Good Morning, everyone. I’d like to introduce you to someone very near and dear to me. But more on that in a few paragraphs. First, some perspective.
Historically, I’ve been somewhat of a Grinch about Christmas. There are many reasons why and I won’t explicate them for you herein (I talk enough about myself as it is) but needless to say, that is not entirely true any more. While having a family has not necessarily caused my Christmas heart to grow three sizes on any day, it has made me a great deal less-Grinchy about the holiday season. I still think the season that begins for many on November 1st and doesn’t end until the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6th is overlong, overblown and is yet another attempt by ‘da man to exploit something sacred for profit like Valentines Day. Or the new “Transformers” franchise (curse you, Michael Bay!). But I’ve given in to it somewhat over the last decade plus. I’ve had to.
Consider: I have a Christmas Mix on Spotify entitled “My Kind of Christmas Mix” which features such holiday classics as “Christmas in Hollis” and “Swiss Colony Beef Log.” I look forward to putting up our tree the weekend after Thanksgiving every year and to decorating the outside of our house… whenever we have the time to do so (NEWS FLASH: It’s not looking good for 2012). I look forward to taking my daughters to see Santa Claus at the mall though admittedly, said tradition has involved more crying and gnashing of teeth over the last few years than the sheer, sublime joy that meeting Santa and telling him what you want for Christmas should. What can I say? Cara thinks Santa is the sh*t when he’s not towering over her. I like having both my family and Nicole’s family over on Christmas Eve though admittedly, it always helps to have an inexhaustible supply of Egg Nog on hand for the event.
And finally? I love Christmas morning. Watching Cara’s eyes light up when she realizes that Santa ate the milk and cookies that she left out for him… watching her tear through her presents with reckless abandon… spending the next few hours playing with her… it’s all very “It’s a Wonderful Life,” guys. Everything down to the Yule Log burning on our television screen. And it warms my heart despite the chill outside and the snow that is quickly blanketing the world outside my office here in Royersford, Pennsylvania today.
But this blog entry isn’t about Christmas. At least not directly. As I said previously, I’d like to introduce you to someone very near and dear to me. This…
…is our Elf on the Shelf, Jingle. His given name was Jumble but sometime around the beginning of December last Christmas season Cara renamed him, so while all of our documentation states his name as Jumble, we know him and refer to him now as Jingle. For those of you that are blissfully unaware of what the f*ck an Elf on the Shelf is consider this definition, brought to you by your good friends at Wikipedia:
“Every day from Thanksgiving until Christmas Eve, each family’s scout elf watches over the children and then at night, once everyone goes to bed, the elf flies back to the North Pole to report back to Santa about what activities, good and bad, took place throughout the day. Before the family wakes up each morning, the scout elf flies back from the North Pole and hides. By hiding in a new spot each morning around the house, the scout elf and the family play an on-going game of hide and seek.” (Taken from Wikipedia, November 2012)
That’s pretty much the proverbial long and short of it though the “play[ing] an ongoing game of hide and seek” can quickly get out of hand. At least in Jingle’s case it can. When Nicole first posited the prospect of inviting an Elf on the Shelf in to our home last November I was initially against it. Understand that the prospect of a tiny, human-like creature with pointy ears, rosy cheeks and an unassuming smile traipsing around our home for 30 plus days did not appeal to me in the slightest. I was concerned, among other things, about how our heat bill would be affected by the little f*cker’s comings and goings and how traumatized our cats would be if they actually saw him skipping around in the dark after the rest of us had gone to bed. Jesus, the white one already hides all day and only comes out when she wants to rub her a** against you. A six inch tall elf running around might cause her to go in to cardiac arrest.
She didn’t really leave me or our feline children much of a choice, though. One minute our home was secure and the next, I arrived home from work to find him hanging out on the mirror in our dining room. He glanced over at me with his bulging, “innocent” eyes as I walked passed him and in to the kitchen to get a soda and something in those eyes seemed to bespeak not childlike glee but deep-seated malice. This so-called “elf?” He knew me. He could see in to my soul. And what did he see there?
Himself, guys. He saw himself. What followed over the next few days and weeks was an unprecedented alliance between then-Jumble, now-Jingle and me, his originally reluctant host.
