By Keri Plassmann Crocco, Contributor
Last night I couldn’t find my phone, and my 10-year-old daughter offered to help me look for it.
We checked in my bag, in the car, and finally under my bed. I had forgotten that a few weeks ago I hastily tossed the Elf on the Shelf box, full of elf, under that same bed. She found it, and I knew it the second I heard her voice.
“Mom?” she called, a slight creak as she adjusted herself on her knees. “Mom, why is this Elf on the Shelf box here under your bed?”
I froze as I heard her pulling the box toward her, the hairs on my arm raising like they were the fibers of the rug that the box moved across. She knew the answer in that instant, but she had a hopeful look as our eyes met across opposite sides of the bed. I couldn’t keep the fear and pain from my own eyes; I couldn’t protect her from the truth of the situation. It was then that she really knew, and the crack in the dam began to burst.
She pulled the box out completely, opened it, looked for a quiet moment at the elf inside. And in that moment, I watched the magic start to rush out of her. She looked at me, and then collapsed fully onto her knees, her head on the floor, and big hard sobs pushed their way out of her lungs. I was frozen there on the other side of the bed. I couldn’t see anything but the top of her heaving shoulders.
I had to go to her, to help soften the blow, and I came around to put my hand on her back. She heard me approach and flung her hand up behind her. I stopped, and she got up and ran to the living room. I stood there alone, trying to decide how much time to wait before joining her. It felt like an eternity, listening to my child sob from another room, but knowing she needed space to process what had just happened.
And that she needed to do it without me.
When I couldn’t wait another second, I went into the living room and curled up next to her on the couch. She had covered herself in a big fluffy blanket, and I tucked it under her back, her legs, swaddling her. I didn’t dare lift it off of her head. I just lay there and waited, listening to her heartbroken sobs. All of the sadness of my own “finding out” moment rushed back to me, all of the anger I felt at being lied to for so long, the object of a cruel deception. It silenced me. All I could do for my own child–my youngest child, my baby–was listen and wait.
When she did speak, it was a choked apology.
“I’m so sorry, Mommy. I’m so sorry I was mad at you.”
Oh dear lord! Why was this child apologizing to me?? I told her I was sorry, too, that she was right to feel angry and sad and confused, and that this was one of the hardest moments of being a kid. I told her she could ask me any questions she wanted. She nodded, but after a long silence I realized that she couldn’t bear to make it more real by putting her own words on it.
So I talked to her about being a parent, and how we all want to make childhood a magical time for our kids. I told her that the spirits of every holiday are part of that magic. That those spirits get into parents’ hearts and make them do things they normally wouldn’t do, like buying things they’d sworn they’d never buy or letting their kids eat tons of candy in the morning. And I told her that, now that she was on the other side, it was her turn to create magic for others.
She’s a giver, a soft and kind soul, and she nodded. She understood the idea, like handing down a favorite toy to a younger cousin.
Her sobbing slowed and, as we cuddled up together on the couch, she announced:
“I’m not going to tell my friends about this, in case they don’t know. I don’t want them to feel so sad.”
My heart broke anew, seeing my sweet girl trying to protect her friends from the obvious pain she was still in. Then my baby, a little older now, with the magic of childhood all wrung out of her, stood up and made her way to the kitchen for a glass of water.
It was only this morning, after I put her on the bus, that I realized that the magic was over for me, too.
And as I sit here typing, I want to cover myself in a big fluffy blanket and find the magic that will take me back. Back to when my babies were young and Christmas morning sparkled with sunlight and tree lights and the pure joy of believing.
Wistfully, mournfully, I suppose we all have to move forward.
Photo: The Elf on the Shelf sits up high in a Christmas tree. (Courtesy of Rachel Davis)