When I was a kid, an adult singing, humming, or whistling a verse of Santa Claus is Coming to Town was always enough to turn my bad attitude around—even in July. It’s powerful stuff, isn’t it? Your misbehavior now could lead to a very disappointing Christmas morning even if it’s still six months away–so you better watch out, you better not pout, you better not cry…
It’s a time-tested trick that still works– only in some households, it’s a lot less sophisticated now. We no longer need to imagine Santa as a magical being with the psychic ability to just know who’s naughty and nice. He has helpers who report to him—Elves on Shelves.
We have one. Ours is named Willoughby after the title character in Mr. Willoughby’s Christmas Tree, and he doesn’t poop on cookies, play poker with teddy bears, or wrap our Christmas tree in toilet paper. No, he is simply a spy. He watches our family daily and reports to Santa nightly. Every morning, he’s in a new location—provided I remember to move him and yes, I do sometimes remember at 2 am and have to get out of bed and sneak downstairs.
And I have to admit, I love watching my children look for him every morning. He’s always somewhere high in our house—bookshelves, curtain rods, tops of cabinets—mostly because I don’t trust the kids not to touch him. How is it that other kids don’t touch their elf when he’s on the floor tying Barbie to an O-gauge electric train track? Mine would treat him as a toy if he did that. I know it.
Lately, however, I am having second thoughts about this whole Elf of the Shelf/Santa’s watching concept. My biggest misgiving is that I know we should all be good because it is the right thing to do. Our behavior shouldn’t be motivated by reward—or even punishment. Isn’t that what character is? When we do the right thing even when no one is watching?
And then there is this issue of tattling. Deep sigh. If you have more than one child in your household, you know what I am talking about.
The other day, instead of coming to me, my son addressed Willoughby directly. “You tell Santa Claus that Sissy is on the naughty list! She made a mean face at me!”
“Babe, why are you tattling to the Elf? Do you remember what I said about tattling? If you just want to get someone in trouble, it’s ‘tattling.’ If you are concerned for your safety or someone else’s, it’s ‘reporting.’” Reporting. I used to use the word “telling,” but the school calls it “reporting” and I want to be consistent with the language.
“Willoughby tattles to Santa.”
Yep, I guess he does. “But Willoughby wants to give Santa a good report. He wants to tell Santa you and Sissy have good behavior. He cries when he has to give Santa a bad report.” Nice save, right? And yet, I served it with a side of guilt because who wants to be responsible for making a sweet, little elf cry.
I’m probably taking the whole elf-thing way too seriously because I’m feeling challenged by it a lot lately. No, not the tattling part. Know that if you are behaving badly, I may ignore you, I may pray for you, I may confront you, but I probably won’t tell on you because I’m older than 12—whistle-blowing situations are the exception. And maybe crime. If you are stealing mail out of mailboxes or punching people in the subway station, I’m calling the cops.
No, I’m challenged with this idea of doing the right thing because it is the right thing and not because I fear negative consequences or am hoping for a reward or even because on-lookers expect me to have good behavior. Good, for goodness sake. Why is that so hard for me right now? More often than not, no one is watching me and I’d say I do the right thing most of the time anyway.
But I’m not even talking about my actions. I think that just about anyone observing me would say that I am a good person based on what I do. Outwardly, I’m a very kind and loving being. It’s more my thoughts that challenge me. Keeping them positive is an up-hill battle right now—even with something as simple as snow.
Yes, it’s snowing today. A real ‘snow day’ and I know the rest of the world is rejoicing—at least locally. The Federal Government is closed, kids are out of school, and we are only expecting seven inches. Whenever you can measure your snow in inches, not feet, it’s a happy, good thing, right? It’s manageable and fun!
But I can’t get excited about it. My husband still has to work, and he will probably put in an extra-long day. My daughter is home from school, and while she will enjoy playing in the snow, I will still have to make her work on a school project that’s due on Friday.
And I have no granny-care—again, today. Slick roads mean Deborah stays home. So, where’s MY day off? I don’t get one. I never get one. My day is actually going to be a little harder because of the snow. Thank you very much! I wanted to get out of this house just for a little while, but no, I have no granny-care–it’s all on ME, and even if I did have help, I don’t trust the tread on my tires in this weather. New tires. That’s probably what I’m getting for my birthday next month. Lucky me.
I realize that in the big scheme, none of this is a big deal. So, I’m wiping butts and washing sheets and running food through a blender again today. It’s not like I am starving. I don’t live in fear for my life or for the lives of those I love. I’m not stranded on the side of a desolate road with a dead cell phone.
Yet, I want to throw a temper tantrum. I want to yell and scream and break things because I’m not going to get to do what I want today. You won’t find me pounding my fist into the floor or wailing like a maniac, however, because it’s a complete waste of time. Crying never solves anything, never changes anything, and while others claim there is a therapeutic power in tears, I’ve never experienced it. No, it never makes me feel better. So, it’s all about the thoughts, not about the behavior.
Counting my blessings does help bring me out of this funk:
1) We still have electricity. This is a biggie. ‘Cuz no one wants to change a Depends in the dark. Yeah, you see how I was able to stay positive for almost two seconds.
2) This is Maryland. It’s snowing today, but it’s not like we aren’t going to see the ground for the next six months.
3) I will have granny-care again. Deborah will come tomorrow or Thursday. I will be able to go to the grocery store later this week. In the meantime, meals will be creative.
4) My car may need new tires, but at least I have a car.
Yeah, I will get through this—my funk and the snowy, snowy day. These are just my rambling thoughts today–at this moment. I’m allowed that, and in the end, I do control them. Really, how we choose to respond is all we ever control completely.
As for other people–what they see, what they think about us, what they say about us–they may influence the way we behave because no one wants to get caught picking their nose or stealing office supplies. However, what we think and how we feel, it’s all an internal struggle, and we choose who we let into that secret world. No one reads minds–not even Willoughby. Maybe he can. If so, I hope he reports to Santa that I’m counting my blessings and not the part about wanting to yell, scream, and throw things…