I see you giving me that knowing smile that says you think it’s just because I’m one of those people who rejects anything Christmasy that doesn’t have to do with Christ. Well, you would be wrong. It took me a while, but I realized that I can’t mess Christmas up, even if I include you. No, I have other beefs with you, Mr. Elf.
You’re expensive. I was introduced to you innocently enough. You appeared in my “Recommended for You” list on Amazon. I was drawn in by your five-star rating and didn’t balk at the $20+ price tag because I figured I was missing out on something fantastic! Without any idea of what you were, I bought you with one click.
When you arrived, I read the book to the kids and started hiding you around the house so you could report on their behavior to Santa. The kids really seemed to think it was fun, so I did, too. I remember thinking how it would spoil the fun if the kids found you tucked among the Christmas decorations the following year, instead of at the North Pole with Santa. So I hid you really, really well. I hid you so well that I couldn’t find you the next year. I looked everywhere. By the time I admitted that I wasn’t going to find you, Amazon was out of stock. How on earth would I explain to my kids that the elf wouldn’t be visiting that year?
I searched for a local bookstore that carried the Elf on the Shelf and still had a Caucasian one in stock. I suppose I could have concocted a story about why our elf’s skin color had changed, but not one that would have explained why it had changed permanently. I could imagine my kids talking, “Remember when our elf used to be light-skinned?” When I arrived at the store, I found you among many elf brothers. I sighed with relief that I wouldn’t have to explain you were a fake…until I realized I was spending another $20+ for you. Now, not only would I be hiding you from my kids, but my husband, too. He wouldn’t have approved of the extra expense. Even though my mother taught me lying was okay at Christmas, I was starting not to like you.
You provoke comparisons. That first year, my kids thought you were so fun, they told their neighbor friends. Their mother told me she had felt compelled to buy you, too. She is the organized type who would never lose you, so I didn’t feel too guilty about that.
What I wasn’t happy about, though, was the year the kids said you’d already visited the neighbors’ house, but not ours. And why was that exactly, they wanted to know? I didn’t say what I really thought, which was that the neighbor had just two kids and a white couch. White! And it’s stayed white. Of course, her elf had arrived right on time, whenever that was. When my daughter asked when you would start coming this year, I didn’t know. When she asked if it would be December 1st, I said, “Absolutely!” and hoped that’s when my neighbor would retrieve you from your perfect, dust-free storage spot.
The comparisons you provoked between me and my neighbor were bad enough. But then came Pinterest. These women not only found you every year, but found time to build a new creative setting for you each day. Instead of just sitting or hanging around like you do at my house, in these Martha Stewart-inspired fantasies, you can be found fishing and cooking and more with elf-sized equipment. Check out this pin, for example.
I wonder if these women even have kids! How on earth do they find time to come up with the ideas, buy the supplies they need, and assemble the scenes when the kids weren’t around (and take pictures of the whole thing) when I struggle to get dinner on the table? And I’m at home all day! Whenever I feel like a Pinterest craft failure, I’ve consoled myself with the idea that I’m fairly funny. Apparently, I’m not. I could never come up with something like this:
It used to be that I’d be irritated by pictures of perfectly-proportioned women on SHAPE Magazine. Now I’m annoyed when I see pictures of you, grinning from ear to ear, in your Better Homes decorated respites and your comical situations. I wonder what’s wrong with me that I can’t create Elf pictures worthy of entry into my local paper’s contest.
You have to be moved. On Christmas Eve, when I’m exhausted from laying out gifts for six kids, a husband, and a dog, I have to remember to move you to storage, because you are supposedly at the North Pole. I’ve already learned not to hide you too well, so I’ve taken to hiding you in my underwear drawer. The kids never dig around in there and there’s no chance I’ll forget where you are. That’s the only reason I keep you there. Seriously. As annoyed as I am by how expensive you’ve been and the comparisons you’ve provoked, I’m really irked that during the Christmas season, you have to be moved every single day. And without the kids seeing, of course. My kids are night owls which means that I have to get up early and remember to move you.
