The Magic We Make for Our Children
“Why does the elf visit our house?”
It’s a question my nine-year-old daughter asked me this morning while I was flossing. She means the Elf on the Shelf, a slice of corporate industry holiday fruit cake so many of us have but nobody really wants.
I don’t think I have ever flossed as long as I had just then, trying to avoid answering the question sparked by the morning’s appearance of the red-coated stuffed fruit cake. But the longer I delayed, the more frequent and difficult the questions became.
“Does the elf’s visit mean I was bad, so Santa needs to watch me extra close?”
“Why doesn’t the elf visit any of my friends at school?”
“Can I invite Sarah over to see our elf? Her daddy said there is no such thing as an elf so I want to prove he’s wrong.”
Sure, I am delighted that my oldest kid is so relatively aged and yet still believes that a suddenly appearing, stuffed mythical creature whose hands are perpetually sewn together somehow channels the magic of an ancient bearded fat man who lives in an ice castle and delivers a hundred billion gifts on one night each year, dragged by wild flying deer, eating cookies and laughing all the way.
But also, by the time we made it downstairs for breakfast (bagels, oranges, apple slices, coffee) I had to put on a scene of contrived outrage that last night not one magical fairy-land visitor came to our house. But two. TWO.
Because, you see, my daughter happened to lose a tooth at school yesterday. And that means a visit from the Tooth Fairy. So I had to get angry because I wasn’t expecting so many nighttime visitors and the house was a mess and I didn’t even leave any snacks out.
“Why doesn’t anybody ask me before having all these people come over?” I ask in a huff, between bites of my bagel. The kids giggled and shrugged. They’re magic, daddy.
Also, it means my jar of (retirement) change is yet again diminishing by the handful. My seven year old lost three teeth last month alone.
Do you know, when I was a kid, I got a quarter per tooth? My wife is shoving handfuls of them under the pillows. My son bragged that once he got six dollars for a tooth. How do I explain to the older sister why his unbrushed and yellowed tooth was worth so much more than her pearl white tooth, a tooth that suffered two years of orthodontist care and another six months of a plastic night time retainer?
Life is not fair.
But back to the magic and lies. I’ve got fairies coming in through every nook and cranny. Yeah, it snowed last night, so Jack Frost must have swung by. Maybe they carpooled.
I am OK with telling my children fact from fiction, such as yesterday when the boy asked me why his classmate was so afraid of a movie called Friday the 13th, and immediately then he asked who Chucky was.
Kid, nothing to worry about. Those are scary movies, inappropriate for us to watch. They are definitely not real.
And by the way, thank you, network TV, for the graphic commercials for CSI: Murder-a-Week shows during Sunday afternoon football, so I can explain that to my kids. Son, he wasn’t really cut in half by the mailman.
No, television doesn’t help. I don’t mean just the commercials. Each Christmas show has a different story behind the source of Santa’s magic.
My favorite is one of those talking dog shows that says his magic comes from a weird green crystal hanging in an Arctic cave. Hello. Aliens! The old school shows (and Will Ferrel) explain that Santa’s magic apparently comes from the faith of children, which is best expressed through community singing. The Polar Express implies that you stop being able to sense the magic as you grow older (Can you hear the ringing sleigh bell, daddy? No. Here, let me ring it louder and closer to your ear. Ouch no, no that’s OK!).
Let’s bring it back to the good stuff. Oh, what’s that? Unicorns? Yes, certainly real. I mean, I have never seen one. But that doesn’t mean anything. Pixies? Duh. Mayor McCheese? Well …
And Santa Claus? The Tooth Fairy? I’m still all in. However, those lies never end, because the perpetual marketing machine of the holidays brings them up year after year, folding in new narratives, new origin stories, and new characters.
Like this stupid elf. So the lies get deeper, and then they double back on themselves, loop around, and we as parents must contort and flip to nail the landing. The older my children get, the more complicated the questions get, and then the more they press and persevere in trying to break down the magical into practical, understandable chunks.
Does Santa have a key to our house? No. Why doesn’t he give gifts to orphans? Uh… Can he see me when I am in the bathroom? What!?
My daughter actually closed the bathroom door this morning just in case. Whatever it takes to teach that kid some modesty.
So the Elf on the Shelf has arrived for another three week run of joy. And my wife and I will struggle each night to figure out a funny, wholesome, magical diorama set up that our cats won’t destroy by the morning. Yeah, Barbie and some Minions are definitely getting recruited. Flour snow angels, half-eaten cookie mix, miniature M&Ms. What the kids won’t see is me and the elf having a staring contest as I knock back a few whiskeys, a roll of duct tape in my quivering hand, as we try to keep ahead of the holiday magic and all of our lies.