About this time every year, according to my Facebook memories, I have some kind of festive inspired emotional breakdown. Every year something different will set it off. I may even have written about it before.
This year, the elf on the shelf appears like a festive psychopath to ruin it for everyone.
In case you’re not familiar, this is a wooden elf that is supposed to hang around your house for weeks, like a teacher at a disco “keeping an eye on things” and reporting back to Father Christmas. The blatantly sinister implications of this, which would send any right-minded child screaming to their therapist, have been somewhat offset by the elf also being a little bit naughty himself. This has become the motivation behind thousands of Instagram posts of the little imp being found every morning in various states of caper, mishap and mayhem, from vodka bottles to loo roll, with hilarious results. There are more blog posts, cheat sheets, Pinterest boards than you can shake a stick and someone is making a packet.
Now I know the idea is supposed to be sweet, but to me, it feels like another bloody thing I’m supposed to be adding to the To Do list. Another #makingmemories to prove how invested I am in the wonder of my children’s childhood. It can bugger off.
We’ve never had one and I certainly don’t intend to start now.
I was discussing the new BBC ad with author Christine Armstrong today. She’s written “The Mother Of All Jobs” (buy it, it’s really good) to help us all find a way to stay sane whilst also trying to hold down a job and raise a family. At the risk of spoilers, the verdict is that you can’t (stay sane that is) and the sooner we all start talking to each other about how difficult it can be at times, and support each other, rather than pretend we’ve got it all worked out, the happier everyone will be.
The conversation turned to the “emotional load” which is the work (mostly) women do that goes unnoticed. The things we have in our head that need thought and planning. From world book day, to school projects to remembering who has fallen out with who, or who wanted which advent calendar.
Currently nestling on my fridge is a helpful note from the PTA telling me all the things I need to ‘remember’ before the end of term. These include tombola prizes, some kind of gift, something for a hamper. Lord baby Jesus knows what else. Plus, the Christmas play costumes, class list for Christmas cards, Children In Need cakes and I have a full time job running my own business.
I don’t remember my childhood being like this. My childhood Christmases were amazing but I’m pretty sure my Mum’s idea of Christmas craft was to throw me a pack of paper chains and tell me to get licking. I may have been given some glitter at some point.
Enter the sodding Elf On The Shelf, and 25 witty and innovative things to think of, photograph and upload. And I get the feeling that most of this isn’t for the children. Certainly, some of the more subversive posts are clearly all here for our benefit. The social media pressure to be #livingourbestlife is hard to combat. But please can we just lie down for a bit.
I love Christmas. I really am the bringer of Christmas joy when I have the chance. I insist on making a Gingerbread House every year which is always fraught with more drama than joy, and never gets eaten because I see how much saliva goes into it. Last year it didn’t get made because our oven blew up the day before Christmas Eve (my how we laughed) and the year before Son2 declared it a success as ‘there was a lot less shouting this year Mummy’. My husband points out with every increasing desperation that you can buy one from IKEA for about six quid. Although now Bake Off went all out with the chandelier, maybe I need to up the ante.
We also have gold coins down the stairs on Christmas morning which I overheard most cynical of children declare as ‘magical’ even though he had stopped believing in the Big Man and Christmas Eve pyjamas which are purely for my benefit.
My point is, I do my best and certainly the Father Christmas years were a thing of joy and wonder. I was kind of hoping that as the children get older, things would relax a little. But no – enter BBC One’s festive ad of the year. Remember last year, when they had that jolly single Dad having lovely quality time dancing with his daughter and the washing up. No, this year, it’s a harassed mother who has no time for her teenage son despite his pleas. Off to work she goes whilst her son kicks around a deserted fun fair like some Scooby Doo extra. The Dad was there as a distant blur, (pretty typical in my experience in the season of work Christmas drinks). Until time stops, she can abandon her work and have a lovely old time on the dodgems with her son while the world freezes around them. Cue me crying at my desk. Again.
Lots of people seem to find this ad heartwarming. And maybe it has just touched raw nerve. I am well aware that this week I have been at my snappiest, whipping myself into a frenzy of efficiency and task orientated goals. I am well aware that my children are growing, and every last ounce of childhood magic needs to be grasped before it’s gone. But let’s not make women feel bad for going to work. Maybe we can all agree that maybe a better, more supportive idea, is to lower our expectations of all of the other Christmas tasks we give ourself in the hope of making our children remember them and forget the exhausted weeping behind the fridge.
We can’t do it all. We can’t hold down a job, make our own wreathes, fill the house with the smell of cinnamon, buy thoughtful presents, feed the five thousand and keep the PTA happy, and still have the time and energy to genuinely enjoy relaxing time with the ones we love most.
Or maybe we can, but let’s just tell each other that we can’t. We’ll all be a lot happier for it.
So, lovely little Elf on the Shelf, if I could come down tomorrow to find the house beautifully tidy, the cupboards full and my breakfast table adorned with a bottle of Baileys, that would be marvellous. Then I can lie on the sofa with my children, whack on the Polar Express and Christmas can begin.
God bless Us Everyone. Bring on the Buble.