My children have wanted to know on more than one occasion why you haven’t moved. I didn’t tell them the truth that I forgot because I was tired, because I overslept, because I was thinking of all the other things I had to get done that day, because I’m not the neighbor with a clean white couch or any of those Elf-crazy pinners. Instead, I distracted them. “Hey kids, should we watch a Christmas movie tonight?” Or I said that you stayed in one place because they were being particularly naughty there. I don’t even remember what I said, honestly. I just know that I really, really didn’t like you at those times.
I have tried to dish off the responsibility for you to my husband. In fact, last night as I knew he would be getting up before me, I asked him to be sure to move you. He grunted in response. This morning when he started to leave the room, I panicked and said, “Remember the elf.” He just laughed. When I came downstairs after unsuccessfully trying to get back to sleep, he was gone, but you were in the same spot. You’re still smiling. Do you think that’s funny?
You have to be believed. I can see you think I should just tell the kids you’re not real if I’m not happy. We both know that won’t work. My friend had me feeling so guilty one year for “lying” to my children about Santa, that when my son said, “There’s no Santa. It’s you and Dad,” I said, “Yes, you’re right.” He was shocked and crying and furious that I had taken that sense of wonder away from him. Now I live in fear of my adult children commiserating, “Remember when Mom told us the elf wasn’t real?” I just can’t do it. Not to mention that my mother told me it was okay not to believe in Santa. I just wouldn’t get any gifts from him then. So I still believe. Promise, Mom!
I have this terrifying vision of me waking up early for the next ten years to hide you before my youngest, now 8, gets up. Or more likely, forgetting to hide you before the youngest gets up and him rolling his eyes. I won’t know if it’s because he wonders why I can’t remember to move you to a new place for a month or why I’m still playing with a felt and plastic doll so many years after the neighbor quit.
Okay, I’m going to tell the truth, even though it’s Christmas. I know I will be sad when there’s no one here to hide you for–when you’re sitting in dust-covered storage in plain sight, year after year. But I have another vision of the future that thrills me. The first child that has a baby shower will be receiving you all wrapped up in pastel paper.
I still don’t like you, but I will thoroughly enjoy moving you to my child’s house. Believe it.
What is it about the holidays that makes us want to be close to family? Close enough to beat them over the head with a turkey drumstick anyway.
I would argue it’s the food.
The Food Fight History is a Long One
All our problems began with food.
We were cursed after Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, yes. But more salient to this discussion, the first marital spat then ensued over who caused whom to blow their specific-fruit-free diet.
One brother stabbed the other in the back when the Father liked the food he brought to the table better.
The Israelites complained about nothing more than the lack of food variety in the desert.
And early Christians bickered over what foods were okay with God to eat.
The Food Fights Continue
Today, everyone seems to have their own diet: organic, vegan, raw, allergy-free, clean, low-carb, low fat, sugar-free, two-year-old (only what you don’t want me to eat) and my dad’s favorite–seefood (you eat only what you can see).
While it can be annoying to accommodate all these preferences and necessary restrictions, the friction we have about food in our families isn’t really about the food.
But you just said it WAS about the food.
I know. Irritating. If I were your family member, I’d give you plenty of reasons to come after me with that drumstick.
It’s NOT about the food, but we act as though it is. Why?
It’s easier to gossip about Aunt Ginny bringing one can of corn to the feast than it is to admit she’s disconnected from the family, much less to wonder why.
It’s easier for your sister-in-law to complain about your cooking than it is to admit she’s incredibly jealous of you.
It’s easier to complain about the food being cold than it is to talk to your brother about showing up late for every gathering.
Food becomes a displacement for hurts and hostilities that are too threatening to admit or deal with. Remember that next time someone asks you to stab them a potato.
Stuffing: the Ultimate Food Fight
There may be no food more subject to personal preference than stuffing. You love it, you hate it. You make it from a box or from scratch. You have regular, cornbread, or gluten-free. You put in giblets, sausage, cranberries, or none of the above. You drench it in gravy or you don’t.
And most people think their stuffing (even if that’s NO stuffing) is the best stuffing. Why?
