This Time, Last Year

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On Friday, I’m leaving town. It’s not the best time for me to be gone because we run a retail shop and it’s almost Christmas.

And yet, it’s the best time for me to be gone because it’s almost Christmas. Dad died one year ago today, so I’m going to Colorado. It was Dad’s favorite place in the world and I’m hoping I can hold myself together until we get there.

For several weeks leading up to this day, I’ve been a falling apart and recovering in equal measure. On certain days, I wake up with dread and sit in a chair reassessing my entire life, and other days I’m peaceful and resigned. I’ve labeled it burnout, but I think it’s grief in disguise. Mostly, I’ve just been working hard to put one foot in front of the other with the hope that when this year anniversary has passed, I will be well. It’s true, I’m a bit raw.

So on a morning when I was feeling more sane than usual, I realized my need to be in a place that feels as close to Dad as possible. He loved the Rocky Mountains. During my childhood, we were all over the place: Aspen, Estes Park, Ouray, Ponderosa, Purgatory, and finally, Pagosa Springs. We settled in this small southwestern town and never left. For two weeks of each year, it’s our summer escape and haven. At one point in his life, when Dad was far from retirement and the reality of how Mom’s diabetes would make her dependent on living near a dialysis unit, he and my Uncle Bill bought a piece of land in Pagosa. They were going to build a big house so our families could spend more time in the mountains. It was on Antelope Drive, near a lake with a straight-shot view of the mountains. That’s what he loved – the view. He was particular about what condo we stayed in each summer, and when he finally found one that allowed him to sit on the patio with that view of the mountain, that’s the one we booked every year. Peregrine 7877

Mom started dialysis when she was 60, and the dream of spending the entire summer in Pagosa slowly faded away. Her life was different now – she had to be strapped to the dialysis machine three days a week in order to live. And Pagosa didn’t have a unit. So they sold the piece of land on Antelope Drive and waved it away with the realization that the dreams we have early in life don’t always intertwine with the way our life unfolds in the latter years. They found a dialysis unit in Cortez, Colorado and were content to give up the dream of being in the Rocky Mountains all summer. Instead, they drove three days a week over the mountains during our two-week stay in Pagosa. My parents were steady people, and they bounced back from adversity together. For ten years, dialysis was a part of our Colorado vacation, and they never grumbled, complained, or quit going.

Dad would start talking about Colorado in January, wondering what it looked like under a blanket of snow, proclaiming the obvious, “If we think it’s cold here, imagine what it feels like in Pagose.” (He had taken to dropping the a, thus giving it a little nickname). Around April, when the weather started to turn warm, he would let us know that it would only be a few months and we’d be in Pagose. And then, about a month before our late July departure he would talk about it every time we saw him, literally counting down the days and inventorying the food and cookware he and Mom were gathering to take – pancake mix, cereals, pasta, soda, griddle, skillet. He hated the cheap cookware in the condo.

When Mom’s neuropathy took her legs from her in early March of 2007, he shopped for and purchased a van with a lift and all the necessary handicap features, then proclaimed, “This will be perfect for Colorado.” She died in April and he sold the van. And then we went to Colorado that summer without her.

For seven summers he came to Colorado with us – or maybe we went with him. It always seemed like Colorado belonged to Dad. He continued to carry all the food and his cookware until the last couple of years when he only brought Diet Coke and pancake mix. He meant to  bring the griddle, but he kept forgetting it. He spent more time alone, staring at those mountains and doing more reminiscing about past trips. And then, last December 7, before he even started talking about the next Colorado trip, he died. It’s hard for me to add anything to what I say about his death. He just died. Suddenly. After rolling the neighbor’s trash cans to the side of their house and bringing in his newspaper. He fell over in his chair and died.

