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Shortly after Thanksgiving, I arrived home late and noticed a small plate of pretzels on the kitchen table. I thought nothing of it, figuring that dinner clean-up duties had been assigned to a kid who wasn’t what you would call “detail-oriented”.

The next morning, my third-grade daughter headed straight to the table, let out a sigh and said, “I guess they don’t like pretzels!”


“Elves. My friends say that if you put out a plate of crackers at night, your elf will come. We’re out of crackers, so I tried pretzels.”

I was aware of the recent trend where elves take up residence with kids before Christmas, but that was all I knew. And since I couldn’t be bothered with elves at such a busy time of year, I told my daughter how sorry I was that the pretzels didn’t work and promptly let the matter drop.

The elf thing would surely blow over.

However, the third-graders at my daughter’s school talked of nothing but elves, toted them to school, discussed elves’ magical properties and swapped tales of elf trickery.

Needless to say, the elf thing did not blow over. It all proved too much for my poor elf-less daughter, so she gave it another go.

The slightly more elaborate table setting included a large plate piled high with peanut-butter crackers, a small tea kettle filled with water, a teacup, a teaspoon and a hand-written letter. A plea, if you will, begging Santa to bring her a pocket elf since she has wanted one ever since she heard about them and hoping they liked peanut-butter crackers.

I did some thinking. I generally ignore my kids when they plead for whatever the latest trend is, arguing that owning one (or several) is necessary for their very survival. For example, my older kids remind me that when every other kid on the planet owned several dozen Neopets, they had exactly zero.

It’s a downright miracle that my kids have managed to survive such shocking deprivations.

But the elf question was a bit more complicated. This is likely the last year that my daughter would be a true Santa believer, and I hated to risk her losing the magic of believing a mere 10 days before Christmas. Plus, telling her the truth about elves would put her in a rather tricky position with her peers, who clearly believed. So I decided to take elf action.

Ella, elf No. 294, wrote my daughter a letter explaining that Santa would be delivering pocket elves the following night, that elves love peanut-butter crackers so please leave them out, and thanks so much for being patient with Santa and the elves at this very busy time of year.

My daughter was all smiles and giddiness and took Ella’s note with her to school so all of her friends would be apprised of her elf delivery schedule.

All that was left for me to do was acquire a pocket elf. Easy peasy.

Several phone calls and store visits and Internet searches revealed the disappointing fact that pocket elves could only be ordered online. And even overnight delivery —which was financially prohibitive — still wouldn’t deliver a pocket elf on schedule. Not a huge deal, though, because I could easily buy an Elf on the Shelf.

An elf is an elf, I reasoned.

So I carefully positioned my daughter’s new Elf on the Shelf and eagerly awaited her reaction the next morning. When she saw the cracker crumbs and empty tea cup, her face was jubilant. But when she spotted the elf peeking down on her from the corner of the kitchen, her face crumpled in despair.

That’s when I discovered that an elf is most definitely not an elf.

Tears ran down her cheeks, “That’s an Elf on the Shelf! Ella said Santa would bring a pocket elf! You can’t even touch an Elf on the Shelf or it will lose its magic. Why didn’t Santa bring what he said he’d bring?”

For the love.

Apparently, I had attached too little importance to the word “pocket.” I managed to convince my daughter that her elf wouldn’t lose its magic if she picked it up (the book says “might” lose its magic if touched, not “will”). I also explained that Santa may not have received Ella’s memo or that he might have gotten a little mixed up at this very busy time of year.

But he always, always means well.

My daughter seemed to understand.

Drying her tears, she brought PB&C (peanut butter and crackers) to school, where several third-graders cautioned her that its magic was in all probability lost forever.

Happily, PB&C’s magic remained intact, and so did my daughter’s belief.

I wondered for the upteenth time since I became a mom if I had made the right call. Sometimes I think it’s a downright miracle that my kids manage to survive me. Regrettably, I don’t always receive memos (like the one instructing me to order a pocket elf right before Thanksgiving). And sometimes I get a little mixed up, especially at very busy times of the year.

But I always, always mean well.

I hope my kids understand.