December 16, 2016
By Ekta R. Garg
It’s finally here. That time of year when we see a multitude of children’s faces upturned in that magic known as the holiday season. Tinsel, stockings, elves—all these things appear when we least expect them to.
Especially the elves. The elves show up on top of the mantle, sitting high on the Christmas tree, hanging from a chandelier. They steal cookies and Chex Mix and leave fun notes for the kids.
Sometimes the elves show up buried in a box in the back of the closet. And then the magic dies.
When we first moved to Illinois three years ago, I went to Target and bought an Elf on the Shelf. The girls were 7 and 5, the perfect ages to enjoy this part of the Christmas season. And they did. They named the elf Sarah, and, boy, if we didn’t have quite the time making sure Sarah made it around the house every night during December.
I even managed to pull off quite the coup when we got Sarah into the car two years ago and convinced the kids that she’d flown into our van to make the trip to Myrtle Beach with us for the winter break. Because it’s a 13-hour drive, we always stop about halfway and stay in a hotel for the night. Before we took all our stuff out of the car, I moved Sarah to a new position so that we could keep up the charade. The kids actually believed she’d moved during the course of the night.
So you would have thought that if I could pull that off, I could handle hiding Sarah when we moved to the new house this summer.
You would have thought, right? But you know what they say about the best laid plans. All my meticulous planning and organizing couldn’t hide the box from Target. In the course of unpacking everything after the move at the beginning of the summer, the kids found it. And it truly blew—them—away.
When I realized they’d found the box, dread flooded my heart. In almost 10 years of parenting, I’ve done a lot of thinking on my feet. I’ve made up so many things on the spot. But even the most creative writer’s mind wouldn’t have been able to explain this one away.
“You mean she’s not real??” Eight exclaimed, holding the elf with its frozen smile and eyes looking off to the side in an impish manner.
“You guys were the ones moving her around?” Ten echoed.
I only had one response, and it really didn’t help. I could hear Mary Poppins in my head chiding me for the way I behaved: “Close your mouth, please, we are not a codfish.”
“Does this mean Santa isn’t real either?” Ten asked, suspicion clouding her eyes.
“No, no, Santa’s real,” I said, my conviction sounding weak even to me. “It’s just that he wanted to give kids something fun to believe in.”
“I can’t believe she’s not real,” Eight repeated, crestfallen.
Ten took Sarah and put her on the window seat. “We had so much fun guessing where she would be every night.
“So who ate the cookies?” Eight asked, referring to one of the snacks the girls had left for Sarah.
“Well, Daddy took a couple of bites and then I put the rest away,” I admitted.
“And the Chex Mix?”
I told them I’d returned it to the pantry too.
Eight’s shoulders slumped. “She’s not real.”
I urged the girls to think about the fact that their father and I had wanted Christmas to be special, to be fun. I encouraged them to consider what a challenge it had been for the grownups in the house to find new places every night to set Sarah. They seemed slightly mollified but not by much.
“Look at it this way,” I said in a consoling tone. “Now that you know you can play with her, you two can take turns putting her in different places for each other to find.”
The shrugged in mild compliance at the idea. In the bright sunny days of summer, with Christmas still months away, it sounded like something fun to do. A way for them to enjoy the holidays in a new way.
Since the start of December, though, neither of the girls has mentioned Sarah. Not once. They used to talk excitedly about her arrival and wonder whether she would make it safely back to the North Pole every night.
Now their attention remains on other things.
I’m actually sad about the fact that they found out Sarah isn’t real. That’s probably what prompted the note Ten left for the Tooth Fairy a few weeks ago that ended with “P.S. I know you’re Mommy.” Although she hasn’t said anything about Santa, when she left her Christmas wish list on my nightstand last week I saw a similar note on the bottom of that: “I know you are Mommy and Daddy.”
Granted, Ten and Eight aren’t going to be kids forever. At some point they’d find out that while Saint Nicholas was a real person, Santa is not. But I really hoped they would have gotten the chance to believe in Christmas magic a few more years. It would have kept them younger a little longer. And they’re already growing up fast enough as it is.
I could have believed that my babies were still just that. My babies. Not these grinning faces with smarts well beyond their years and the snappy comebacks to match.
I wonder: if I start believing in Santa again, does that make up for all of this?