Colorado belongs to us now. We took our annual trip to Pagosa last July without Dad. It was heartbreaking, but also wonderful because for the first time I understood what tied him to these mountains and this place. All those summer weeks, the memories, the people and the traditions. And that air. Our trip this past summer came in the middle of a busy, stressful time for us and I needed that fresh, crisp, mountain air. I needed to breathe. I needed to see the absolute majesty and mystery of mountains and be reminded that I should be humbled by creation, and calmed by my insignificance. I need that again now.

We will return to Tulsa on December 13, and one month from that day we will move from our comfortable house in Shadow Mountain to the Rosedale house in northwest Tulsa. After twenty years in my childhood neighborhood, eleven years in this house, and countless memories of living within a half mile from parents, aunt and uncle, and cousins, we’ll pick up and move to the other side of the city. We’ve made choices – lifestyle and financial – that necessitate us giving up our home. Many of those choices were solidified last summer in Colorado. So I’m going back to say goodbye to Dad one last time, and to prepare for another farewell. As Kyle reminds me, we’re not moving across the country, just to the other side of town.

When one thing ends something new is beginning. Although I know this, endings and goodbyes always knock me to the ground. So I’m going to Colorado to breathe in the air, look at the mountains, and be reminded that there is something bigger than my small world. I’m going to allow myself to grieve again, and then I‘m going to stand back up and come home and pack our life in boxes for another ending, and a new beginning.

Taking the Royal into 2016

I remember the sound of typewriter keys on Saturday mornings. Dad would finish his Sunday school lesson by typing his notes on the old Royal, circa 1940-something. It’s a gray, metal machine that weighs about as much as a full box of encyclopedias. Every week he was teaching – which was most weeks – he hauled it back and forth from the kitchen to the spare bedroom. By the time I was in high school, he had moved up to an electric typewriter and retired the Royal to a quiet existence in the linen closet.

Years ago, I laid claim to this old typewriter and promptly placed it on a shelf in an upstairs closet that held the things we couldn’t give away, but never touched. I couldn’t imagine myself typing on it. It was too slow, too heavy, and the font was one size only. Besides, it was outdated technology that held no promise of productivity. Worthless except for its antique value. For a decade I didn’t give the Royal another thought until Dad died last month. The day after his memorial service I went straight to the closet, lifted the heavy as heck typewriter and carried it downstairs to the den bar. We ordered a universal ribbon cartridge that fits most old typewriters and I loaded paper in and began to type quotes. It was clearly a grief project (I highly recommend these), and one that gave me a surprising amount of comfort and connection. Decades ago, my mother typed recipes on index cards on the Royal, and so there were times when the click of the keys were from her fingers. In elementary school I typed my first (very short) stories on it. I was hearing memories.

Because I am an only child, there has been no exercise of divvying up the items that belonged to my parents. Everything that was special to them now belongs to me, and I do not take this lightly. So the typewriter is being put to use to communicate messages of gratitude, encouragement and love, with a contrastingly jarring clack as I type. Any font my computer can spit out pales against the quirky lettering of the Royal, and when I place them side by side, the smudgy, uneven typewritten words prevail. But it comes at a cost. The keys must be pressed with about 10 times more force than my laptop keys, and if you hit the wrong key you don’t get to backspace with a handy delete key. You take the paper out and start over again, even if you were three words from finishing. The keyboard on the typewriter is a QWERTY, cleverly named because the letters at the top-left corner of the keyboard begin with QWERTY. Most computers have this layout, but with very different spacing between the keys. My third and pinky finger are weaklings and can’t push the typewriter keys down, so I type with only forefingers. It’s slow going, but far more precise.

So the old Royal and I are stepping into 2016 together. I am beginning to believe that there is nothing that doesn’t come back around in some form or another. There is an Adinkra symbol in Ghanaian culture called Sankofa. It’s in the shape of a swan that has turned its long neck to look backward. Sankofa symbolizes how much we can learn from the past, and that often looking back is one way we move forward. This is true whether we are learning from mistakes or rediscovering the value of what we thought was left behind. The typewriter is comforting, but also teaches me the beauty of the imperfect – smudged letters, uneven spacing, one font size. I’m typing those quotes and listening to the memories of weekly Sunday school lessons, handed-down recipes and a child’s short stories. I thought these things were gone forever, and maybe that meant they didn’t matter anymore. But now I know they are still with me – comforting and familiar like the typewriter that brought them all back.