Because stuffing represents the holidays and holidays represent family and deep down we’re all still little kids who believe my-dad-is-bigger-than-your-dad and my-mom-cooks-better-than-your-mom and we’re willing to get a black eye to prove it.
Don’t believe me?
How do you feel if I tell you that my mother’s stuffing recipe is hand’s down the BEST stuffing ever? As you scan down to check out the recipe, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that YOUR (family’s) recipe is better or that I’m stupid to even eat stuffing. Am I right?? Am I, huh?
My Mom’s Best Ever Stuffing
1 Box Turkey flavor Stove Stop Stuffing Mix
1 package hot dog buns, torn into 1/2 finger-length pieces and left out overnight
1/2 loaf of bread, torn into 1/2 finger-length pieces and left out overnight
Tear up bread and leave out overnight to dry. The next day, preheat oven to 350F. Grease or spray one oven-proof, deep casserole dish if you plan to stuff your turkey or two dishes if you don’t. Saute celery and onions in butter until almost transparent. Meanwhile, put Stove Top stuffing, sage, and eggs on top of stale bread. Add sauted onion and celery. Warm 32-oz chicken broth on medium heat and pour on top of bread and mix well. Add additional chicken broth until it’s soupy. You’ll think it’s too watery, but if you bake it without enough liquid, your stuffing will be dry. If you plan to stuff your turkey, first make sure the stuffing and turkey are the same temperature (both warm or both chilled). Bake stuffing for one hour, covering with foil the last 20 minutes.
Beyond Stuffing It: How to Avoid the Family Food Fights This Year
You can’t control whether a family member forgets the rolls, whether Uncle Dave has a few too many, or even if your mother-in-law makes a nasty face when she bites into your dish. But you can control YOU and that’s a lot.
Don’t Confront at the Holidays. Thanksgiving and Christmas are a little like weddings. Most people wouldn’t think of starting something with the bride before she walks down the aisle. Why? Because all her hopes and dreams are pinned on that day that she will remember forever. Your family has high hopes for happy holidays, too, and they are remembered like no ordinary days. Do you want everyone to remember the Christmas of 2012 as the one where you finally lost it and told the big mouth off and sent her running in tears to her car after having too much to drink in a snow storm… You get the idea. Save any necessary confrontations for a less emotional time.
Keep Your Expectations Under Control. We’d be better off watching the beginning of A Christmas Carol than the end before a family holiday. Unfortunately, people aren’t on their best behavior at this time of year; they’re usually at their worst. They’re tired, stressed, strapped for cash, bombarded with the temptations of food and alcohol, and feeling pressured to eat someone else’s substandard stuffing (i.e., yours). Instead of envisioning a scene of peace and joy, imagine you’re walking into a room of toddlers who’ve gone without a nap. If you get out of there without raising your voice or hitting someone, you’re doing well.
Avoid Resentment. 1 Corinthians 13 says that our good deeds are worthless without love. If you’re going to be bitter about hosting the holiday ONE MORE TIME or if it makes you crazy that your lovely homemade gifts aren’t appreciated, don’t do it. Avoid doing or giving anything that will make you resentful. Romans 12:18 says as much as possible, as far as it depends on you, to live at peace with everyone. Sometimes that requires avoiding someone. Keeping suggestion #1 in mind, either avoid seeing someone if it won’t create undue conflict or spend the majority of your time talking with people who don’t push your buttons.
Create Your Own Holiday. Even if you’re single, you can plan a celebration to include the food, decorations, and mood of your choosing. Don’t limit yourself to a certain day either. Would you like to have a peaceful Thanksgiving meal with friends or with just your immediate family? Plan it for another time so you won’t mind as much if the family holiday itself isn’t all you hoped.
Invite a Loving Family Member. Cain took it personally that God didn’t approve of his offering, but deep down Cain knew it was because he hadn’t brought what God asked. God absolutely loves your stuffing, even if that’s no stuffing at all. Invite Him to your holiday celebrations this year and you won’t even notice all the racket the relatives are raising. Spend extra time in prayer and worship, asking God to help you be on your best behavior. I know He will.
I plan to take my own advice this year, but I want to hear from you. What do you do to make family holidays less stressful? Please share in the comments.
