Friday, December 5, 2014

The Language We All Speak

A few days ago, a friend of mine posted this on Facebook:

“Oh no!  Where in the world did I hide that elf on the shelf!?  Kids are soo excited about tomorrow and his arrival.  I am already exhausted and must search…” #25days #yearofthelazyelf #whateverahashtagmeans #ughelf

Fifty-four comments ensued.  FIFTY-FOUR.  Which, what?

What started as a joke – fellow moms commiserating about elf “chores,” others (myself included) contributing to the thread with excessive hashtags – became a real conversation.  It reminded me of the time I got something like sixty-five comments in a post asking what people put in their potato salad.  (Surely I must jest, you think.  Surely, I assure you, I do NOT.)

So I got to thinking, what do the elf and potato salad have in common?

Both threads were real conversations – banter and opinions and back-and-forth.  Both posts speak the language of their primary audience – parents, who by virtue of being just that, typically cook and play games with their kids.  Both posts contained humor and/or questions, which requested, either overtly or intrinsically, the participation of the audience.

But what I think both elves and potato salad are really about is…identity.  Potato salad, for Americans, is an exceptionally regional dish.  One’s knowledge of ingredients shows your prowess in the kitchen.  And your participation in the thread identifies you as someone who helps out, someone who is ready to lend advice, when asked.

With the elf, it’s the same.  Each reply to the thread has a meta-meaning -  whether or not you even own an elf.  Everyone has an opinion.  Either it’s a fun family tradition in which you love participating (thereby branding yourself as a great parent, attentive and fun-loving), or it’s a commercialized cash cow that requires almost unendurable energy during what is already an energy-intensive portion of the parenting year (thereby branding yourself as the anti-establishment, stick-it-to-the man type of parent (or maybe just lazy)).*  Maybe you create elaborate elf tableaus each bedtime hour, evoking shrieks of glee and wonder each morning after, or maybe you tell your kids that the elf sucks and is creepy and that’s why your family will be elf-less FOREVER.  Maybe, like me, you grudgingly bought one in an unfortunate episode of parental guilt and now are regrettably and forevermore bound to that red-suited joker.  Maybe, like me, you have (as of this year) assigned all elf duties to your eldest child, much to her delight and your relief.  Maybe you bitch and moan about the elf publically, but secretly like making snow angels out of sugar on your kitchen counter.  Or maybe you post a photo of your elven shenanigans each morning on Facebook, because you truly love providing these to your children, and you also enjoy seeing what the rest of the elf diaspora is up to.  All of these choices brand us as a certain type of parent, a certain type of mom. 

*Disclaimer: I have friends of all types, so no judgment.  Just noticing.

The point is, every mother I know has an opinion and stake in this elf thing, like it or not.  It’s a language we all speak.  Do you agree?  What else, besides the elf and potato salad, would you add to the list of things that get everyone talking on Facebook?  And on which side of the elf equation do your personal loyalties lie?

**Side note – Right when I posted this I got on Facebook and one of my friends had just posted this e-card.  And it had 16 likes already.  You see?  THAT ELF IS EVERYWHERE.

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