 

Feet on the Ground

I always promise myself that the week after I return from Ghana there will be at least five days when I will not be fidgety. I will take time to reflect, write, ponder, pray, and rejuvenate. I will slow down, take deep breaths, enjoy leisurely walks, and relive the moments of the trip while being still and quiet.

This absolutely never, ever, happens.

After every trip, as soon as the plane lands, my feet hit the ground and they start running. This is probably not good, but I can’t seem to stay still after my return. I’ve been preparing the Ankaase Bags for sale, organizing photos and videos, brainstorming, problem-solving, and turning in circles trying to decide which important task should rise to the top of the list each hour. There is so much to do, which is why I decided it was time to write a blog post. As I’ve shared before, writing calms my restlessness and settles me down. I’m so grateful God has given me a prescription for what so often ails me. It’s cheap therapy.

This evening, I am remembering images of the week we spent in Ankaase. Here are a few:

Esther with her hand-broom, bending low to sweep the porch of the Mission House several times a day in a futile attempt to keep the dust and bugs away from the doorway. And while she swept, she sang hymns. In fact, she sang hymns while she prepared our meals from scratch, scrubbed the laundry by hand and cleaned the house every day. But every now and then, in the evening, Esther would stop her busyness and come out to belt out a verse of something completely random (“Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!”). And one evening she came out to model her new dress and headwrap – the official outfit of the Church of Pentecost Women’s Ministry. Everyone who meets Esther loves her, including our team. We miss her.

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Comfort with her Hello Kitty backpack, filled with school supplies and other goodies. We delivered the gift to her from her sponsor, Sheilah, and it was a joy to see six-year-old Comfort receive the backpack. When Isaac took us to the Methodist School the next day to visit her classroom, there she sat with Hello Kitty strapped to her back as she sat at her desk working. As soon as she saw us in the doorway, there was the smile we had seen the day before when we visited her family. Comfort lives with her five siblings and grandmother in a small, barely furnished two-room dwelling. There is no light in the two rooms, and only one mattress for the entire family. The oldest daughter sleeps on a bed frame (no mattress) while the rest of the children sleep on the floor near the grandmother. No mosquito nets for this family either, and Comfort suffered a bout of malaria this past year. And yet, each one of these children radiated a joy that stunned us. In fact, when we returned to the Mission House, Shannon, Melissa and I sat on our beds (with mattresses) and cried for this family. And then we pooled our resources and arranged for mosquito nets and mattresses to be purchased for them. Four of the children are sponsored (we still need sponsors for two of them), which is a blessing for the grandmother who is raising them. We fell in love with this family and I’ll never see a Hello Kitty product without remembering Comfort’s smile.

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Shannon and Melissa, sitting for hours with small groups of students at SDA School, attempting to teach them English. If this sounds easy, then perhaps you’ve never done it. I watched in amazement as they used songs, photos, and mouth exercises to help pull the students out of their village language (Twi). And it was hot. Forget air-conditioning and the ceiling fans only worked if the power was on. I watched as Shannon and Melissa loved these children with smiles and laughter, despite the sweat rolling down their backs.

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Our ACEF staff and friends around the large dinner table each evening sharing our hearts and learning about culture from one another. I now know about naming ceremonies in Ghana and how and why the ritual takes place eight days after the baby is born. Too many infants die in developing countries. It’s reality, and so you do not name your baby until you are relatively certain that he or she will live past the first week. And then you celebrate and hold that baby high in the air as you announce the name that has been chosen. There is much more to this elaborate ceremony, which made us Westerners wonder if perhaps we had cheated our own kids. After all, my big naming ritual was to send out birth announcements. Around that table, we talked about the differences in our cultures. My friends in Ghana are always gracious with me when I trip over cultural boundaries by saying and doing things that are both confusing and offensive. I’m learning to smile at the myriad ways that I am humbled here. God uses everything.

