How does a nice Jewish girl from Illinois find herself nearly buried under an avalanche of plastic tubs stuffed with Christmas ornaments searching in vain for a rogue Elf on the Shelf in a cold Wisconsin basement?
I asked myself this very question after Thanksgiving when we walked through our door weary with holiday travel and still stuffed with turkey and dressing, dropped our suitcases in the laundry room for the magic unpacking fairy to deal with (spoiler alert: I’m the magic unpacking fairy, and darn is she grumpy), and watched our kids bolt though the house tearing through bins and ransacking bookshelves screaming, “Toofy! Toofy where are you?”
Toofy is our Elf, named by my oldest when he was just 3. Even though the creepy little jerkface (the Elf, not the kid) has a close-lipped (and really kind of snide) plastic smile, Harry was trying to name him Toothy, but he still lived in a cartoon-adorable world where he couldn’t say “th.” I still miss the way his “mimmens” where too tight on his “fumbs” (except not really because kids having sensory freak outs about their winter gear in the frozen tundra has gotten really, really, really old four children into this motherhood thing—butterscotch schnapps in cocoa—my cocoa, not theirs—has really helped, though). And the kids—all of them, even the 10 year-old who doesn’t believe in Santa or bunnies or fairies or elves anymore—were convinced that Toofy would make his appearance immediately after Thanksgiving. I told them a million times on the ride home from our weekend away that Toofy always comes on December 1st with candy and advent calendars and candy advent calendars, but they apparently only remember the one calendar anomaly that saw December 1st fall right after Thanksgiving weekend, and they tore the house all to heck searching for something they were never going to find.
I couldn’t even find him, buried up to my neck in Christmas flotsam in our crowded storage room, one foot balanced in a tub of plastic pumpkin candy buckets, the other leg submerged to the knee in cast-off Easter baskets, leaning over a box stuffed with my Seder plate and fancy table runner, trying not to knock over the ceramic choo-choo train menorah from my grandmother’s collection that teetered precariously on a shelf next to our Star of David tree-topper.
It was a seriously metaphorical experience.
I listened to the thunder of children’s feet on the stairs as they raced into the basement to continue their search, and I rummaged past a decade of Danbury Mint Cubs ornaments that my parents send faithfully every year and have necessitated the murder of 2 trees each season because we have so! much! stuff! to hang. I pawed through a box of ornaments we collect on family vacations—we buy one everywhere we go, even camp grounds and obscure museums, the fancy pre-kids decorations Ben and I exchanged years ago when we were thin and smooth-faced and had nice things, the paper preschool-crafted ones, the gaudy licensed character ones our toddlers have glommed onto at countless Targets, the tree-bedecked red truck ornaments my 8 year-old chooses every year at the Christmas tree farm and writes the date on in Sharpie as soon as he gets home. Our blended holiday in a box, full of our own traditions and rituals and the joy we infuse into the dark Wisconsin winter.
I found Toofy at the bottom of a box of dreidel-shaped candy dishes and Christmas Spode pie plates, folded into a creepy Elf pretzel.
For a few nights, we’ll hide him in great spots, and then we’ll start forgetting to move him and making up elaborate stories to explain his ennui and telling the kids, by the middle of the month, that their bad behavior must have rendered him motionless (because we are parents of the year). (It’s our fault for making the whole thing too fun and even sneaking him to Disney World on a surprise Christmas trip and making him brings PJs and a movie and a bonanza of candy every Christmas Eve. I NEVER SHOULD HAVE TAKEN HIM OUT OF THE BOX, but I’m Jewish. I DIDN’T KNOW.)
I know what I’m doing this season, though. Instead of using the Elf as a way to threaten my kids into passably good behavior even though I know I am going to drop a disgusting wad of cash stocking the tree with presents AND buying 32 Hanukkah gifts (4 kids. 8 nights. The math is not in our favor.) even if they behave like savages, I am going to teach my little lispy three-year-old the phrase “Snitches get stitches.” Because what the heck—Toofy should be fun for all of us, right?