Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Elf on a Shelf

This is my son James' old elf-on-a-shelf, named Plaxo. One morning when James was eight years old Plaxo appeared at his bedside, the result of James' fervent prayers for an elf of his own. All his friends had an elf, James fretted over cereal and juice, before Plaxo came. Wasn't he good enough to be wanted by an elf , too? Before I knew it I was at the mall, desperately grabbing one of the last two elves on the shelf in the Hallmark store. (Superior marketing, elf people!)

My husband and I were initially determined not to participate in the elf-on-a-shelf fad. It was another duty at Christmas, another piece of commercial pageantry that, while magical for the kids, was work for mom and dad (mom).  The elf moves around the house when the child is not looking, and depending on the type of family he lands in, (read: how creative, rich or blessed with free time that family is) sometimes brings small treats, candy, or presents, even.  The child  must never touch him, though, or the magic is broken - James was afraid Plaxo would explode if touched. Our elf did not bring treats or gifts. He wrote notes.

Plaxo moved in, and was immediately the source of great fun. When James woke up in the morning, he would scurry to find out where Plaxo had hidden the night before. In the Christmas tree?  In a closet?  In the mailbox? Tucked under Plaxo's arm would be a scrolled up note, in which he described the elf-land that he came from.  He also wanted to know things about James: did he like school? Who was his favorite friend? What were his big brothers like? Where did he go every day? ("School, silly!" James wrote back gleefully, placing the note near Plaxo, careful not to touch him.)

At night, before I went to bed, I would write Plaxo's notes.  I used a swirly handwriting, and "Plaxo" had a very fancy signature. I must have written eighty or so notes, in the next few years. He also had his own lexicon: he called pets "beasts," he called hockey "stick games" he called candy "swizzles." He loved everything about James, and he told him so.  He watched him sleep, and saw what a kind boy he was. Plaxo went to Maryland one year with our family for Christmas, packed into a shoebox James had covered with sparkles and glitter.  His blanket was a washcloth, his pillow a cotton ball.

One year, James didn't go look for Plaxo in December.  I asked about him, feeling tentative, and sad.  After several years of friendship and mutual admiration, James was on to Plaxo. He smiled at me. "You are Plaxo, right?" he said. I smiled back, nodding. "I loved our letters," I sighed. James laughed. "I told you so many things you already knew!" Not at all, I thought.

I love Plaxo. I still take him out every year, and he has a place of honor this year on the mantel. He is so much more than a suit of red felt and a smiling face of molded pastic. He allowed me to experience what it was like not to be just that wonderful kid's mother -- but also, his friend.

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