Do a quick Pinterest search for the Elf on the Shelf, and you'll find headlines like these:
75 easy ideas for Elf on the Shelf
35 no-prep plans for your Elf on the Shelf
47 ways to get through December with your Elf
For a whole lot of years, I contended that this was something we magic makers needn't do to ourselves. Add something on top of a thousand other somethings. So I never invited an Elf to my house.
The Elf was so Not A Thing at our house that there was a time, so long ago, that my children encountered an Elf at a friend's house, and they touched it. They picked it up, all willy-nilly, pell-mell, without a care in the world. There were tears and gnashing of teeth. The playdate ended early and some children were not invited back. Namely, mine.
So, the Elf and I are not on familiar terms.
But now I teach fourth grade. And Elf Culture is A Thing.
My teacher teammates casually suggested that I invite an Elf on the Shelf to the classroom for the month of December, because it's a thing they do. When you're part of a dream team, a thing they do quickly becomes a thing I do.
I invited the Elf. She came. I was not prepared.
The children schooled me on all things Elf. They told me she would get her magic when she got her name, and they named her Carol. It's a most perfect name, first of all short for Carol of the Bells, but also most fitting because I love anything personified with the name of a grown woman. Her name way as well have been Lois.
Immediately, Carol's antics began. Oh, the things she is up to.
First, she took a mild approach.
She got into the library.
She got into desks.
She got into my filing cabinet.
She dabbled in Elf Twister.
But then I learned that the children were writing letters to her. Suggestive letters. One child started it all, negotiating her naughtiness. He explained that she really only gets one month a year to explore the real world, and did she really want to spend it sitting peacefully on a bookshelf? Wouldn't she like to have some adventure, make some messes, live a little?
(He wrote, p. s. Carol, can you ask my teacher to let this be my Paragraph of the Week, an essay of persuasion and opinion?)
Carol took the notes to heart.
The next day, she got tangled in Christmas lights hanging from the board.
She tried to sharpen pencils, even though she has no opposable thumbs, and she ended up in a messy festival of sparkly pencil shavings.
Rumor has it, she played with the copy machine and took self portraits after hours.
And the children are All About Her. They come into school every morning with an eye for inspection, looking for where she may be and what she is up to. They lean in close to inspect her, but they don't dare touch her - only a fool touches an Elf. This I now know.
They're at a tender age, you know, where some of them are all in for all the things, and others are starting to raise an eyebrow and cast a glance of skepticism. It's the year of winning and losing. And in my class, we are winning.
Children are pulling me aside to say, "Okay, for real, though. You can be honest with me. Is Carol really doing all of this on her own?"
And I tell them the truth: I was not prepared for her magic.
I simply had no idea.