December 15, 2015
It is a trend here in the United States to position a plastic-faced, limp-bodied elf doll about the house to inspire children to do as asked. The elf watches with its insipid grin and sidelong glances, and then (or so the story goes) rushes off to the North Pole to fill the Big Guy in on the children’s goings on. The tattling of these elves can land non-compliant children on the Naughty List. The frighteningly innocent-looking doll determines the children’s fate.
However, if you can’t trust the reporter, how can you trust the report?
You see, a cursory glance through Pinterest will reveal Elves leaving shelves to go on benders. They indulge in questionable behavior with other dolls, draw mustaches on family portraits, and engage in all sorts of unsavory activities. In my estimation, these dubious practices enacted in drawn-out tableaux across the United States call into question the credibility of the spy. In fact, I don’t understand the mentality behind inviting a spy into our homes to report on our minors’ activities. Heck, conspiracy theorists would take matters further, conjecturing the elfish invasion a seasonal inroad into the sanctity of the American household. How many parents are thus monitored? Is this laying the groundwork of acceptance of a Big Brother oversight?
In all honesty, though, the Elf on the Shelf freaks me out. His simple expression and magical mission leave me uncomfortable. Dolls are supposed to be kids’ playthings and friends. Trusted companions don’t turn against their playmates. They don’t snitch. They keep safe secrets and assist where they can. The Elf is no toy, though. There are no hugs or cuddles, because if a child once touches the elf, the magic is lost. The fear left by such a predicament remains “no messages to Santa, no presents.”
Some parents have used the Elf on the Shelf to inspire sycophantic devotion to the rules, since the kids know their actions are reported nightly. The old fairy tales also reinforced the ideas of rule-following for safety’s sake, but these are stories, not a physical presence in the home.
I have friends who wake in utter panic, realizing they forgot to move the thing. They lie abed, sweat cooling their skin, as they concoct what they hope will be a credible story for why the elf did not move. “He needed to reinforce that brushing your teeth is important,” they might say as their progeny purse their lips and narrow their eyes in disbelief. One friend maintains it is best her children become used to monitoring their actions. After all, with cameras capturing our every foible, people these days are wise to proceed through life with caution. Nobody wants to end up embarrassed on the internet.
But to me, home is meant to be a haven, a place where families can relax and speak candidly. Our silliness has free reign. Judgements should be pushed aside, and we should work together to navigate this complicated journey through life. Certainly, to each his own, but in my house, we will do so without any interfering spies.
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