I’m a psychologist, and as such, I try to present myself as being mentally healthy. That facade will be put to rest today.
There are only two things that make me anxious and I experienced them both together as I traveled home from a speech tournament with my oldest son yesterday.
The first thing that gets my OCD juices flowing is public restrooms. I really, really hate using them. It isn’t so much that I am afraid that I will pick up germs from someone as it is that I’m grossed out thinking about who has been in there before me and what they’ve been doing. I am not going to try to justify my abnormality. I tell you this only to explain the events of the day.
As I boarded the plane, I was feeling the call of nature mildly. I have an exceptionally big and strong bladder from years of avoiding using public restrooms. I figured I could certainly make it until the plane landed, at which point I would be forced to use a public restroom at the next airport. Later is always better when you’re anxious.
I smartly refused all beverages on the plane, but it was too late for my bladder because I had had a coffee drink before boarding. I debated with myself for a good hour about whether or not I could survive more than a three-hour flight without using the restroom. The stakes were high. Literally. While I have a distate for public restrooms, I have an all-out aversion for airline bathrooms. I believe in all my 43 years, I have used one once. The experience imprinted upon me the necessity of avoiding a repeat performance.
Anyone who shares my disgust for public toilets does not need me to explain why I was flipping out at the prospect of having to use the bathroom on the plane. But for the rest of you, I will give details.
Men are using the same restroom
It’s the size of a casket
The flush is a massive suction effect that threatens to take you with it
Impossible to hover
No bathroom attendant keeping things neat
The other horrors I got to experience firsthand. As I saw over an hour left in the flight, I knew that the misery of holding it had surpassed the misery of the airplane toilet experience. I got up and started making my way to the back. Right then the man sitting behind me decided he would go too. Wonderful. He was in front of me. Standing up made me realize that I really, really had to go.
The toilets were both occupied. For. a. long. time. The only thing that made it better was that the man who was going to use the toilet before me looked just as uptight as I felt. Finally one opened up and he entered. Meanwhile, a sizable line formed behind me. Another bladder age passed and I was finally able to get in there. That’s when my second source of anxiety kicked in: turbulence.
I hate turbulence. It brings to mind all those horrifying airplane crashes I’ve experienced with Tom Hanks, the cast of Lost, and others. The worst turbulence I had experienced personally was a dramatic loss of altitude after flying out of Philadelphia immediately post-9/11. People were screaming. My anxiety level was a 12 on a 1-10 scale.
In that frame of mind, I locked the door and felt like I was in an outhouse connected to the back of a speed boat. The ride was so bumpy that I was doing well to stand up at all. There wasn’t any way I could even get my pants down. It wasn’t long, however, before I realized that I better get busy or the anxiety would finish the job for me, toilet or no.
I’ve already mentioned that you can’t hover in an airplane restroom. I was hopeful that I could at least put toilet paper on the seat. As I tried in vain to get the paper to stick, my third fear kicked in. I wondered what on earth the poor full-bladdered souls in line were thinking of me. As the plane continued to bounce through the air, I realized that any germs I would get on my hiney couldn’t kill me because the plane crash would get me first. I sat down, did my business, cleaned up, and made my way back to my seat, physically and emotionally relieved.
I was actually kind of proud of myself for overcoming my fear. (Pathetic, I know, as I was forced into it). The turbulence calmed down and in no time at all, we prepared to land. That’s when the pilot came on the intercom and announced that there was “weather” at the airport and that we would be in a holding pattern.
Fear number four kicked in: tornadoes. Our airport was recently damaged in a tornado. I wondered how terrifying it must have been for the passengers who were on planes as those storms went through. I reassured myself that we were safe and sound in a holding pattern. Until the turbulence kicked in again.
I called to mind all my psychology tricks to get me through the next 30 minutes of turbulence and announcements that we still couldn’t land because of “weather.” I wondered if this was akin to calling cancer a “health matter.” I praised God from A to Z, imagined myself back home and hugging my kids, took deep breaths, relaxed my tense muscles, and reassured myself that crashing wouldn’t be painful. Hopefully. All of these things really did help and we were finally able to land without incident.
