I watched my son lose a little bit of his childhood the other day, and there wasn’t a thing I could do to stop it.
Two years ago – maybe three – we caved to the elf on the shelf hysteria, primarily because our kids were bewildered and a little hurt that no elves invaded our house come Christmas time to spy and create mischief.
Fine. Bring on the elf, even though I find the whole idea a little creepy and I have a real aversion to dolls of all kinds. But whatever.
This was right when the whole elf thing was exploding in popularity, and these things were hard to find. I sent my husband out on an elf-finding mission, and he brings home this big plush version because he knows I hate dolls. Sweet, if a little awkward for our intentions with this thing. On the plus side, our elf is really too big to get into any mischief, so we’ve settled for finding unlikely places for her to hide.
And luckily, the kids didn’t seem to care that our elf seemed to be on steroids and looks suspiciously like the stuffed animals hanging around this place. They were delirious with excitement that this thing showed up, and they were already schooled in the ways of the elf – never, ever, ever touch this thing or it’ll rip your face off.
Wait, no, that’s my hang up.
Never, ever, ever touch the elf or it will lose its magic and Christmas will be ruined for you forever.
Anyway, after Thanksgiving this year, our elf Marshmallow made her big debut. She was hanging out on the mantle as we started operation decorate the house for Christmas. We have a pair of beautiful garlands with dangling bits that I arrange on the mantle every year. I hate the damn things until they’re finally in place and decorated, when I’m reminded why I’m willing to tussle with them every 12 months.
But during this year’s wrestling match, I accidentally knocked Marshmallow over, and one of my eagle-eyed children was quick to alert the whole gang that, “Guys! Marshmallow FELL OVER! Hurreeeeeeee!!!”
They all stampede in to look, and yep, there she is, gracelessly sprawled facedown like she had been tossed there.
I played this off inanely, and thankfully, everyone got distracted when their dad came in with the tree. They followed him into the other room, and I took the opportunity to prop Marshmallow into place behind the garland.
Later, after the tree was trimmed and we were stowing away boxes, someone noticed the elf.
“Guys! Marshmallow MOOOOOVED!!!”
They all raced in to gawk at this Christmas miracle, and while the younger ones tripped over one another to climb on the couch for a better look, my nine-year-old looked at me.
I admire his maturity because he waited for everyone to clear off before coming over to give me a hug.
“Does Marshmallow really move?” he asked, leaning back to look me in the eye. “I think you’re actually the ones that move her.”
I mean. I can’t lie to him about this. So I redirected.
“The question is, do you believe in Marshmallow, or not?”
Not great, but the best I could do in the moment.
He smirked. “Now I know you guys are the ones moving her around.”
So, the jig was up. And I came clean.
“You’re right. Marshmallow isn’t real. Your dad and I move her around when you guys are in bed, and now you get to be in on the magic for your brother and sisters. And that’s pretty cool.”
His face was shining for a second, but as I watched, the excitement drained from his face and the corners of his mouth slipped down.
Quietly, he said, “I really wanted her to be real.”
And then my heart broke into a million pieces.
“I know you did,” I told him, hugging him tightly. “Me too.”
The good news is that he’s really embraced the elf thing, especially because it gives him a reason to get out of bed after bedtime to sneak downstairs and find her a cool new hiding place.
As for this little bit of his childhood, the one that just slipped away right there in front of me, I wonder if he’ll even remember. I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.
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