Tales of Our Elf on the Shelf

By Cheryl Maguire

“When is the elf coming to our house?” My two-year-old daughter asked me this question, and I had no idea what she was referring to at the time.

“Elves don’t come to our house, sweetie,” I told her. “They make toys at Santa’s workshop.” 

“Ella said her elf came to her house yesterday, and he goes back to Santa at night.”

I responded with a platitude like “that’s nice” and redirected her attention elsewhere. I thought— or rather hoped— that was the end of the conversation, but I soon learned I was merely at the beginning.

This was in 2007 when Elf on the Shelf was making his grand debut, and I was a naïve parent who thought the elf was cute in its colorful see-through box. But looks can be deceiving. The package should contain a large warning label stating: 

I may look cute, but I require an immense amount of time and creativity that will last for the next ten years or so. I also come with a lot of specific rules that must be followed. If you are not up for the challenge, take your hands off of the box and go buy a stuffed animal that only requires some occasional washing. Trust me, I’m not joking.

Even if that warning was listed, let’s be honest, I would have bought it anyway because who would believe that a stuffed elf would be more work than caring for a hermit crab or a newborn baby??

When my kids first met their elf— much like any pet requiring oodles of time and money (yes money–I’ll get to that later)— you have to choose a name.

I rattled off some suggestions of boy names that my husband had shut down when we were pondering baby names. I was excited that I might finally have a chance to have one of my favorite names selected.

“How about Gavin, Reese or Aiden?”

They responded the same as their dad did. 

“No way!”

After much deliberation, they settled on an extremely creative one— Elfie. Yeah, I wasn’t too impressed either. I’m guessing that probably ranks in the top five for elf names.

After the naming ceremony, I was about to remove Elfie from the box only to hear my daughter scream in terror.

 “NNNNOOOO, you can’t touch him mom or he will lose his magic.” 

I wonder how I could create the same rule for my phone.

So Elfie sat in the box, untouched, waiting to fly back to Santa to report on my children’s behaviors.

Now that is something that sounded good to me: a tattle tale elf who held a lot of power in the gift giving department.

What didn’t sound so great, and ended up becoming an enormous amount of work (just what I needed during the holiday season), is that the elf needs to be moved every night when I’m at my lowest level of functionality. Not only must he be moved, but he also needed to be posed in some funny or interesting manner, like zip lining across the living room on a candy cane or resting inside a snowman made of toilet paper rolls (you’re welcome if those ideas are new to you). 

And then my kids wanted to buy Elfie accessories like clothes, sleeping bags and cooking utensils. This year you can even buy your elf a mask, hand sanitizer and toilet paper. By the time we were done, Elfie had nicer PJs than I did.

It was all getting a little out of hand. I felt the need to outdo myself with Elfie’s hijinks since I didn’t want my kids to be disappointed. 

Every year my kids wanted Elfie to return earlier. I would roll my eyes and think of the extra work, but— like most mothers— I did it anyway.

Just like our pet hermit crab, Elfie grew on me over the years despite the extra time commitment. I tried to focus on my kid’s excitement when they searched for him instead of how I’d just spent an hour scouring the Internet for “Elf on the Shelf Ideas.

Last year my older kids barely uttered hello to Elfie, and they didn’t dare search for him. It was then that I realized how much I’m going to miss the guy when my youngest outgrows him. 

I still think he should come with a warning label about the huge time commitment, but I would be willing to add a disclaimer saying, “Okay I’ll admit it— it’s totally worth it.”

Cheryl Maguire holds a Master of Counseling Psychology degree. She is married and is the mother of twins and a daughter. Her writing has been published in The New York Times, Parents Magazine, AARP, Healthline, Your Teen Magazine, and many other publications. She is a professional member of ASJA. You can find her at Twitter @CherylMaguire05.