I first heard about Elf On The Shelf from six-year-old Madison, who was sitting amid a parade of nutcrackers, and piles of the tissue they had been wrapped in. I was cranky, because Puck the beagle had given me his two minute warning and I was trying to clear a path to the front door. The conversation went something like this:
Maddie: We should get an Elf on the Shelf this Christmas.
Me: Because the elf union is complaining we only hire nutcrackers?
Maddie: It’s a magic elf you buy. It watches what you do and reports to Santa, and then it moves at night while you’re asleep.
Me: Sounds creepy. How much are they?
Maddie: Thirty dollars.
Me: You want to spend thirty dollars on a toy that will rat you out?
Maddie: It comes with a book.
Me: I’m also not crazy about elves that move around while I’m asleep.
Maddie: Santa does. And the tooth fairy too.
Me: But they’ve passed a background check.
Maddie, talking to Cedric, her favorite nutcracker: Things are not looking good for an Elf on the Shelf.
I always feel guilty when I say no to Maddie. And I understand the fun of a magical elf who moves about. I may even have even said yes, had she caught me in a better mood. But it is also true that I really don’t like the tattletale part of that game. So we remained elfless.
I came across a story this week in the Desert News, about an idea that, in light of the bullying problem that plagues LGBT youth, I thought was worth discussing. A second grader in York, Pennsylvania, named Christian Bucks (left) saw an article about a school in Germany that instituted a “Buddy Bench”, a place where kids on the playground who are feeling lonely can go sit. The hope is other kids will recognize the child who feels left out and make friends.
“If two people are sitting at the bench, they could ask each other if they want to play,” Christian explained to his classmates. “The bench is not for hanging out or just sitting. It has a purpose to help grow our dream circle of friends.”
Besides Germany, the concept is being tried in the UK and in Singapore. Christian brought his idea to his school’s principal, and now Roundtown Elementary School has a buddy bench of its own. I will let Christian explain his project:
For his efforts Christian was nominated for a Charlotte Bacon Award. I, of course, was curious as to what that might be. What I found was inspiring.
A year ago, when we were all still in shock from the horror of the Sandy Hook massacre, Ann Curry suggested each of us commit 26 acts of kindness, one for each of the 20 students and the six teachers killed. Many of us joined that effort, and when our acts were completed, we promptly forgot about the 26 Acts Project. But that idea of promoting “kindness” is alive and well in the Sandy Hook community.
There is a conviction in those moved to action by Sandy Hook, that if hatred can be taught, so can kindness. I think that concept has special implications in the LGBT community where so often children are rejected by their own families. Humans have a natural instinct to love and protect their children. To reject them for being gay is learned behavior. What is learned, can be unlearned. And if it can’t be, at least a new generation can be taught differently.
The award Christian Bucks was nominated for honors Charlotte Bacon, (right) one of the children slain in the Sandy Hook massacre. It is given for acts of kindness. On the Charlotte Bacon Awards Facebook page people post photos of their kind deeds, and videos they have made and about how kindness can change the world. There is a Charlotte’s Litter Campaign that raises funds to provide “comfort dogs” for children in need of companionship, and a Charlotte’s Kindness Bucket initiative that sends materials to schools that want to “teach kindness”.
If Sandy Hook could bring us more kindness, we would all be the better for it. It is a quality desperately needed these days, with our political leaders seemingly determined to model the most mean-spirited behavior: voting to throw children off of food assistance during the holidays. Repealing Obamacare to return to a system where the uninsured were forced to beg for medical care. Demonizing people who receive public assistance while refusing to raise the minimum wage to one that would make the people they disparage self-sufficient.
As I scrolled down Charlotte’s page, I was thinking about the lack of kindness demonstrated by the Tea Party and how that might be overcome. I certainly wasn’t thinking about Maddie and her wish for an Elf On The Shelf. But there they were. It was as if the universe had tracked me down. Kindness Elves. “An alternative to Elf On The Shelf.” said the comment box.
It seems I am not the only one who thinks a spying elf who tattletales is not such a wonderful message to be sending children. But here was the answer from a company called The Imagination Tree: elves who appear every day with a suggestion for a kind deed, like baking cookies for a neighbor or coloring a lovely picture for grandma:
So yesterday, a kindness elf came to visit us for the Christmas season. Her name is Snowflake, and she appeared on Maddie’s nightstand holding a reindeer sticker, and a note that says Maddie can have the sticker if the next time they play a video game, Maddie lets her sister go first.
First-grader Maddie was thrilled with Snowflake. Maddie’s smile made me think of first-grader Charlotte Bacon.
Today, teaching kindness is On Our Radar.
Jean Ann Esselink is a straight friend to the gay community. Proud and loud Liberal. Closet writer of political fiction. Black sheep agnostic Democrat from a conservative Catholic family. Living in Northern Oakland County Michigan with Puck the Wonder Beagle.
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