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When to Bring Out Elf on the Shelf

No, It's Not Too Early to Bring Out Your Elf on the Shelf

A couple of days before Halloween, I found myself evoking her name, desperate for some new tactic to get my children to behave. By her, I mean the only creature that seems to inspire fear and obedience in my 6- and 3-year-old kids: our Elf on the Shelf, whom my daughter named Mary Christmas in a stroke of toddler genius.

I figured, hey, I was already filling up our basement storage space with Amazon Prime packages filled with Christmas presents I didn't want to pay a surcharge for on eBay; why not also bring out a bit of my own holiday joy in the form of an inanimate object that acts as a surprisingly effective behavioral tool?

I get that I'm a hypocrite. Just yesterday, I was cursing my favorite big-box store as it started putting up Christmas displays before the last Halloween decoration had been removed. "What about Thanksgiving?" I wanted to ask one employee, who was placing stacks of toy catalogs at the end of every check-out counter, each one filled with dozens of overpriced playthings my kids were sure to put on their wish lists, then forget about 15 minutes after they unwrapped them.

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I was still recovering from the aftermath of two kids' Halloween sugar highs (followed by the inevitable crashes), and starting the Christmas madness before I even got a chance to prepare myself by going to see A Bad Moms Christmas with a bottle of wine stashed in my purse seemed premature . . . until I remembered the power of the elf, a bright light in my preholiday mom life.

You moms of little ones know that the indoor season (really, I think there should just be two seasons: Outdoor, when kids get to play outside and therefore are less annoying, and Indoor, when they're stuck inside and constantly begging you to entertain them — aka mom hell) can feel never-ending. We can only threaten to take away those iPads or put our children in timeout so many times before they realize we're terrible with the follow-through and those iPads are the only things giving us mothers a modicum of sanity. However imaginary they are in reality, we need a bigger arsenal of threats that are totally legitimate to kids.

And this is where the elf comes in. Because that elf isn't reporting our children's misdeeds to us, the parents they've long ago figured out how to manipulate. She's reporting to a higher power: Santa. And no kid of believing age wants to f*ck with Santa. A magical man who delivers every child in the universe's most-desired presents in one freaking night is a force to be reckoned with, and that elf, however unconvincing she, in all her felt and plastic glory, might be to a human with a fully developed brain, is to them a direct line of communication to the big guy. And they want to stay on that nice list.

So, heck yes, I want to use her powers of good-behavior persuasion for as long as possible, but I also know those powers have diminishing returns, especially when I forget to move her for the third time in a week. So, like last year and the year before, I'll wait until after Thanksgiving to bring her out of her box and place her directly within my kids' sight lines for the month of December. They might be already counting down the days until Christmas, but to me, the day she returns is even sweeter.

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