I knew eventually the day would come when they found out. I had even gathered advice about what to say in the moment but that didn't make last night any less heart-wrenching. Last night they discovered the truth about the Elf on the Shelf.
To give you some idea of the impact that Reese's discovery had on all of us let me go back several years. Our Elf on the Shelf, Candy Cane, came into our lives on December 15, 2012. After weeks of having to creatively answer the question, "How come an elf doesn't come and visit our house?" we succumbed to the pressure and managed to get our hands on the very last (as in already-opened-because-someone-had-returned-him) Elf that year. I confess I didn't think it would be all that important -- you know, shiny object syndrome and all.
I don't even recall who hand-wrote the first letter but with the sparkle of Christmas magic it became a daily communication between Reese and Candy Cane. For a kid who devours books like the library is running out but does just about anything to avoid putting pen to paper this was a homeschooling Momma's dream come true! And of course it was fun to wake up each morning and see what shenanigans he had gotten into during the night (that was most memorable for Claire) but sharing thoughts and feelings on paper was really special. Reese talked about him all year round and sometimes even wrote to him in his off-season. Occasionally he missed a note back for various reasons and that, as you can imagine, required a creative explanation! For me, the letters almost always involved staying up late and sometimes even getting back out of bed to very slowly write a reply with my non-dominant hand. But I loved every minute of it.
For five years the letters carried on, both in our home and even after we started travelling full time. Her level of belief in his existence and of Christmas magic was unwavering. It’s one of the things that makes Christmas so special for us parents. Candy Cane did his best to answer every question that was asked of him. From “how much does it snow at the north pole?” to “how do you write with mitts on?” Last Christmas, he had every intention of hitching a ride and taking up extremely precious space in our simplistic backpacking lifestyle. However, one little oops (I forgot to pack him) and he ended up coming down with "untreatable chronic diarrhoea." Yes, it's a very memorable condition. Fortunately he was still able to exchange letters using Christmas magic even though he couldn’t be there “in person.”
So last night as I tucked the girls in bed and kissed them good-night I casually asked "Did you remember to write Candy Cane back today?" Little did I know it would be the last time. As I, or I should say, Candy Cane sat down to get an early start on his correspondence I heard footsteps… quickly followed by a shouting accusation and heaving sobs! But what happened next was just as amazing as the entire adventure had been. After getting over the initial shock of it all, we came together as a family and shared tears and laughs. The humor credit goes almost entirely to Claire who several times lightened the situation with comments such as "it was YOU who ate all the chocolate almonds!" or "so you're the tooth fairy too! I told you I recognized that loonie from your wallet!" We spent some time talking about the heartfilling memories the whole Candy Cane experience had provided for all of us.
Taking this advice from a friend, I explained to the girls how they were now part of the other side of the Christmas magic. They now had a duty to make sure that little kids everywhere can enjoy the magic for as long as they did. Reese stayed up thinking about it for a while. After an hour or so, she came downstairs and quietly asked if we could keep writing the letters. I said yes. Then she turned around and went back to bed.