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The kid who is a picky eater and has always insisted on using eating utensils enjoying Esther’s mashed yams and plantains (formally known as Fufu) with his hands – and with great gusto. And Esther danced for joy. Colin, she says, is now her son.

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There are moments when my feet are on the ground here, but it seems that my heart is still moving around in Ankaase – remembering and reliving, and feeling blessed by it all.

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On Mother’s Day: Two Women Remembered

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There is a quiet debate these days about the politically correct word for mothers who give birth and then place their child for adoption. It’s good to describe these adoption realities with sensitivity, but honestly, I lose track of what’s in and what’s out. As for my youngest daughter’s circumstances: instead of being abandoned, she was “left in a place where she would be found.” And instead of giving a child up for adoption, the birthmother “made an adoption plan.” And so in some circles, a birthmother is now referred to as a “first mother.” Which, in my mind, means that an adoptive mother – regardless of what you say – is a “second mother.” I’m passing on these terms, just so you know.

I have a birth mother. And I have an adoptive mother. And they are both gone, which always makes Mother’s Day a little bittersweet for me. It’s not the hardest day of the year, but it’s not one that I get gushy over either. And yes, I have children, but let’s face it: most of our kids need a little prodding in order to 1) remember Mother’s Day, and 2) do something about it. A friend of mine posted a photo of her Mother’s Day gift wrapped in toilet paper with a sticky note in kid writing that said, “Sorry.” This is so real and so perfect, and it was the only Mother’s Day post on Facebook that made me feel all warm and fuzzy. (As a side note, if Mother’s Day is a little rough for you, skip Facebook on this day.)

I lost Mom five years ago in April. I lost my birthmother hours after I was born. And I think about both of them on Mother’s Day. In fact, on most days, each of them crosses my mind at some point, either during waking hours or in my dreams. My house is filled with things Mom gave me and so I am surrounded by her with gifts and possessions passed down to me. And every time I look in the mirror or wonder why I have that little physical imperfection or notice my short stature (when I’m hanging with tall people), I think about my birthmother who passed these things to me, and then without realizing it, passed some of them on to my biological children. And yes, I miss both of my mothers and feel the empty space their passing has left in my heart.

I celebrated this day with my own children, but it feels odd to be unable to turn around and honor the woman who gave birth to me and the woman who raised me with absolute selflessness. It seems as though I should be saying Happy Mother’s Day to someone. Perhaps this is enough for me. Writing usually quells the restlessness.

To my birthmother: I know it was difficult to hand over your baby and walk away. Thank you for physical life – for taking care of yourself during pregnancy, for not being reckless with your health, and for whatever good thoughts you chose to focus on during those nine months. I have a sense that you were tenacious but calm as you waited to deliver and then give away your child. I’m confident you were strong. And I am proud to be your daughter.

To Mom: I know you wanted to live to see so many things, but you made the most of every moment that we had together. Every day, you chose a life that focused on others. You tormented me with little quotes like “It is better to give than to receive,” but you were speaking absolute truth. It just took me a long time to get it, and an even longer time to begin to learn how to live it. But I have more than adequate footsteps to follow in.

So I honor you both today, in my own way. Happy Mother’s Day my two mothers. You are deeply loved…forever.

This Scarf and These Women

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I made this scarf yesterday. This is quite possibly the ugliest scarf that has ever been stitched anywhere, anytime, any place. Yes, the material is nice – you can’t go wrong with yellow and flowers – however, if you held it in your hands and looked at it closely, you would be very sad for me. It’s my first sewing project, and I think it’s clear that a seamstress I am not.

