Dedicated to moms everywhere and all those who work so hard to make holidays bright for everyone else. (Kid version below.)
Mom was up late as usual. Her focused face and under-eye bags had a blue cast in the festive glow of her laptop, by then the only source of light in the house. She was Christmas shopping online, wine in hand, sleep nowhere in sight when she heard a strange sound coming from the kitchen. Kind of a twinkling.
Everyone else was blissfully asleep and unaware, as usual. Figuring the cat was up to something, she reluctantly got up to investigate.
In the open silverware drawer lay Tiny, their shelf-hopping elf. “How the hell did you get in here?” she wondered. Mom had planned to move him before bed but had yet to come up with another brilliant idea for his god damned charming antics.
As she reached to grab him and close the drawer, he hopped up and said, “Why hello!”
“What the fuck!” screamed Mom. Her heart did a backflip and she nearly did too, stumbling and scrambling in fluffy slippers with no traction at all. Then she stepped on her robe and fell on her ass.
She looked up and saw Tiny’s spry hat and alarmingly alert eyes–the top half of his permanently smiling face–peering down at her from behind the drawer front. “Mom?” he said timidly. “It’s just me, Tiny.”
Mom looked at the wine bottle on the counter, then back at Tiny.
“This is not happening,” she said, standing up and straightening her robe. “And I’m not your Mom.”
“Okay, Mom” said Tiny. “I understand. It’s not easy making the holidays so magical for everyone.” He rolled his eyes dramatically, waving his skinny felt arm as if casting a spell.
Mom tilted her head to the side and narrowed her eyes. The way she does when considering a consequence for someone’s actions.
“I mean, he’s right,” she thought to herself. Then shook her head.
“That’s why I’ve been wanting to talk to you,” said Tiny as he hopped out of the drawer, using a spoon as a ramp, and onto the counter.
At this point, Mom was too stunned to say anything. She was having a dream. That was the only explanation.
“You’ve been doing too much, Mom” said Tiny. “I’m concerned about you.”
“Ha!” A loud, sharp laugh cut through the midnight air. Mom couldn’t help it. This was just too ridiculous.
“I’m serious, Mom,” he continued. “Take it from me. I’m supposed to ‘report’ on your kids like some creepy spy. News flash: No one gives a sugarplum!”
“Are you my subconscious?” Mom asked, half serious.
“Nah, I just get it,” said Tiny. “Here’s the thing. My gig? Not so hard. Let me take it on. I’m not going to be taking Skittles baths or parachuting from chandeliers, but I’ll move around and make it fun for the kids. Don’t worry about me–you’ve got enough going on.”
More guffaws. “My main source of support comes from… a doll!” snorted Mom, now laughing hysterically. Once she started, it was hard to stop.
Over her punchy giggling, Tiny exclaimed, “There you go! You deserve some fun, too, you know.”
Catching her breath, Mom said with feigned enthusiasm, “Oh yeah, great, let’s do it.”
She paused, suddenly serious. “Just don’t forget or I’ll never hear the end of it.”
“Okay, deal! Now go get some shut-eye, Mom. Being exhausted isn’t very merry.”
“You know what? I will. Clearly, I need the sleep,” she said. “But first, I have a question: Why do you keep calling me Mom?”
“Isn’t that your name?” Tiny asked.
She headed over to the couch to shut down her computer, then shuffled back to the kitchen to dump the rest of her wine in the sink. As she turned off lights before finally going upstairs to bed, Mom realized Tiny had disappeared. “Good, the hallucination is over,” she thought.
A few hours later, Mom hit snooze on a screeching alarm. The kids rushed in and jumped onto the bed. “Mom! Dad! We can’t find Tiny!”
Mom and Dad exchanged looks. Her wide eyes communicated, “Oh shit, I forgot again.” She felt a pang of guilt.
“Well, keep looking,” said Dad. “You know how sneaky elves can be!” And the kids ran off.
“That ought to buy us another snooze,” he said. “They’ll get over it.”
Despite another thirty whole seconds of searching, the kids could not find Tiny. Which was peculiar, since Mom had not moved him. But the cat could always be blamed, probably accurately, if needed.
After breakfast and as if preparing for a sojourn in the Arctic, the kids began putting on their boots, puffy coats, mittens, and over-sized backpacks full of snacks and half-assed homework, before heading out to the bus stop. There had been a couple inches of snow and the world looked more wonderful, less brown.
Then they saw him. “Tiny!” The kids rushed over to Mom’s purse by the door, where Tiny’s pointy red hat could be seen peeking out.
They pulled Tiny out and discovered a sticky note on his hand. In almost microscopic handwriting, it read, “Help Mom, or you’re on the naughty list PERMANENTLY!” It was signed with a smiley face followed by “Tiny.”
“Whoa,” said the kids, and Dad in unison.
After they blew out the door like a human tornado, Dad turned to Mom in the oddly sudden quiet. He said, “I get the message. And you’re right. I’m going to do more to help out, especially for Christmas.”
Mom tilted her head and narrowed her eyes. “Right,” she said, knowing full well she had not written the threatening, miniature note.
“I’ll order some gifts to start. I mean it,” he said, then went to make coffee.
Mom turned to Tiny, who’d been left laying haphazardly on the bench in the entry.
She could swear she saw him wink.
Kid version: My nephew’s birthday falls very close to Christmas, a holiday he loves. And he was very excited about this story, as it centers on his own household’s “elf on the shelf” named Tiny. So I customized my original kid-friendly version of this story just for him, and he loved it! He’s a wonderful boy, an admirable big brother, and a remarkable handball player (in addition to other sports). Here it is, in case it could be of fun or use to anyone else. By the way, based on this success, demand is soaring. I’ve promised custom stories to my other nephews and my daughter Stella!
(Note: Remaining holiday stories can be found here as they are released each day through 12/24, and available ever after.)