It’s that time of the year again. When I am forced to reevaluate my relationship with Ruby, our Elf on the Shelf. Like any relationship, Ruby and I have had our ups and downs.
I brought our first Elf home shortly after our kids started school. My daughter came home from school and told us about her friends’ Elves who were doing silly and mischievous things in their homes. It sounded like fun and like it could possibly be our new family tradition that the kids would remember fondly for the rest of their lives.
At first, I admit I was smitten with Ruby. It was fun thinking up funny and adventurous places for the kids to find her. One morning she was swinging from her ankles on the pendant light in our kitchen. Another morning she was discovered in a pile of chocolate chips after sneaking into the baking cupboard overnight. As we got deeper into December, my interest and energy waned and soon Ruby stopped pulling all-nighters. She wasn’t even moving.
After Christmas, I decided that the best thing for me was to chalk Ruby up to a parenting fail and move on. We would make different Christmas traditions—ones that were less guilt-inducing and created less resentment towards an inanimate object. I gave Ruby to a blended family who needed an Elf for each home and felt relieved that she was now someone else’s problem.
When the next December rolled around, my kids were confused about why Ruby hadn’t appeared yet. “Was it because we’ve been bad this year?” they asked. “Do you mean the time you tried to sell your brother for five cents? Yes, that probably had something to do with it,” I answered half-joking.
I was surprised they remembered Ruby. I started to doubt how I ended things with her. With the discomfort of the previous Christmas season far enough in the past, I headed back to the store for another Elf on the Shelf.
I know what you’re thinking. I’m a glutton for punishment and a very, very slow learner.
This second go-around with our Elf on the Shelf has left me feeling more frustrated than before but now my kids are invested and to break up with her again feels complicated. One morning I found a hand-written note and drawing from our eight-year-old daughter to Ruby with a thoughtful and kind message inside.
It read: Dear Ruby, I hope you get presets from Elfs. If you don’t, I got you one. This tiny gesture from my little girl allowed me to see that Ruby meant something to her and also that I should have ended things when I had the chance.
According to the book she comes with, Ruby is supposed to serve as Santa’s eyes and ears—watching for the children’s naughty and nice behaviour to report back to Santa with. As her name clearly suggests, she is supposed to do this from her superior vantage point of THE SHELF. Unfortunately for me and other parents, the societal expectation is to find creative and amusing places for the children to find Ruby in. THE SHELF is no longer good enough.
There are websites, Instagram and Facebook posts dedicated to Elves NOT on the shelf. These Elves are usually involved in some kind of mischief that is often not even kid-appropriate. What started as a simple holiday game of hide-and-seek for children has become an entire industry. This is problematic for parents like me who have to move their Elf to 24 clever locations for 24 nights in arguably the busiest month of the year.
Another small but notable problem with Ruby is her 11 months of leave. She can’t live in the Christmas box because she’s magic and is supposed to be in the North Pole for the remainder of the year. She has to be carefully stored away in a box not labeled “Christmas” until the following November 30th when you begin searching for her whereabouts.
And while remembering where you stored your Elf is challenging, the real difficulty with the Elf on the Shelf is remembering to move it. After a long day with kids and the multitude of other jobs that need to get done before your head hits the pillow, the Elf on the Shelf is one more job. There have been several nights when I’ve been tucked into bed only to realize that I didn’t move the effing Elf. There have been even more nights when I just plain forgot. It is in those moments that I truly resent this skinny red waif and plot her banishment from our home.
At the heart of the matter though, is my doubt as to the value of her actual job. If she is supposed to be Santa’s eyes and ears, watching out for bad behaviour, why is she herself getting into mischief? The only message I can imagine my kids get from seeing Ruby in a mess of her own making is that she’s just like them and therefore not someone they need to impress.
Instead of a role model, my kids have an accomplice.
To truly live up to her life’s purpose, Ruby should be setting a good example for our children. I would like my children to find her doing the chores I so often have to nag them to do. Imagine if they found Ruby taking it upon herself to empty the dishwasher without being asked, making her own lunch or cleaning up the Lego. That kind of goody-two-shoes behaviour may be just the ticket to turn my kids against Ruby forever.
Possibly the surest sign that a relationship is doomed is when you start to resent the mere presence of the other person. As I write this, we are a few weeks away from the holiday season and I can already feel the stirrings of resentment. I long for the simpler days when the chocolate Advent calendar was magic enough.