Expectation can suck. Christmas expectations suck you dry. I’ll be honest with you, if my kids were small right now, I wonder what I’d be making of the elf on the shelf. Because it’s easy for me to look on now as a bystander and say: what the fuck? But what if my kids were the exact age for whom the elf exists? I do wonder what would be going through my head. Would I be smugly watching my friends who participated in this seemingly all consuming Christmas expectation while I didn’t, and offering sympathy as they cried into their coffee cup at soft play that they can’t face another night of it? Would I be liking their photos on Instagram of yet another elf lying in a pool of flour angels, whilst thinking to myself: thank Christ that isn’t me every night? Or would I be doing the whole fecking elf thing, because my kids had held me ransom through guilt? I know how persuasive a 4 year old’s wails of, “but mummy, if the elf doesn’t come to our house then Christmas won’t happen!” can be, when you’re bloody knackered, it’s the nearly the end of term, you’re drowning in nits and norovirus and your gin supplies need topping up before the rellies descend.
Guilt and expectation are part of the trimmings of Christmas. When I had 4 kids under 6, I hosted Christmas Day for 17 members of my family. My ex mother in law set the expectation rate rocketing, when she declared in November that she was making 4 different types of stuffing. I mean, holy crap, where the hell do you go from there? I bought the Good Housekeeping magazine and followed their 4 week guide: ‘a countdown to Christmas’, they called it…a countdown to a breakdown more like. It didn’t start well when the first entry was: get out your Christmas pudding that you made last year and top it up with rum. Epic fail and I hadn’t even started! It went on: week 4 make the cake, week 3 decide on your table decorations – you need to decorate the table? Isn’t shed loads of food piled high on it enough? Week 2 panic that you aren’t going to live up to the stuffing, week 1 the kids get ill, Christmas Eve you get ill. Christmas Day… you honestly don’t give a shit by Christmas Day.
On reflection, I don’t think I would have had an elf on a shelf. I think that living up to the expectation of the mother in law’s stuffing was more than enough to deal with, matched only by the guilt of forgetting to cook it.