Four years ago, my husband decided that instead of giving in to the whole Elf on the Shelf craze, he would take it to the level of performance art. He called his project “Self on the Shelf”, and the plan was to hide himself somewhere to scare his children by whispering “Merry Christmas” in a hissing, evil way. For his first attempt, he hid himself on a dark stairwell, and just as our son Big O turned the corner, my husband whispered “Merry Christmas!!!” O was so scared, he fell to the ground. It was obviously a success. And so began our family tradition of concocting ridiculous ways to creep each other out in the name of Holiday Cheer.
As with most good ideas, my boys sometimes took Self on the Shelf a bit too far (sometimes bordering on torture), but it was entertaining to watch them hiding under furniture waiting for someone to come out of the bathroom or crouching in the pantry on the faint hope that someone might open the door eventually. Well, entertaining for the first few days, anyway.
Luckily, I was able to film O’s first triumph. As soon as he heard his dad pull into the garage, he was ready. So what if he got himself stuck in the dryer? It was worth it because of the scream.
Each year I hope they’ll forget about Self on the Shelf but it always comes back. It’s as annoying as April Fool’s Day except it lasts a whole month.
This year, O decided to kick off the season with an epic Self on the Shelf. It was a little bit dangerous with plenty of chances of him getting caught. Or, more likely, that he would fall asleep and miss his chance forever.
I had to pick my husband up from his sister’s house at 12:45 a.m. because they were getting back late from a concert. O hid himself under a blanket on the floor behind the passenger seat just as we turned the corner and approached the house. I parked strategically to avoid street lamps, and I insisted on driving even though he offered. Safety first.
Since we wanted to catch the moment on film, we decided the safest way to do it without us crashing the car would be to have my husband hold the camera. O and I came up with a backstory about our 3rd grader needing to turn in a video the next day with one of his parents sharing a memory from 3rd grade. I told my husband I couldn’t remember anything from that long ago and asked if he could do it. Easy, right?
But then he went into a long story about his only memory from 3rd grade – when he called someone a swear word and got in trouble for it. He couldn’t use that story for the video, so I tried to steer him back to the task at hand. As is often the case when I try to get him to wrap up a long story, he was undeterred, so we kept driving as he elaborated on his scandalous experimentation with swear words.
I was getting nervous (and annoyed) because I needed to put gas in the car and gas stations are well-lit. I was sure that the jig would be up once he got out to pump the gas. O is around six feet tall, so crouching in a small space without attracting attention wasn’t easy. His giant head lump was pretty obvious. As we pulled in the gas station, I panicked and even said something dumb like, “Why don’t you hurry and film it before you pump gas?” and he asked why I was such a weirdo.
As he pumped gas, I watched him nervously in the side mirror while talking ventriloquist-style with O. Luckily, that gas station had one of those annoying “news programs” playing at each pump so my husband was distracted and couldn’t hear us talking. O tends to fall asleep very easily in very strange places all the time. It’s his superpower. Knowing this about him, I kept saying, “Are you awake?….How about now? Don’t fall asleep!” His only complaint was that it was a very uncomfortable position to be stuck in for fifteen minutes.
After filling the car, my husband said he needed a snack from inside the gas station (another five minutes’ wait…another “you still awake?”), and then when he got back in the car, we had to wait some more because he needed to eat the snack. At this point, I was driving on the freeway. With each crunch of each potato chip, I was getting more agitated. Was O falling asleep? How could I drive on the freeway with my precious child in the back without a seatbelt? Would it be worth losing a life just for a stupid prank? And why was he eating so many chips? Does he always crunch his chips this loudly, or was this a special extra crunchy variety? Finally, out of frustration, I said, “I don’t want my phone battery to die. Let’s hurry and get this done.”
Did we pull it off without O falling asleep? Would it actually scare my husband? Watch for yourself. (Please excuse my maniacal laugh. Somehow, even though I knew it was coming at that exact moment, his “Merry Christmas” still made me jump. And that made me laugh like a madwoman.)
Even though it took so much longer than we anticipated, we pulled it off! I think it was so successful, we don’t even have to try to top it. At all. Ever.