It all started when I came home from work one Saturday afternoon, about a week after his initial arrival. Nicole had made ziti the night before and I helped myself to a heaping bowl of it. She and Cara were over at her mother’s house and would not be back until a bit later on, and Zygote Natalie was resting comfortably in Nicole’s belly. I sat down upon our couch in my customary seat, AKA the Marsh Indentation, directly next to the end table upon which rests, to this day,a light, a book or two that I’m reading and all of our remote controls. I turned on the television and tuned it to the Penn State/Nebraska game. I speared a generous amount of pasta, sauce and melted cheese with my fork and raised it to my mouth. I inserted it. I turned left to see what the thermostat was set to…
And there he was, perched high atop the floor lamp next to the thermostat. I choked on the bite of ziti that I was attempting to chew and spit it out. Jingle wasn’t just looking at me. He was glaring at me with understanding in his eyes and his smile was unwavering. As if by telekinesis, I understood immediately what he required of me and helplessly, I agreed to it because had I been in his place? You bet. I would have proposed the same thing. My appetite replaced by an unexpected sense of purpose, I laid down my bowl of ziti and nodded my head. I swear I saw his cheeky smile increase slightly and his little head twitch in a ghost of a nod.
Game on, that grin and nod seemed to say. I smiled and picked back up my bowl of ziti, ’cause I have never and will never pass up a bowl of Nicole’s ziti for more than a fleeting moment no matter how poor my appetite is. You could have Chucky himself walk across my living room toward me with a machete pointed in my direction and I’d still need to finish my f*cking pasta while he gutted me. Don’t judge me. Try it for yourself and tell me its not addictive.
But I digress. Back to Jingle: In the subsequent days and weeks I took it upon my self to be Jingle’s prime assistant in our home. We would brainstorm at night after Cara had gone to sleep and while Nicole was still working about where he was going to position himself the following day and how I would help him. Jingle, you see, has quite a flair for the dramatic and was unable in many cases to supply himself with the props he needed to fulfill his plans, and while I was never quite sure of where he was going to be the following morning (he rarely followed my idea to a “T”), in no particular order, here are a few of his greatest hits.
Jingle likes his snack food almost as much as Cara likes hers. He has shown a fondness in the past for everything from fruit to, in this picture, Goldfish. Sadly, Jingle isn’t very fond of cleaning up after himself, nor is he fond of using a plate or a bowl. Henceforth how we ended up with a shelf elf’s head in a brand new bag of Goldfish and a trail of the f*cking things on the counter and on the floor. I love him, but I really need to teach him how to be tidier.
Jingle may be an Elf on the Shelf but he’s also got needs. While Jingle’s gender has always been somewhat open to debate (Nicole swears he’s a she and I swear he’s a he), he/she obviously has a thing for blondes. In this particular case, I caught him red-handed sharing a private moment with one of Cara’s Barbies. Notice also the pharmacy-costumed Santa behind him. Apparently he’s also got a thing for voyeurism. I warned him against starting a relationship, however brief with someone that’s been around the block as much as Barbie has but he didn’t listen to me. After a night of debauchery I found him, the following day, here:
I don’t know why he went with just Nyquil over the Nyquil and Valtrex cocktail that I told him was in the medicine cabinet in the Master Bathroom but Jingle has never been one for admitting to his weaknesses. He swears that Barbie was clean and that he really cared for her, even after she left him for either the penguin that danced to the “Cuban Shuffle” or Rock and Roll Elmo (I never discovered which). That said, I understand him catching a cold. After all, he’s only wearing a red felt uniform and a flimsy, red felt hat and he flies to and from the North Pole every night. Dear Santa: The Elf on a Shelf has become a pretty profitable brand. Its spurred books and a holiday special. With all that money coming in, can’t you afford to outfit your elf scouts in a parka, gloves, boots and a knit hat? Remember, big guy: A happy shelf elf is a hard working shelf elf. Sincerely, Me. PS: Don’t tell Nicole about the Valtrex refill I requested in my letter to you. The less she knows the better off we’ll all be.
