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Argyle Nakatomi: An Origin Story

December 21, 2020

We have an Elf on the Shelf.

She’s a girl elf. She has earrings, but no skirt or other regalia by which one could assume her gender. She was not purchased at a store, properly, the way decent people procure their elves.

She was hawked on a local goods-swapping corner of the social network and my mother arranged the transaction that would make her ours.

Like some sort of four-corners deal with satan himself.

Not to get off topic, but just so you know, you can turn Satan into Santa with a simple switcheroo.

You can’t un-know that now.

You’re welcome.

Anyhow. My mom got this elf on the shelf for me like four years ago after Christmas when everybody’s selling the gifts they didn’t like that much because once again, like a relentless guerrilla force, the bills are due again but that brilliant Christmas spirit shine has tarnished and dulled under the cool glow of a January sunset, and the elf on the shelf doesn’t seem like such a good idea after all.

I did not want an elf. Not on any of my shelves. Not on my mantle. Not hiding in the laundry basket.

I didn’t even really understand what the point of the elf could be anyhow, aside from driving already fragile parents directly and remorselessly over the edge.

You may or may not be aware, but I am not an “elf” mom. I’m not her. I do not have the stamina for the elf.

But for the two years preceding her arrival, my kids had been exposed to the elf phenomenon through both school and their friends.

Not that it means anything at all, but just for a fun comparison, four years ago I permitted an elf into my home and now here we are currently homeschooling and social distancing from friends almost entirely.

Not saying it was the elf.

Not saying the elf was cursed.

Not saying that Santa is Satan.

Just saying, you know, hmmm. Observe that little coincidence.


Anyhow, I “thanked” my mother for the elf and took it home to investigate what needed to be done to set her sinister existence in our family on its way.

She needed to be registered, so I went to the place and did the things and got this really pretty lackluster PDF certificate I could print out and hang on my wall if I wanted to.

I mean, I don’t even really want the elf on my shelf to begin with, guys, so I’m not looking for the certificate to hang on my wall 365.

But thanks.

I registered the elf, you see, because that would bestow upon the abomination a name. Something we could call it.

I don’t know why I thought an organization that manufactures tiny felt monstrosities and sells them for $30 a pop could choose a more fitting name for the bane of my foreseeable existence, considering my kids are only eight, but I suppose we’re all prone to doubting ourselves at times. The certificate had something written across it, naming said elf and declaring her now and forever “ours,” which made me uncomfortable just on general principle for about three days. I can’t remember what it was. Margaret Thatcher Periwinkle III or something lame.

My first executive decision as official household elf-by-proxy was to rename her immediately.

Our elf’s name is Argyle Nakatomi.

My kids have no idea what it means, but they have learned to spell it, impeccably, as evidenced by the sheer volume of fan mail the woman gets.

I mean all year long. I hear it all year. Argyle Nakatomi when we’re swimming at the lake. Argyle Nakatomi when we’re looking for easter eggs on the crisp frosted snow of Easter Morning. Her name is on their lips and in their little hearts at all times.

It’s a lot of pressure. It’s a lot, a lot of lying.

Which I’m actually not completely uncomfortable with. I don’t mind deceiving my children, if its so that they don’t need to discuss how I prevented them from participating in major cultural events throughout childhood with their therapist. It’s just that the whole vaudeville show that is the elf tradition requires an obscene amount of cognitive energy and executive functioning. I mean, if you’re going to keep up with the really competitive elf moms you better be prepared to devote a space in your home to the construction of elf tableaus.

My kids have stopped questioning why the elf randomly doesn’t move from her perch atop the Kitchen Aid pasta attachment, eyes cast skyward and arms at perfect right angles with her torso.

“She’s very old,” they say, gazing knowingly at one another when they wander to the pantry of a morning only to find that Argyle Nakatomi has not ventured outside the Count Chocula box since last Sunday. “She needs her rest,” they recite, nodding wisely, as the gently pour their breakfast around her tender body and place her back on the third shelf from the top to be alone, once again, with her thoughts.

This year I was lucky to even find the elf at all, so well had I hidden her from the children – and myself – after last year’s event.

Argyle Nakatomi, like all elves, lives in a pod of elves at the North Pole you see. But, as is common in such communal living situations, one elf was identified as a positive contact with an elf from another pod who’d tested positive for The Covid, and so Argyle Nakatomi was regrettably belated in her arrival this year. But it’s everyone’s civic duty to behave responsibly in these times of global pandemic, and Satan…I mean Santa…has assured me that while elves experience no suffering of ailment as a result of contracting The Covid, he could not have lived with himself if one of his minions had infected a human family.

I swear to God, you guys, this stuff just comes out of my head with no premeditation whatsoever. They ask a question and bam.

Lie delivered.

Brain to mouth to my kids’ ears with all the autonomic magic of my next prevaricating breath. I finally found her, though, at the top shelf of my bathroom cupboard with the things no one ever uses but we’re all like required to have in the house. Witch hazel and wood glue and junk.

I remain, to this day, unclear as to whether I was relieved or devastated to discover that she hadn’t been lost to the ether of this house with the pen caps and the board game pieces and every single solitary matching pair of socks I’ve ever owned.

This year, the beast decided to redecorate their entire room while they were at Grandma’s for three days because their beds arrived unexpectedly and it’s kinda hard to say no, these are not Christmas presents, these are just random beds I ordered but which you may neither open nor begin assembling prior to approximately 6 p.m. on Dec. 25.

Every year, I do muster all my might and make the elf do one really cool thing.

Every year, my kids can expect new blankets and pillows, flannel sheets and thermal jammies, and all of the things that can make a person feel amniotically comfortable. But this year they’ve outgrown their beds to the point that they look like Uncle Fester every time they lay down and another slat crushes beneath them because they’ve been recklessly exceeding the weight limit for like 18 months because they won’t stop growing no matter how much nutrition and sunlight I deprive them of.

So this year, Argyle and I spent every night after work assembling furniture and hanging tent curtains under the low loft beds, and stringing twinkle lights around the side rails and replacing the scribbled abstract masterpieces of kindergarten with actual mass-produced wall hangings that say things like “it’s a beautiful day” and “good vibes” in fun fonts.

They still have lots to open on Christmas morning, because I work a lot, and am comfortable spending a small fortune this year to make up for the fact that I appear to be always, always at work. But I’m trying hard to make sure that my presents to the girls don’t replace my presence. Yes, they got a whole new bedroom for Christmas. But then I laid on a little sleeping bag in that under-bed fort for two hours and listened to them read their favorite stories to me.

But I will never forgive that unholy elf for the amount of sleep I sacrificed to do her dark bidding this year.

She’s going to need to settle down or I’m sending her back to Satan with a pink slip.


I’m sending her back to Santa.

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