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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Elf on the Shelf: For lazy/busy/exhausted parents, precious memories are too darn costly

By Tyler Wilson For The Spokesman-Review

Some elves on shelves are lazy.

Social media is flooded with images of clever and mischievous elves making the holiday season joyous for children of energetic parents. Kudos to those elves, really. Because some elves, and some parents, are just too tired to execute precious memories in the wee hours of the night.

To the uninitiated, “The Elf on the Shelf” is a 2005 children’s book by Carol Aebersold and her daughter Chanda Bell, and illustrated by Coë Steinwart. It describes the tradition of “scout” elves who stay with families during the holiday season to keep an eye on kids for Santa’s Naughty or Nice List.

With each book, a family is “gifted” a doll-like scout elf that doesn’t move during the day but leaves for the North Pole each night before finding a new place to spy somewhere in the house.

While probably the source of endless fun for many families, our family elf, Molly, more often behaves like the parents of the children she watches. She seems exhausted and, honestly, unwilling to put much effort into four children, all age 6 and under, after 9 p.m. That DVR’d episode of “Shark Tank” isn’t going to watch itself.

Molly doesn’t get into mischief. She doesn’t leave treats or make crafty Christmas decorations. She might leave the occasional note or even take a picture back to the North Pole. But mostly, she moves from one unspectacular spot in the house to the next. Usually somewhere high, away from the hands of toddlers who don’t understand the rules.

A common phrase on many December mornings is, “Where’s Molly? Oh, she’s back on the tree again.”

It’s usually those mornings when I’ll open Facebook to see pictures of other family’s elves riding trains, taking baths or writing messages in Cheerios. Oh look, Froggle made a gingerbread house in the middle of the night! Nobody likes a show-off, Froggle.

For a few moments, I feel bad. I feel like I should either commit to the bit or simply kick Molly out of the house for good. If anything, it would be a good first lesson in privacy rights and the ramifications of the police state.

Then I stroll through (insert major department store here) and am reminded of the true meaning of “Elf on the Shelf.” It’s a moneymaker. It makes gobs of money off parents desperate to make the Christmas season special for their children.

To be clear, I don’t have a problem with “Elf on the Shelf” making money. Really, it’s an ingenious idea most of us wish we had first. But that doesn’t mean we all have to play the game the same way, nor do we have to buy-in to all the secondary Elf merchandise and expansion packs currently on the market.

Just a sampling:

An assortment of “Claus Couture” elf outfits (priced around $10 for each tiny piece of clothing).

Elf Pets Book Set – A reindeer that uses hugs from children to create the magic that will help them fly.

An activity guide and elf project starter to help lazy parents like me.

Elf on the Shelf Birthday edition – A new story about the elf visiting on birthdays.

Elf Pets St. Bernard edition – Comes with a St. Bernard plush with a barrel on its collar that stores magic created from the kindness of children (admittedly a better message than, “Be good or else!”).

While the expansion of the brand speaks to its popularity, the folks behind “Elf on the Shelf” are obviously finding new ways to monetize what began as a single-purchase product. It works better than saying, “Buy a new elf for each kid,” because no way am I dealing with four of those creepy things in my house.

Ultimately, “The Elf on the Shelf” can still be a magical experience for your kids even if your elves just aren’t that into it. It’s OK if your elf moves from one unimaginative location to the next (stocking to stocking buys us six days). It’s OK if your elf doesn’t know how to cut out paper snowflakes or bake cookies.

Newcomers to the tradition should pace themselves their first year. It all seems so easy with one kid, but by child No. 4, you’re lucky to feed yourself or make it to your own bed at night.

If you’ve already done too much in years past, don’t worry. The family elf could always break a leg or catch a cold or really anything that will slow her down for a few weeks. Life happens.

So switch off the social media (like you don’t need 2017 other reasons to do so), spare yourself the stress and let your elf off the hook this holiday season. She won’t be alone.