What I have listed above is not nearly the extent of what I could list. Some ideas were less entertaining than others (hanging from the light in the dining room? Really, Jingle?) but the ones I have noted above are a few of his best. But the coup de grace? Jingle’s masterpiece? Simple, really. It was the night of December 23rd last year when I walked outside to have a cigarette and walked back inside not five minutes later. I beheld this:
I couldn’t believe it! The little f*cker had actually TP’d our Christmas tree! The thing I, Nicole and Cara (not to mention Zygote Natalie by association) had worked so hard to set up and decorate just a few, short weeks before. The core of our Marsh family, Christmas tradition. I won’t lie to you guys: I felt betrayed. I felt like Jingle had just been stringing me along with his seemingly innocent gestures and comradeship all in preparation for his final gag. I cleaned up the mess as best I could, but not before Nicole came home from work, saw it, screamed and about hung Jingle by his booties over the Harvest Spice candle I had burning in the dining room. But she didn’t. She simply muttered something about him “never coming back… ever” and retired to our room with a sigh of disgust. She left me to deal with him, because really? It had been my alliance with him, not hers that had brought about the destruction of our Christmas tree.
“You need to leave, and you can’t come back next year, Jingle,” I told him, “I’m sorry. Don’t look at me like that, with your chubby, ruddy cheeks and your big, puppy dog eyes. What, you think folding your hands in front of you and crossing your ankles will make you look more innocent? I caught you in the act, Jingle, and this? I’m sorry, my friend, but this… this is goodbye.“
He did not answer me as I finished cleaning up his mess, unplugged the tree, turned out the light and went to bed. He remained where he was, unmoved as far as I could tell until the next morning when I came downstairs and found him gone. Nary a trace of him remained save for a single piece of toilet paper that stirred slightly beneath the tree in the heat blowing from our vents and a lone, pretzel flavored Goldfish next to it. Memories of the times we had spent together flooded back and I felt a stray tear run down my cheek. I sighed.
Goodbye, Jingle, I thought again, and went about my Christmas Eve business.
I had a lot to distract me from Jingle’s departure that day, the following day and in the days, weeks and months ahead. Zygote Natalie became Newborn Natalie and is now Infant Natalie. Cara graduated from the Terrible Twos and entered the Even More Terrible Threes. Nicole and I celebrated our seven year anniversary and our eleventh year together. Inevitably, sometime in mid-November the topic came up in discussion: My mother was considering inviting an Elf on the Shelf in to her home for the holidays. Did I think it was a good idea?
I shrugged. “Sure mom,” I said dejectedly, “it’ll be… a lot of fun.” I didn’t tell her that I had forcibly exiled mine from my home. Nor did I let on how much I missed him. I pleaded with my wife to let me invite Jingle back but was unable to sway her sensitivities. I went to sleep Thanksgiving night knowing that the possibility of ever seeing Jingle again was tied unavoidably and in opposition to the possibility of ever kissing her again. It was a sad and sleepless night. But when I woke up the next morning:
You can imagine my surprise. There was Jingle, eating Cara’s leftover Halloween candy! He had defied not only my wishes but the Elf on the Shelf Cardinal Rule: Thou shalt not return to the home of one who has ordered you to never return. How would he fulfill his mission and report back to Santa? He did not answer me but somehow, I trusted that he would. I knew that he would find a way. And I knew that Nicole would be okay with his return (which she was). Because he’s a part of our family, now. Granted, he’s a seasonal employee whom we cut loose after we ask him to bust his a** for a month plus but hey: Anyone that can handle flying thousands of miles every night in bone-chilling cold wearing little more than the equivalent of a toilet paper suit can put up with a little inconsistent employment, can’t they?
As I sat there at my dining room table looking at him I smiled. I suddenly understood for maybe the first time since I was a little child, flush with the sheer and sublime joy of meeting Santa at the local mall and telling him what I wanted him to bring me that the Christmas season, however long or overwrought it has grown, remains a time of endless possibilities. Magic can happen, even for the Grinchiest of us if we merely wish it. This Christmas season, I got a special surprise very early on. My friend, Jingle, returned to wreak havoc with me again and God d*mnit, we’re going to make it our mission to top everything that we did last year. Hallelujah!
He mentioned something that morning about a car, our garage and texting. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see how that pans out.