But these two ladies are on their way to becoming professional seamstresses and yesterday was their first day of apprenticeship at their sewing shop/school in Ankaase, Ghana. And so I stitched that messy scarf in honor of them.

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I decided that if Afia and Doris were going to learn to sew using hand-crank Butterfly sewing machines and sweating their way through days in this un-airconditioned seamstress shop, then I could learn something about sewing as well. I want to be able to have a conversation with them about sewing when I visit Ghana in May, and until about three weeks ago I knew almost nothing about it. My mother tried, bless her. But as young girl, I was more interested in writing and reading and daydreaming than learning a skill that seemed so far beyond my natural abilities. Yesterday I had to fight  the urge to run out of my newly designated sewing room and throw myself back in front of the computer. But instead, I finished that devilish scarf and conquered the evil Singer ZigZag machine, circa 1970.

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Actually, the machine was free and it’s a cabinet model, which means it came with a desk that it folds into when not in use (which might be most of the time – just kidding). I am grateful for my machine because I absolutely love free stuff. I spent the first day with it learning how to thread it, which is no easy task. I’ve also learned how to wind the bobbin, replace the bobbin, and turn the hand wheel toward me ever so slowly to pull up the bobbin thread from under the throat plate below. If all of this means nothing to you, then I’m sorry. I’m just showing off. The truth is, I’ve spent quite a bit of time troubleshooting and pouring over this riveting piece of work:

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I somehow feel at one with the girls in the photo as I read all about flexi-stitch discs. Switch my stitch design with the touch of a button? No ma’am. That’s for the divas with the fancy-schmansy machines purchased within the past two decades. The gals from 1970 and I have discs that must be changed in and out of the machine in four easy steps. The discs are stored in the drawer of my sewing cabinet. I have yet to touch them because after reading that four-step process, I decided to stick with the straight-stitch. For now.

And just to keep things extra nostalgic, I’m using my mother’s sewing basket.

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Here’s a good story: My parents were married in 1955 and for their first Christmas as a married couple, Dad gave Mom this sewing basket. She cried. He thought that he had scored big, but unfortunately she was crying because receiving a sewing basket in 1955 as a gift from your husband was sort of like receiving an iron skillet. It was a necessity and did not send a message of romantic love, but rather a reminder that tomorrow you would be getting busy with the chores. Dad was a good man, and he learned his lesson well. I think he gave her perfume every Christmas from that point forward. But she never upgraded the sewing basket. When I opened it a few weeks ago, it still had all her sewing items in it – scissors, buttons, measuring tape, zippers, fabric scraps, etc. And I smelled the faint scent of my mother’s perfume – the kind Dad gave her every Christmas. I cried a little and left it alone, deciding that there will be a better day go through the basket. I don’t need most of that stuff yet anyway just to make ugly scarves from clearance fabric.

I’m not sure at this point if I’m more excited about the sewing or more charged up to win my victory over the machine. Either way, I’m not giving up. And I’m praying for our seamstress apprentices. For me, sewing is just a whim. I’ll make some scarves, maybe convert some t-shirts into shopping bags (found that easy-to-do project from Martha Stewart, go figure). But for our seamstress apprentices, this is an opportunity for a changed life. They’re stepping into a career, which for a woman in Ghana is like climbing a steep mountain. Fortunately, our apprentices have lots of climbing support from some other seamstresses who live here in the U.S. Thank you Diana and Janet for sponsoring them! I know that by next week, our apprentices will have far surpassed my skill level – in fact, that may have actually happened today. I’m so happy for them and excited for what the future holds.

And in May, I think I’ll take my sorry little scarf to Ghana so the three of us can have a good laugh.

