A Christmas Story by A. Ignatz

      “We trapped an elf at our house last night!” exclaimed Will at the bus stop early Monday morning.
      “We set a trap for him and it worked!” interrupted Rachel excitedly.
      “Yea, and you have to stand the carrot straight up in the air for the trap to work,” yelled Will, trying to talk over his little sister.
      The next thing I know, both children were talking a mile-a-minute, and I couldn’t understand a single word either of them was saying anymore. They continued on like that as the bus pulled to a stop on our corner. My nine-year-old daughter, Lauren, had been listening intently to Will and Rachel’s story and continued to listen as they all boarded the bus.
      Wow, those kids are excited, I thought to myself with a shake of my head. ‘Tis the season.
      I walked back inside the house and told my husband Tom about how Will and Rachel said they trapped an elf last night, and how excited they were about it. “Those kids were so cute,” I told him. “They just can’t wait for Christmas.”

A Christmas elf.
      I didn’t think about the kids or the elf again until much later that day. As I sat at my desk at work, late in the afternoon, I heard the muffled sound of my very distinctive cell phone ring tone. “Yo, Amy, ‘sup girl? Your phone’s ringin’. Better pick it up.” I opened my desk drawer, opened my purse, and fumbled for the phone. That gave me time to hear my favorite part of the song. “Answer me right away. If you miss this call you’ll cry today.”
      I flipped the phone open and said, “Hello?”
      At the other end I heard a sweet, little voice say, “Mom?” It was Lauren.
      “Hi Honey! How are you?” I asked.
      “Um, fine, um, Mom? Can I invite Emma over so that she can help me set up a trap to catch an elf?” she pleaded.
      “Oh, did Emma trap an elf, too?” I asked.
      “Yea, last night. And she said she’d help me set up a trap, so I can catch one, too. Pleeeeeeeease, can she come over? Please, Mom?”
      “Well, we’ll have to see. Wait until I get home. Then we’ll talk about it,” I said.
      “Okay,” she said. I could hear the disappointment in her voice.

      I relayed Lauren’s request to Tom during our drive home from work that day. He was as perplexed as I was about this elf phenomenon. “What is she talking about?” he asked.
      “I guess we’ll find out when we get home.”
      As soon as I walked in the door, there was Lauren with the phone in her hand and a pleading look in those big, blue eyes. “Mom, can I call Emma to come over now?”
     “Lauren, how about if we just call Emma and ask her how to set up the trap? She can tell us how to do it over the phone,” I said as I gave her a quick hug in greeting.
     “Okay.” She was dialing already.
     Lauren called Emma and got all the pertinent information about the trap. Then she surprised me by telling me that Emma had invited her to come over to see her elf. Lauren was so excited she was practically bouncing off the walls. How could I say no? But I’ve already started cooking dinner, I thought. So, I asked our other daughter Erica if she would drive Lauren over to Emma’s house to see the elf. Emma’s house was just up at the end of the cul-de-sac, but it was a very dark and cold December night. Erica agreed to take Lauren right away. She grabbed her keys while Lauren got her shoes and coat on.
      It seemed like less than 10 minutes, and they were back. Lauren told us all about Emma’s elf which she and her siblings had named Jingle Bell. Emma had also allowed Lauren to borrow her book about the Christmas elf. It was called The Elf on the Shelf by Chanda Bell and Carol Aebersold. Lauren asked if I would read the book to her. “Nope,” I said. “You can read it to me,” I added with a smile.
      As Lauren and I started walking toward the living room, Erica motioned to me to get my attention. I headed back toward the kitchen and sent Lauren on into the living room.
      Erica then handed me a small brown bag. I didn’t know what it could be, so I opened it and looked in. Inside was a little elf ornament, about four inches high, all dressed in red but for a green collar and shirt cuffs. Oh, now I get it, I thought to myself. I closed the bag and hid it for later.
      Lauren and I sat and cuddled on the loveseat while she read me the elf story, all in rhyme. It explained that Santa has special helpers called pixie elves. Santa sends one elf to each house where the elf’s responsibility is to watch the children of the house and then report back to Santa each night. The next morning, after returning from the North Pole, the elf would be in a different place in the house. It was up to the children to find the elf each morning. There were rules for the people of the house, too. For example, children were not allowed to touch the elf or he might lose his magic. Children were encouraged to talk to the elf, but he was forbidden to talk to them. But the elf was under no such orders where adults were concerned.
      After reading about the elves and learning the rules, Lauren and I were ready to set the trap. I grabbed a basket, and Lauren got a fork out of the utensil drawer and a small piece of cherry Pop Tart for bait. She set the basket upside down and balanced one end atop the fork that was placed vertically on the floor. She slid the “bait” under the basket. She hoped the little elf liked Pop Tarts. I told her that he’d probably like that more than the carrot that Will and Rachel used to trap their elf.

      The next morning, Lauren raced down the stairs before anyone else and then yelled up to us, “Mom, Dad, Erica, I caught the elf. Come here and see him.”
      Tom, Erica and I dutifully marched downstairs to see. “Oh, yea, I see him,” said Tom.
      “Look how little he is,” I added. “What are we going to name him?”
      “I think we should call him Dinky,” Lauren said. “’Cause he’s so little.”
      “Great idea,” I laughed. 
      “Mom, you have to put him up on a shelf. I’m not allowed to touch him,” Lauren exclaimed.
      “Where should I put him?” I asked.
      “How about up on the mantle?” said Erica.
      “All right,” I said. “Now Lauren, you move back. I wouldn’t want you to touch him by mistake.” Lauren moved back as I had asked while I carried the elf to set up on the mantle. “There. He’s all set.”
      Lauren clapped her hands and bounced with joy as she studied her new friend. Then she started reciting her Christmas list for the elf, but only after starting off with “I’ve been very good this year.”
      It brought a lump to my throat as I listened to Lauren’s list. It really made me think. Lauren is my youngest and nine years old already. She might not be so quick to believe the elf story next year. And Erica, my firstborn, will be off at college this time next year. Where did the time go? I wondered.
      Then Lauren turned around and asked me, “Do you think Santa will bring me everything I’ve asked for this year, Mom?”
      “Well, Lauren,” I said as I grabbed her and pulled her in for a hug. “You have been very good this year. I think Santa will be very good to you this year, too. But just remember . . . the elf is watching.”



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