How to Set Your Kid’s Magic Elf on Fire and Watch Your Mother of the Year Award Go Up in Flames.

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Editor’s Note: For those of you who just can’t get the elf thing right, reading this ought to make you feel better. It’s one of the most popular essays from the book Just Kidding (not really), which contains 60 other tales highlighting my inferiorities as a parent human being. Download it to your Kindle or other e-reader for just $2.99. 


I’ve never committed stuffed animal arson before, but there’s a first time for everything. Technically, Alfie isn’t an “animal.” He’s a Christmas elf, actually a knock off of those expensive Elf on the Shelf dolls. He’s an elf, who’d have to spend the next six months in a burn unit if he were human.

Ya know, I thought there were already enough obligations heaped on us parents in the name of Christmas spirit. Class parties, Secret Santa gifts, work parties, Sunday school parties, team parties, neighbors-down-the-street-who-we-rarely-speak-to-parties, shopping for in-laws, getting the tree up, decorating the front lawn,  ringing the Salvation Army bell, baking for cookie exchanges, shopping for Santa, remembering stocking stuffers at the last minute, blah-blah-blah-to-the-fa-la-la-la-la.  I was managing it all adequately.

Then three years ago, some contemptible, overzealous mom, who had a few scraps of felt lying around, decided to create a multi-million dollar Christmas empire by adding 30 days’ worth of late night creative labor to our already running over seasonal platters.  Mrs. “Elf on the Shelf,” I hate you.

SOME NAMELESS FRIEND (whom I should’ve never started a conversation with): “Oh, Honey, what do you mean your boys don’t have magic elves? My kids’ elves are up to all kinds of shenanigans at night when Landon and Anna Grace are sleeping. They write Christmas messages on the bathroom mirrors in lipstick. They sprinkle sugar all over the counter and write the kids’ names in it. One night they even moved the Christmas tree outside in the front yard and redecorated it with toys collected for the needy. The kids can’t wait to wake up every morning to see what they’ve done. The elves are the best part of our Christmas season.”

ME: “These elves… do they create havoc every night?”

FRIEND: “Oh my, yes. Last night they hung all my freshly folded laundry on the ceiling fan in the living room.”

ME: “So, not to be an elf magic pooper, but you, yourself, make these messes and you also clean them up. Am I correct?”

FRIEND: “Well, yes. But, it’s so much fun. It’s the kind of magic the holidays are about.”

ME: “Creating outlandish messes, blaming them on a cheaply made stuffed doll and then having to clean it all up and do it again the next night. Yep, that’s the true spirit of Christmas.”

“And a mischievous, magical elf hid the kings’ gifts of frankincense, myrrh and gold throughout the stable, bringing the true Christmas spirit to Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus.”…said no Bible verse EVER.”

FRIEND: “Honey, go buy those boys some elves. I think somebody could use a little Christmas cheer.”

After noting the entire child population of Pine Forest Methodist Church and Northwest Laurens Elementary walking around with little green and red dolls, I caved and logged onto elf-magic.com to order two elves and add another part-time job to my daily life.

“$29.99!!! You have GOT to be freakin’ kidding me!!! No way am I spending $70.00 including shipping for felt scraps sewn together in a 10th grade Home Ec class, even if they do have birth certificates and issued names like Piper and Gumdrop!”

Luckily, a day later, in a local gift shop I ran across “Sort of Magic Elves.” Sure their faces were much larger than the Elf Magic elves and their bodies were rounder with a slightly dwarfish quality. But they were dressed in red and green, wearing pointy hats and shoes and cost only $12.95. I bought two of them and spent eight seconds naming them Elfie and Alfie.

At home, the boys loved their knock-off, discount elves, but refused to claim them in public. If they were younger siblings, Alfie and Elfie would have to walk 10 feet behind Andrew and Jack to school.

“Mom, the kids in my class were laughing at how big my elf’s head is. They say he’s stupid looking.”

“Oh yeah? Well, just tell them you’ve got an extra $18 in your college fund. Who’s stupid now?”

So the last two Christmas seasons have careened by with me remembering to execute elf escapades only about half the time and the boys wondering the rest of the time why Elfie and Alfie are so lazy. I tried to convince them that their elves have chronic fatigue syndrome which interferes with their productivity. I tried to make it into a lesson on loving others in spite of their limitations.

Even the activities I did plan for our elves were never as elaborate as that kid down the street whose mom has a goody bag making addiction.

In the morning I’d say “look boys, what are Elfie and Alfie doing in the garbage can? Those crazy little gnomes!”

Or “oh my goodness! Elfie and Alfie drank a whole bottle of wine last night.”

But this Christmas season has been different. I’ve been really trying. The boys were getting into it, just thrilled at what they’d find their elves doing every morning.

Even my husband James was having fun creating scenarios. It was all going so well…until…

Until I decided that Elfie and Alfie would have a wonderful time swinging on the chandelier above the breakfast table. The word chandelier sounds fussy and elegant. Technically it is a chandelier, but a really plain looking one with a few stoic, no-nonsense light bulbs. Bulbs that reach 3,000 degrees, apparently.

So, before going to bed, I positioned Elfie around the chandelier base, holding on rather tightly. (He was always the more cautious of the two.) And Alfie, higher up, leaning against a bulb, which in retrospect was a very bad idea. Satisfied with my stealthy ingenuity, I called it a night and tiptoed out of the kitchen, forgetting to flip off the light switch.

This was the error that became my undoing.

Apparently, Alfie’s face slowly roasted against the bulb for the next three hours, but things didn’t really start cooking until the smoke alarm went off at 2:29 am. As the famous poem goes… “I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.”

In the kitchen, a full bodied smoke cloud joined the blaring alarm to announce that something was indeed on fire. For a slight second I feebly hoped that Andrew or Jack or even a neighbor had sleep walked into the room, started making toast and then stumbled back to bed before it was ready. Bread is replaceable. Elf faces, not so much.

My wimpy toast theory fizzled at the sight of poor, smoldering Alfie, still balanced on the chandelier, but now with a light bulb searing its way through his right cheek.

Elfie looked on in horror, cursing the unfortunate fact that he was an inanimate object.

Two seconds before Alfie ignited into a ball of flaming Christmas cheer, James rushed over and violently jerked him down, leaving the chandelier and Elfie wobbling and swaying violently.

As I examined the elf’s charred face, scraping off the black part like it was a burned piece of toast, a sleepy Jack wandered into the room.

“ALFIE!!! What happened to him?”

“Well, if you were embarrassed by his appearance before, you’re gonna really be horrified now!” I wanted to snap. But I didn’t. Because that’s not what you do when dealing with your child and his stuffed burn victim.

So, thanks a whole, heaping lot, Mrs. Elf-on-the-Shelf Inventor! I can now add “arsonist” to my resume.

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