The Seamstress Apprentices

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I wrote in a previous post that I don’t sew. My mother, however, was a dedicated seamstress for our family and she made quite a few of my clothes until I reached sixth grade and put my foot down: no more homemade attire. The wide-legged brown pants she made me that year garnered no compliments but only snide comments from peers concerning elephant legs. I was an adolescent with stocky thighs and calves (still have ’em) and so these were mortifying moments. I put the pants in the hand-me-down bag as soon as I got home and nicely requested to my mother that she not make me any more clothes. As I made my request, I ignored the thought of her hunched over that old black Singer sewing machine that was on the dining room table during sewing weeks. Of course, now that memory makes me only want to hug every homemade article of clothing my mother stitched – if only I still had even one of them.

I also wrote in a previous post that I was traveling to Ghana in honor of my mother. That first trip I took last May had my mother’s memory wrapped all around it for reasons I could not really explain. Now, I think have an explanation.

I returned to Ghana exactly two months ago and was sitting in the Methodist church in the village waiting for the services to begin. One of the pastors came to speak with me before the service to let me know that she had arranged a meeting of women who were interested in learning a skill: sewing. Word spreads fast in African villages and she had heard that we were interested in helping women begin small businesses that might help bring steady income to their families. “There will be many women here on Friday at 10 a.m. We told them you were looking for women who wanted to sew.”

That was true, but we were hoping to quietly find a couple of women we could match with experienced seamstresses who would help them learn to sew. We didn’t have a program yet, so we didn’t want to promise anything. However, it now seemed that a large group of women would be convening at the church in five days expecting something. I tried to explain our dilemma to the pastor, but she shook her head politely. “I’m sorry, the meeting has already been set.” Later in the week I tried again to cancel the meeting, but the pastor did not budge. The meeting, she repeated in her very measured and polite voice, “has already been set.”

I prayed, telling God that we had nothing to offer these women and that the meeting should be cancelled, but I could only hear the pastor’s voice again: “I’m sorry, the meeting has already been set.”

So I gave in and decided that we would move forward because it seemed clear that the meeting had already been set.

On Thursday, the pastor told me that she had been called to another village for a meeting and would not be able to attend the Friday meeting with the hopeful seamstress apprentices. “I can’t speak Twi,” I reminded her, as if she needed me to point that out. “I’ll need a translator.” She promised she would arrange to have one there. In my mind, I threw my hands up in the air even further. This was beginning to feel like a disaster. Eighteen women were going to show up and expect me to offer them some process to start a sewing business. We had nothing to offer. We had made a connection with only one professional seamstress and her apprentice slots were already filled.

There is that moment when you realize that something is completely out of your control. These are hard moments for me, because I mostly have a death grip on control – or at least I think I do.

At 10 a.m., on Friday, eight women were seated in the Methodist church waiting for me. And so was Isaac, the young man that the pastor had called in to translate for me. He was seated at the front of the church at a small desk with a notebook in front of him. He introduced himself and from that moment the ACEF Seamstress Apprentice Program has rolled forward with a strange momentum that I can neither take credit for, or claim to understand. It seems that we did have something to offer these women, and that God has delighted in the idea of this long before I ever knew anything about the village of Ankaase. He was preparing Isaac to take the reigns of this and coordinate the program and He was preparing two women to be our first apprentices. They chose the same seamstress to work under, and so we now have our entire apprentice program under one small roof. And God brought two of my friends to partner with these women as their seamstress apprentice sponsors. One of our sponsors is my mother’s dearest friend, Diana. Yes, it seems the meeting had already  been set.

On January 7, Afia Asantewaa and Doris Boakye will begin their seamstress apprenticeship in the shop of Felicia Lumbor in the village of Ankaase, Ghana. They will be supported by my friends Diana and Janet. And through the sale of our Ankaase bags, Isaac will be able to purchase each of them a chair, scissors, measuring tape, machine oil, and pins, and a black Singer sewing machine just like the one my mother used. She never upgraded her machine, and now I’m thankful. Sometimes the very best gifts don’t come wrapped up in packages and tied with a bow. Sometimes we don’t even recognize them as gifts. They might come in the form of a meeting that “has already been set”, a tiny sewing shop on the red-dirt streets of an African village, and two friends who opened their hearts to two women they might never meet.

