Busted by the Elf…



… and by excellent grammar.

Having a November birthday means Chloe is flush with cash in December. She had wanted an Elf on the Shelf for a while. At 10, she still believes in the Tooth Fairy and Santa.

I think the Elf is a scam, and at $30 each I would never buy one, but she had the money and wore me down until I agreed to take her shopping (after trying to talk her into ordering one online). We planned for a weekend, but by Tuesday she was so anxious about missing the “deadline” for the Elf to arrive that I took her after school, after first calling the nearest Walmart, where, I was assured, they had them.

They lied. The next stop, Target, was out. At this point we went back home for further research. The J.C. Penney at the mall assured me that they did indeed have them in stock. By this time it was nearing 5, but we were on a mission. The traffic to and from the mall was blessedly manageable despite my worst fears.

We snagged the last boy elf. Chloe didn’t like the girl because she was too tarted up (my word). The plain blue-eyed boy suited her.

If you know nothing about this scam, um, kids’ delight, here’s the story: someone started a family tradition of having an elf appear in the house as a “scout” for Santa, since he can’t watch everyone. Every night the elf would fly off to the North Pole, return and land in a different location. It couldn’t be touched by humans; doing so would nullify the magic.

These very smart people marketed their little game, wrote a kids’ book to go with it and put it all in a glossy box, pretty much selling out every Christmas (after which they probably spent New Year’s in Tahiti).

Chloe named her elf “Max” and wrote his name on the “adoption certificate” included with the book. Using tongs, she immediately dropped him, catching him by the foot. The “treatment” for regaining magic was for him to lie on a red plate dusted with cinnamon.

My nightmare began. Chloe left Max notes and little treats. Each night, before I could go to bed, I’d write a reply; eat, hide or dispose of the treat; and find a new secure spot for him. (One night I stupidly put him within the dog’s reach, but he left Max alone.)

Max and his accouterments, before the big bust.

Max and his accouterments, before the big bust.

Writing notes and finding new locations continued nightly until December 18. I was careful to use a printing style completely different from mine, and like Marigold in the comic “Phoebe and her Unicorn,” Max wrote rather formally and never used contractions. He also answered questions vaguely (did he know certain other elves? Did he remember her friends from her old neighborhood?). Chloe showed some skepticism, asking me repeatedly if I was moving Max, if I was writing the notes. I was as evasive as Max, but basically denying everything.

As I was driving us home from church on the 18th, she kept at me, insisting I tell her the truth, and I spilled. Of course she was devastated and felt betrayed, and of course I felt horrible. She asked me about Santa as well, and I told her we weren’t having any more conversations about it.

We were invited to a Solstice party that afternoon, and I insisted we go even though she was heartbroken. I told a friend, a very smart, warm-hearted grandmother, who said some reassuring words to Chloe. On the way home she brightened, telling me she was kind of relieved and had guessed it was me because “Max” didn’t know the answers to some of her questions.

And she knew it had to be me because Max used such excellent grammar.

She still believes in Santa. By next Christmas she’ll be 11 and we’ll deal with it before then, but for now the subject is off-limits.

Max and his non-magical predecessor buddy. Now that he's "out" he can stay on the shelf all year. And we can touch him!

Max (right) and his non-magical predecessor buddy. Now that he’s “out” he can stay on the shelf all year. And we can touch him!



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