The Year We Had an Elf

by Elizabeth Stasny

These days almost everyone with young children knows about The Elf on the Shelf, but in 2008 when my younger daughter, Margaret, was nine years old and in fourth grade, elves were a fairly new phenomenon. Margaret came home from school one day in early November all excited – her friend Emma had an elf that was staying with her until Christmas and Kate was asking for one too. Could she please, please, please ask Santa to let an elf stay with her until Christmas?

The year we had an elf 1What? I’d never heard of such a thing. I emailed Emma’s mother asking what all this business about elves was. I didn’t like what I heard. You sent away for a little stuffed toy elf (for an outrageous amount of money, plus shipping and handling), the elf stayed a toy during the day while everyone was awake but came alive at night and did mischievous things around the house. Some suggestions were that the elf would watch DVDs, which he would leave around on the floor along with spilled popcorn that he had popped. Or he might go “fishing” for goldfish crackers in the sink, again making a mess. At that moment I was not all that happy with Emma’s mother for getting an elf for Emma. I didn’t have time to clean up messes around an elf-free house; I certainly didn’t have time to make and then clean up messes from a Christmas elf!

But it was hard to resist Margaret’s begging, and her written plea to Santa:

Dear Santa,
May I please have an Elf? I would really like one!
Lots of Love,

Santa told Margaret that he would pick out the perfect elf to stay with her and that elf would show up some night. I ordered the elf. And Margaret prepared a little bed and put out food for her elf every night in anticipation of his arrival.

Within a week the elf came in the mail. I decided that the elf could write to Margaret every night. I might be creative enough and be able to find the time to manage that. Elf Troy entered Margaret’s world. He was a tough-talking little fellow with a heart of gold. His first note to Margaret said:

Yo, Marg! Thanks for the bed last night. It was a super place to crash. The grub was good too. Catch you later.

I kept careful notes on what and how Troy wrote. (His notes were typed on the computer in Herculanum font, size 20, and printed in dark blue ink.) Every night, after I had finally finished getting the girls to bed, preparing my lecture for the next day, straightening the kitchen, folding the laundry, signing permission slips, and doing the hundreds of other necessary chores, I changed into my Troy persona and wrote his answer to Margaret’s notes to him.

Child writingIt required a certain amount of creativity. She asked, “What is your favorite color?” – red and green, of course, Marg! “Do you know my tooth fairy? Her name is Ariel!!!” – yep, we are good buds, and we play hide and seek in the flowers when we have time to relax. “Do you get to see Santa’s list? Am I on the naughty or nice list?” – the Big Guy has you on the ‘very nice’ list. “Is my friend Callihan on the naughty or nice list?” (uh, oh!) – I would get in a lot of trouble with the Big Guy if I told you which list someone else was on. “Do you know Rudolph?” – Rudolph is one big fellow. Awesome, but big! “May you please give Sam coal for Christmas? He is mean!” – Sam had better watch out or he will be on the ‘naughty’ list!

Troy took to hiding himself in different places every night so that Margaret had to look for him. He might be hiding in the cabinet with the cereal, under her bed, in the Christmas tree. Margaret believed in him absolutely. By this point a number of Margaret’s friends had their own elves. Emma’s elf was named Larissa, Kate’s was Elana, and Maya’s elf was Nessa. They all decided to bring their elves to school one day so the elves could meet each other and hang out together in the locker of one of the girls. That night Margaret’s note to Troy said, “You look a lot like Larissa. Why is that? Is Maya’s elf real?????? It has metal bars in its arms. I am so glad you are my elf!!!! I LOVE YOU!!!!”

Of course the discussions at school between Margaret and her friends about their elves were endless. The friends were impressed that Troy wrote a note to Margaret every night. At Margaret’s urging, they all started writing notes to Troy and Margaret would bring them home to leave with her note. So, at 1:30 a.m. or thereabouts, I would sit down at the computer to write four notes from Troy, three of them to girls I didn’t know all that well.

As Christmas neared, I started worrying about what Margaret would do when Troy left after Christmas. She really, really loved that little guy. Her note to him on Christmas Eve almost broke my heart:

Dear My Beloved Troy,
Thank you so much for coming to my house! Please visit and also come back next year!! It is very sad to see you go!! I do not want you to go. You are like my little brother! I made a farewell present for you!! It is something you can always remember me by!! I will always love you!!

Troy did stop by on Margaret’s birthday at the end of the following March. He left her a white rose and a necklace. She treasured that necklace for a long time.

By the next Christmas, Margaret and her friends were questioning the idea of Santa. Sadly, Troy did not return. What started as a huge chore for me became a wonderful, magical memory of a sweet and innocent time in Margaret’s life.

Elizabeth Stasny is the very proud mother of two daughters, now 19 and 16.5 years old,.  They are, in her unbiased view, kind, bright, talented, and beautiful both inside and out.  On the side, she worked 60-hour weeks as Professor and Vice Chair for Graduate Studies in Statistics at The Ohio State University.  She is perpetually exhausted, her house is a mess, but she decided that raising her girls is more important than either of those minor problems.