Sunday, December 1, 2013

Elf on the Shelf: Savvy Auntie Edition

My sister tells her kids, ages 8 and 6, that the family's semi-feral cat would eat the "Elf on the Shelf." Their cat is a renowned hunter, so the kids believe this is the reason why there is no elf wreaking havoc at their suburban Baltimore home, tattling on the kids to Santa and the elves.

But this does not mean they are off the hook when it comes to good behavior in the weeks leading up the Christmas.

My sister does not need a successful commercial enterprise, masquerading as a Christmas tradition (in spite of being fewer than ten years old), to keep her kids in line during the holidays.

It used to be, before the age of the Internet and cell phones, merely humming a few bars of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" was enough to keep Christian children (and their non-secular counterparts) on their best behavior throughout the month of December. When I was a kid we KNEW that he knew if we'd been bad or good, so we had better be good, for goodness sake.

I think children are a little savvier than we were back in the 1970s. And my youngest sister KNOWS her kids are savvy consumers of parental legend.

So every year, right after Thanksgiving, she changes my contact name and photo in her cell phone from "Auntie Clownface" to "Santa Claus."

And then I start getting random text messages and cell phone calls, from my sister, ostensibly to Santa, asking for verification that I am in fact real, that I did in fact shake her son's hand at the local tree lighting ceremony, or I did receive her daughter's light mailed just a week ago. They always start with a "Hi Santa" greeting, so I know it is time to turn on the "ho ho ho." So I glibly reply, savvy auntie that I am, with a recapitulation of her message, affirming that the alleged incident (e.g. shaking Santa's hand at the local tree lighting, or an incident of mischievous behavior at school) did in fact occur, followed by a reminder to the kids to be good because I'm watching them carefully from the North Pole.

I love being able to do this for my sister because she lives 400 miles away, and I rarely have the opportunity to be hands-on in my support of her parenting. I love that this happens effortlessly. One day, maybe three years ago, I randomly received a text addressed to Santa and just picked it up and ran with it. We never rehearse, I never know when a message is coming, and I haven't dropped the ball on her yet.  And nearly 35 years after an early end to my belief in the physical manifestation of Santa, I am still delighted by my child's eye view of Santa and the magic that happens at the North Pole.

Are you a savvy aunts or uncle who celebrates Christmas? I invite you to share this post with the parents of the little ones in your life, and invite them to play along. It is a great way to get the effect of elf on the shelf, without kowtowing to the relentless pressure of developing new, hijinks-fillled tableaus to showcase the elf's worst behavior, and it is a wonderful way for you to be involved in your siblings' Christmas traditions beyond gift giving.

Good-bye friend?

"I expect I only have 40 more good years on this planet. While I am grateful for your friendship over the years, at this stage in my life I realize that the time we spend together saps my very life energy. There are so many people and activities that DO feed my soul, that help me feel alive, and inspire me to be my best - every minute I spend with you is a minute I'm not feeding my soul. This makes me feel resentful that you don't seem to get that the lack of comments on your Facebook wall, the plans repeatedly made and then broken, the text messages not returned - these all mean this friendship needs to lay fallow for a while.  The fact that you don't get my efforts at gently letting you go - THAT also incenses me. And because you don't get the gentle signs, I need to be overt. I'm sorry but we're done."

Is it socially acceptable to say this? I don't think so.

I re-read this fantasy exhortation, and realize I am not a good friend. And I think I am not able to be a good friend to my friend because I'm not being a good friend to myself. I need to have a deeper reservoir of love to share with my friends. And to cultivate that deeper reservoir I need to be taking better care of my emotional needs. I need quiet, stillness, exercise, sufficient sleep, and a sense of work/life balance. 

And when I have filled my friendship reservoir, I know I want to spend my energy stores on the people who make my heart go pitter pat - my sisters, brother, nieces and nephews, my husband, my mother, and the handful of nearest and dearest with whom I connect most deeply not through Facebook, but through coffee, cocktails and conversation. 

Which leaves me with this question: How does one tell a friend one is no longer interested in being friends? 

Three of my friends quite literally exhaust me. I've read enough issues of Oprah's eponymous magazine to know I need to gently pull back. (And yes I've tried to reframe my attitude about the time I spend with these friends, tried enjoying their company in larger groups where their intensity might be diffused, and tried gently rebuffing their calls.) In spite of my best efforts, these friends persist in reaching out; one even became belligerent when I was non-responsive. 


I need help. How would you handle this?