Getting An Elf On The Shelf Is My Greatest Regret As A Parent

Why did I do this to myself?

Written by Laura Onstot
Emma Chao/Scary Mommy; Getty Images/Shutterstock

My decision to participate in Elf on the Shelf was one I made lightly, like so many parenting decisions. The doll looked cute, and many of my friends had opted into the tradition, so I was sold. Also, I like buying things off Amazon. I selected the female version and clicked “buy,” cementing the most regrettable choice of my life.

When our elf arrived, I positioned her in my daughters’ bedroom when they weren’t home. Next to her, I placed a note, scrawled in my best elf handwriting, “Sup, motherf*ckers. I’m your elf. I like to sit on shelves. Unfortunately, your house doesn’t have many, so I’ll just sit on whatever I can find.” (At the time, they were too young to read, and it was early enough in my elf journey that I was still having a little fun.) When the girls got home that evening, they were fighting.

“Hey!” I said, my eyes widening. They paused their screaming to look at me. I whispered, “Did you hear that?!” Their eyes narrowed, suspicious this was a tactic to stop their fight. It obviously was. “Did you hear sleigh bells?” I asked with increasing intensity.

We were all quiet until my youngest whispered, “I think I just heard footsteps upstairs.”

I encouraged them to go investigate. Because, when it comes to having an intruder in our house, I’m not interested in handling the situation myself. I’d rather send my children out first, much like penguins, who push one unlucky colony member into the ocean to see if a seal is waiting to eat them.

The girls were delighted to find the elf, creepily sitting on their bedroom bookshelf. They brainstormed name ideas: Cinnamon, Kandy Kane, and Ho Ho. (Lots of great burlesque names, really.) After my husband and I nixed many, we finally settled on “Sparkles.” The girls wondered where they’d find her the next morning.

Sh*t. I hadn’t thought about the next morning. Because of course you have to move the Elf every single day.

Here’s where I step up on a soapbox to tell you what I truly believe: The Elf on the Shelf is a case of false advertising. If all I had to do was let my elf sit on a shelf, I’d be fine. It’s the whole move-your-elf-around-each-night bullsh*t that I wasn’t mentally prepared for. And man, do you have to move that elf.

Some nights I’d wake up suddenly, popping out of bed. “Sparkles,” I’d mumble to myself, “must move.” Sometimes I wouldn’t remember until I heard a kid's feet on the stairs in the morning. “Nooooo!” I’d think, my cortisol levels skyrocketing, “I can’t ruin Christmas magic!” I’d go full ninja mode, sprinting on my tiptoes, acquiring the elf, and chucking her into another room. “Why is Sparkles shoved into the Christmas tree?” our youngest asked one morning. “Maybe she’s hiding,” I replied. Eventually, I set an alarm on my phone each night, so I’d remember to move Sparkles before I went to bed.

And speaking of going to bed, I hadn’t factored in the bedtime madness either. Suddenly bedtime was 24 minutes longer, thanks to a barrage of Elf-related questions. When I finally freed myself from their room, I feared the girls would come downstairs, unable to sleep, after I’d moved the elf. The whole thing would unravel. I pictured it: “DID YOU MOVE SPARKLES?” they’d shout as I stood frozen, panicked. I’d try to lie, but they would know. Just like they knew when I ate the last Fruit Roll Up.

And as everybody with an Instagram account knows, other parents go all out, posing their elves with creative props, sometimes staging entire scenes. “Look, our elf is taking a bubble bath, and, oopsies, accidentally filled the entire bathroom with bubbles! How funny is that?” Who’s cleaning that disaster? That’s all I can think. The most creative I’ve ever gotten was sticking our elf into the center of the toilet paper roll, which obviously wasn’t on the toilet paper holder, because who the f*ck has time for that.

Whenever I forget to move Sparkles, my daughters begin to obsessively wonder if they accidentally touched her. (The Elf loses its magic if touched by a human.) And then they go down rabbit holes, which become increasingly more over-the-top: “Mom, did you accidentally bump Sparkles?” “Dad, I know you hit Sparkles over the head with your golf club!” My girls worry Sparkles lost her Christmas magic, and I worry I’ll snap and decapitate Sparkles, leaving in her a pool of fake blood for them to find the next morning. They compulsively check her position, and I compulsively set alarms on my phone so I don’t forget to move her.

I’m fully engulfed in another Christmas lie. Now I need to have two entirely different sets of fake handwriting: Santa handwriting and Elf handwriting. And there are two entirely different sets of notes, too. One’s the ruthlessly honest draft I write in my head, and the other is what I actually put in the notes. I think, "You and your sister fight way too f*cking much," but I write "Remember to always be kind!" Instead of "Your mom is a goddamn hero," I write, "Santa is so impressed by your mom's behavior." Because I’m not above giving myself a little credit, here, even if it’s spoken through a foot-long elf from hell.

Christmas magic, my ass.

Laura Onstot writes to maintain her sanity after transitioning from a career as a research nurse to stay-at-home motherhood. In her spare time, she can be found sleeping on the couch while she lets her kids binge-watch TV. She blogs at Nomad’s Land, or you can follow her on Twitter @LauraOnstot.