A Little Bit of My Heart Was Broken Last Night

Last night we were doing our yearly trip to the Christmas Tree Festival…a tradition that has been in our family for five years and the kick off to the holiday season. It was somewhat unusual that it was 60 degrees as we set out for dinner and then headed to the festival. Christmas lights and no jackets? The kids were loving it.

But once we got inside…it was instantly Christmas! You can’t fight the twinkle lights and Christmas music and fake snow and 100 trees decked out in everything from traditional to crazy decorations.

Little did I know that one tradition would come to a screeching halt as we were viewing and voting for our favorite trees.

About three-quarters of the way through the display, Tweedle Ian says to me rather accusingly, “You know, Garrett AND Ashley both have a Jolly too? It’s called an Elf on a Shelf.”


My heart stopped. My parents stopped. Tweedle Dee looked at me.


I was caught off guard….he’s in the 4th grade…I knew this day would come sooner or later….I panicked…How did I explain the little elf who appeared on Dec. 1st each year? The elf he lovingly named Jolly. The elf he loved like a brother. I am not kidding…check out these pics over the years….

“Yeah, they sell them in stores. I’ve seen them.”

“Did you buy Jolly at a store???????”

“Jolly is not an Elf on a Shelf exactly,” I say hoping he can read between the lines without me admitting the truth and killing the magic.

Tears formed in my eyes…and I looked at my stepmom for some back-up.

“Well, I believe in magic Ian…and Jolly is pretty magical,” she offers.

He’s a smart kid. He’s not buying it.

Ian is looking at me with his big brown eyes and trying to make sense of this non-sense he’s hearing.

“Listen, buddy, the holidays are about tradition and magic and special memories. Jolly is a special Christmas memory you will always have. In fact, I have TWO Jolly’s at home. One is for you when you are older and one is for Dee. I want you to have this memory with your kids someday.”

“I want to see them both when we get home,” he demands with his voice, but I know in his heart he is saying, “Please don’t be true. Please don’t be true.”

I give him a hug, “Please don’t be mad. Please understand that I wanted to make some magic.”

My step-mom asks, “Are you mad, Ian?”

“No. No. Um…well, yeah a little bit….”

I am still fighting tears because I just don’t want this part of our lives to end.

Did you put him in the car? Did you ring the doorbell? Did you open the M & M’s? Did you do the puzzle?

I did. I did. I did. I did. (But I said nothing.)

I feel like a liar.

A liar who does what almost every parent does. And I am sure I am feeling what almost every parent does somewhere around this age when the magic goes up in a puff of smoke.

It was hard when Tweedle Dee called me out on it, but she admitted it with such grace and matter-of-factness the day I casually asked, “Are you excited for Jolly to return?”

Really, mom? I know Jolly is a stuffed animal. I’ve always known. But it was fun to pretend.”

But this crushed me. My babies are grown up. No more pure innocence and belief in magic. Not in the Jolly sense of the word.

We start walking through the tree display again. The carolers are singing “Santa Baby” and everyone is singing along. And my heart is breaking.

Ian tries to be tough and he goes through the rest of the display with an all-business attitude. He writes down his favorite tree on the ballot (The Ohio State tree, of course) and says, “Let’s turn in our votes now.”

I dreaded the fury he would unleash when we got home. He can be quite dramatic.

But he quickly put on his pajamas and cuddled up in a blanket on the couch. He was playing on the iPad when I sat down beside him.

“I swear I’m not mad mom. It’s ok,” he says quietly.

“This year, maybe we can take turns doing funny things with Jolly. Hiding him around the house and the others can look for him. It’ll be funny.”

He smiles.

“Yeah, a new tradition. I think that’s good.” He pauses, thinks for a minute and smiles, “Can I go first?”

I can’t wait to see how this tradition plays out…

13 responses

  1. Ugh! Every mother’s biggest nightmare. My youngest two are still believers– I hope they stay kids for awhile. You will have new traditions and new excitement. Don’t worry. They will always be your babiess

  2. Aww, geez…this post hits home. My 3rd grader has for the past two years come home from school to inform us that yet another classmate has lost their faith in the magic but my son tries so hard to keep believing. I know it won’t be much longer for the boys, but I know they will pretend along with us for the sake of their little sister!

    1. I think the boys will love continuing the magic for their sister. 🙂

  3. As a child who found out Santa wasn’t real because he couldn’t help snoop around for presents, I feel your pain. I never called my parents out on it (not our family’s way of doing things), but yet, personally, I know that loss of innocence can be painful. You’ve handled it well in a manner that I’m sure he’ll appreciate down the road.

    My freshman daughter gets it, but has never called us out. My 7th grade daughter, I’m almost positive she’s still in the “I believe” category. She wrote a note to Santa a couple of years ago asking why others don’t believe. Our reply: it takes faith, and if you have that love in your heart, it will take you places others can never go.

    Sometimes, living where we do, I feel like my kids are too sheltered, yet, as I watch my 5th graders talking about the R-rated movies they’ve seen and see the video games they play, I’ll keep my daughters safe just a little longer. 🙂

    Good luck with your new traditions! 🙂

    1. I do think some kids protect their parents by pretending. Part of me thinks that Ian was upset because he wanted to continue “believing”. He seemed semi-skeptical last year but he took Jolly with us on our Christmas Eve outing and I remember feeling sad about Ian tucking him into his stocking that night.

      1. It take a toll, that’s for certain because you know that it will come to an end. The students in my 5th grade ask me if I believe, and with a smile on my face, I tell them when I got to bed, my stocking is empty. In the morning, that same stocking is full! Who could have done it?? 🙂 I know that I still have those who are “semi-skeptical” in my room, and I want them to believe, but come to terms in their own way.

        He’ll continue to believe in his own way because of way you’ve responded, and in the end, that’s what matters. 🙂

      2. Thank you for the reassuring words. I think we need to watch The Polar Express again soon!

      3. Oh no, not yet! That movie makes me cry like a baby! 🙂

      4. I really struggled with it last year too!

  4. Aww! Growing up can be so hard on the parents. ::hugs::

    1. Thanks! I know this isn’t the last “milestone” that will be difficult. How old are your kids? What did you struggle with?

      1. No kids yet. Just watching my friends. I’ve always been the babysitter, cousin, honorary auntie to quite a few. I guess in some ways we were lucky. We didn’t grow up with Santa in our house. My mom always told us the Baby Jesus story. We didn’t really learn about Santa until we were older and already knew he was a part of holiday myth and legend. Same thing for Easter bunny. 🙂 But I’ve watched my friends with their little ones as they started to question stories they’d always believed in the past.

  5. Yes … they grow up. I have teenagers and am about to write a post about the frustration of seeing my 17-year-old make bad decision after bad decision. I’d give anything to return to the innocence and magic that still exists with kids who are the age yours are.

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