If I could sew, I would stitch a pair of brown pants on my mother’s old Singer in honor of the Ankaase Seamstress Apprentice Program. And I would wear those wide-legged pants proudly.

Apprentice Afia Asantewaa
Apprentice Afia Asantewaa
Apprentice Doris Boakye
Apprentice Doris Boakye
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Seamstress Felicia Lumbor

Elves, Shelves, and Bearded Old Men

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Santa has disappeared from our house. By that, I mean that we no longer have children who believe that Santa climbs down the chimney, delivers the gifts, and eats the cookies.

Here’s a secret: I’m a little bit happy about that.

Once the older two kids finally swallowed hard and accepted reality, it was hard to keep playing up Santa for the youngest. We were sloppy about it and slipped up so many times that I’m sure Alison’s been playing along since she was about five. When she was nine, about a month before Christmas, she sat with me in front of the fire and said, “Oh, just so you know, I don’t believe in Santa anymore. You don’t have to keep talking about him.” She never liked Santa. She was terrified of him that very first Christmas after we brought her home, and she has never warmed up to him. Not only did she adamantly refuse to sit in his lap, but she gave him the cold shoulder at parties. She was not interested in his candy, nor his invitations to “tell me what you want.” And then, there he was at the holiday parade the other night, the grand finale, waving to the adoring crowds. “I never cared much for him,” Alison stated. She should have gone ahead and finished her statement with, “I’m glad he’s out of my life.”

I miss the days of sneaking the gifts out and eating the cookies. Kyle always wrote a letter (as Santa). It was tradition.

So I’ve been mildly interested in the Elf on the Shelf phenomenon and wondered if we would have incorporated that tradition into our Santa ruse. It’s been around a few years, I know, but I’m a little slow on the uptake. So I went to the official website to learn about these watchful elves:

The tradition begins when Santa sends his scout elves out to Elf Adoption Centers. Waiting for their families to bring them home, these patient elves hibernate until their family reads The Elf on the Shelf, gives their elf a very special name, and registers their adoption online. Once named, each scout elf will receive its Christmas magic and become a part of the family’s Christmas each and every year.  

Basically, these little adopted elves don’t stay on the shelf. They move around the house, making sure the kiddies are nice, not naughty. They record good deeds and tattle to Santa about the bad deeds…every night. Apparently, when you’re in your home, there is no escaping these elves. And I’m guessing they take their jobs quite seriously. So does Carol Aebersold and her daughters, the co-authors and CFO of the Elf on the Shelf corporation. The women have taken Christmas magic to new heights. “We’re ambassadors for Santa,” daughter Chanda says.

Now, I hesitate to go much further with this because I know many families who have little elves sliding around their house watching the kids and making reports. I haven’t talked with all of these children, but I suspect that this little game is enjoyable or else the Elf on the Shelf corporation would not be doing such a profitable business. (By the way, the Clause Couture Collection 2012 Elf Scout Skirt is sold out, in case you were wondering.) And I’m confident that at some point in our Santa tradition we would have given the elf a whirl at our house. In fact, we could have probably used something like this with unnamed eldest son. What better way to take the pressure off the all-consuming parental responsibility of making sure a child behaves than to shovel some of that off onto an innocent elf? I certainly got tired of being Santa’s eyes and ears. Children are forever asking, “How does Santa know if I’m being good?” And of course we had no other brilliant answer than, “Oh, he knows.” The elf, however, does the dirty work and makes sure that The Big Man knows.

But would the elf have worked with Alison? Not a chance. For a kid who had already written Santa off, an elf on the shelf would have been yet another reason to reject the jolly old man. Not only was Santa creepy, but now he had a mole.

Well, we’ll never be certain if the elf would have been welcomed into our home. Santa has left this building. But if things get ugly around here, I’m dusting a place off the mantle just in case we need to bring in back-up. You never know.