you regretting your purchase? Or are you feeling remorse for buying an Elf for your grand kids?

Granted some of you may have been using the Elf-on-the Shelf for a much shorter period than 8 years; but for those hard core EOTS owners – who were given these bundles of red capped crap from the beginning – how are you doing?

Is your Irritable Bowel Syndrome starting back up or your Acid Reflux worsening just picturing the countdown to 25 days of brain numbing strategic planning?

The problem is, this Elf business is not going away anytime soon. After all, the creators are coming up with new dolls and PR ideas. Every blogger (with the exception of me, until now) has followed in the footsteps of Jen with People I Want to Punch in the Throat who started the global e-ball rolling with her piece several years ago about how she feels about the “overachieving elf on the shelf mommies.”

Folks there is not an end to this fortune anytime soon as far as I can see. Nor will the elf bashing and venting decrease.

So fess up, have you ever thrown your Elf behind the basement shelving units at the end of one season, and then the next year have to reach down through cobwebs and mouse droppings to retrieve your children’s must-have friend. Heaven forbid they forget about the bastard. It’s only been 365 days!

Kids can’t remember to brush their teeth, take their finger out of their nose during school music programs or wear underwear most days – but you better believe when December 1st comes round, they’ll hop out of bed first thing looking for Santa’s happy snitch.

Now I have to clear things up to maintain my family peace, and so that I don’t get coal in a Pottery Barn box this year. My wonderfully thoughtful mother-in-law gave our family our elf. *Don’t gasp!* She is very sweet and creative and knows what is new and trendy. I love this about her. This was in 2005 right after the EOTS was introduced to the market. My hubby and I thought we were clever and named ours, “Alf.” The elf. We had never heard of this novelty and truly thought it was the cutest thing ever. Seriously.

Until…*start the menacing carnival music* the children got a bit older and started to notice our elf wasn’t moving to a different location every night. They hadn’t paid attention to detail ever, and now they’re picking up on their lazy elf and have the audacity to complain about it?

The real dilemma with forgetting my nightly duty was I had to come up with another blatant lie, first thing in the morning BEFORE my coffee, and that is just not right! Mama doesn’t like looking like a fool first thing in the morning.

Wait until after 5 o’clock and a cocktail. Am I right, folks!?

Brief synopsis of how this elf biz is supposed to work: If the children in your house are well-behaved and they haven’t touched the elf, then your Botox smiling Santa’s helper flies to the North Pole each night to report to the big boss himself.

Elf on a HatThen you while the children are asleep, you move your favorite anorexic, no-footed guy to a different location.

“Why dost thou performest thy task?” you ask since December is the season to convert to Dickinsonianism.

Because when your little elfer returns from Santa Snitchville every night, he’s not going to return to the exact same spot.

As you can imagine, for several years this tired, old mom forgot to move the elf to a different location once or twice. OK, maybe a handful of times. FINE, almost every other night, but I’m so tired!

Last year the light bulb flickered above my noggin and I figured it all out. I read on Pinterest or some other annoyingly helpful site to set my phone alarm to go off every night at 9:30pm. This was brilliant! The kids would be asleep and I would automatically be reminded to move the blasted elf for the 127th time.

The alarm method worked beautifully. I never missed a night. Damn that Pinterest! I couldn’t give her up now.

A few weeks before Christmas, my hubby and I hired a babysitter. I stripped off the mommy yoga pants uniform and squeezed on a sparkly dress to watch our favorite jazz singer perform with the local Jazz Orchestra.

Hubby had really gone all out and got us 3rd row seats right in the center. We were so close, we could practically see the spit flying out of the brass instruments. At the beginning of the show the voice from above asked us to turn off our phones which I promptly did for fear of being chastised by one of my musical idols. It was to be a perfect night.

Romance was soaring high with it being the first time we had been in the spectacular, new downtown music hall. The women around us were wearing ginormous diamonds and furs and had body parts tucked and altered for more money than I could possibly imagine. We were living large and loving every minute of it.

The voice of an angel was accompanied by a top notch group of musicians – tender notes swirled through the audience warming the crowd.

However, toward the end of the show – right after she finished a beautiful ballad – a horrid, shrill noise came from off stage.

What was that?

Then one of the swollen, shiny women shot me a glare that cut through me like one of her diamonds.

It’s 9:30…my effing Elf alarm!!

My hubby swears I didn’t yell this aloud, but he may have been trying to protect me.

Apparently, with my newly purchased phone you could turn off the ringer, but that didn’t automatically mute any preset alarms. Come on! That should have been in bold, large font on the manual’s cover.

Later when we got home, guess who forgot to move Alf? No alarm…no moving my nemesis.

It is only six days until Alf will make his initial presence of 2013. Hold me!

I should probably start scavenging for him now because this tired, old mom isn’t quite certain where I hid Satan’s-shelf-supporter last year.

But the sad truth is, with my daughters getting older, this might be our last year of Elf-on-the-Shelf.

Oh, it’s been a good, long run, Alf.

But somebody better slap me upside the head if I cry as I put him away for the last time. I am so over you!

If you enjoyed this, please join me on FACEBOOK for gingerbread cookies and hot toddies.


Keeping the Normalcy and Holiday Spirit Alive

Baby with Christmas presentsEvery morning I have awakened with a lump in my throat and a surge of anxiety since the devastating massacre in Connecticut. I try to clear my mind with deep cleansing breaths, positive imagery and prayer for those all affected. But the problem is, I don’t know anyone who wasn’t affected by this tragedy. Even the newborn knows his mother is tense and crying more than usual.

So my quest, my personal goal is to continue praying for those in need, helping in whatever way I can and then making sure my children return to normalcy. Now if you have ever met my family, normalcy is so wacky and zany – usually involving interpretive dance and jazz hands every other day – so we have our work cut out for us to get to that point again. But I wish for this holiday to be one of deep love, family time and yes, a puppet show or two.

One thing I have noticed is that Alf, our Elf on the Shelf, who I might have previously mentioned I am not fond of (or is the bane of my existence, since he sometimes decides not to move at night and it upsets my children and makes them feel unworthy of his love. ARGHHHH!) is upset by the Connecticut incident as well. Alf is barely moving to another place each night and my children are noticing his lazy behavior.

Well, Mr. Alf this is your wake-up call: you need to pull it together and get more creative for my kids! They deserve it.

• I promise not to call you names and roll my eyes at you if you “up-your-game” and make this last week fun for my girls.
• I will start taking pics of you again and showing you off to my friends.
• It’s unfortunate it took this type of devastation and horrific incident for me to get my priorities straight,
but Alf, you are part of my family, and I promise to treat you better.
• I will not let other mom-bloggers bring me down and join them in badmouthing our elves at Christmas parties or Facebook.

I know our time together is limited, Alf. I don’t know how long you will be in our life, so I am going to change my Christmas Carol and sing your praises.

I’m starting a new movement:

Alf on Bike

Hug your kids for me too, kay?! Happy holidays, friends.

©2012, Stacey Hatton. All rights reserved.


It’s Time for Elf Tumbling NOT Dwarf Tossing, Folks!

Alf’s disappointing dismount, caused much elation from the children this morning…

9.5 from the east wing judge

Only 13 more days of his antics. Boy, he sure must be tired of landing in new places every night after narking on the kids to Santa!

Are your elf’s days numbered in your house or do you just love the creepy guy?

©2012 Stacey Hatton. All rights reserved.