I headed to the restroom once in the terminal, delighted to see that they had automatic plastic covers on the toilets. I sat down gleefully and relieved myself. After I stood up, I read the instructions for the plastic covers indicating how to get a new clean cover–instructions that I hadn’t used. Oh well.
I praise God that He got me home safely to my beloved family last night, dirty hiney and all.
Can you relate to any of my fears? If so, do you have any tips for dealing with them?
Don’t miss another funny pin. Follow my humor board on Pinterest!
Sometimes when we’re in a nose dive, all we need is a little humor. I tried to find the original source for this with no luck. But at least I am crediting the author.
My little guy, Cade, is quite a talker. He loves to communicate and does it quite well. He talks to people constantly, whether we’re in the library, the grocery store or at a drive-thru window.
People often comment on how clearly he speaks for a just-turned-3-year-old. And you never have to ask him to turn up the volume. It’s always fully cranked. There’ve been several embarrassing times that I’ve wished the meaning of his words would have been masked by a not-so-audible voice, but never have I wished this more than last week at Costco.
Halfway through our shopping trip, nature called, so I took Cade with me into the restroom. If you’d been one of the ladies in the restroom that evening, this is what you would have heard coming from the second to the
Mommy, are you gonna go potty? Oh! Why are you putting toiwet paper on the potty, Mommy?
Oh! You gonna sit down on da toiwet paper now?
Mommy, what are you doing? Mommy, are you gonna go stinkies on the potty?’
At this point I started mentally counting how many women had been in the bathroom when I walked in. Several stalls were full … 4? 5? Maybe we could wait until they all left before I had to make my debut out of this stall and reveal my identity.
Cade continued, ‘Mommy, you ARE going stinkies aren’t you? Oh, dats a good girl, Mommy! Are you gonna get some candy for going stinkies on the potty?
Let me see doze stinkies, Mommy! Oh … Mommy! I’m trying to see in dere.
Oh! I see dem. Dat is a very good girl, Mommy. You are gonna get some candy!’
I heard a few faint chuckles coming from the stalls on either side of me. Where is a screaming
new born when you need her? Good grief. This was really getting embarrassing. I was definitely waiting a long time before exiting.
Trying to divert him, I said, ‘Why don’t you look in Mommy’s purse and see if you can find some candy We’ll both have some!’ ‘No, I’m trying to see doze more stinkies. Oh! Mommy!’ He started to gag at this point. ‘Uh
oh, Mommy. I fink I’m gonna frow up. Mommy, doze stinkies are making me frow up!! Dat is so gross!!’
As the gags became louder, so did the chuckles outside my stall. I quickly flushed the toilet in hopes of changing the subject. I began to reason with myself: OK. There are four other toilets. If I count four
flushes, I can be reasonably assured that those who overheard this embarrassing monologue will be long gone.
‘Mommy! Would you get off the potty, now? I want you to be done going stinkies! Get up! Get up!’ He grunted as he tried to pull me off.
Now I could hear full-blown laughter. I bent down to count the feet outside my door.
‘Oh, are you wooking under dere, Mommy? You wooking under da door? What were you wooking at, Mommy? You wooking at the wady’s feet?’ More laughter. I stood inside the locked door and tried to assess the situation.
‘Mommy, it’s time to wash our hands, now. We have to go out now, Mommy.’
He started pounding on the door. ‘Mommy, don’t you want to wash your hands? I want to go out!!’
I saw that my ‘wait ’em out’ plan was unraveling. I sheepishly opened the door, and found standing outside my stall, twenty to thirty ladies crowded around the stall, all smiling and starting to applaud. My first thought was complete embarrassment, then I thought, ‘Where’s the fine print on the ‘motherhood contract’ where I signed away every bit of my dignity and privacy?’ But as my little boy gave me a big, cheeky grin while he rubbed bubbly soap between his chubby little hands, I thought, I’d sign it all away again, just to be known as Mommy to this little fellow.
(Shannon Popkin is a freelance writer and mother of three. She lives with her family in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she no longer uses public restrooms)