Kathleen Dawson Clancy
5 min readDec 11, 2020


On Grief and Time. And Our Elf on the Shelf.


She leaned in close to the red stuffed Elf that was hanging onto our paper towel roll.

“Tomorrow is a weird special day. It’s our brother William’s birthday. He’s two. In heaven. So you might see mommy crying or daddy crying or me and Abigail sad or something. But it’s ok. So don’t be worried about us. We just need to do that. It’s kind of weird, but it’s part of his birthday day. And a cake. We’ll make sure to have a cake. So don’t eat it ok??”

Her little sister laughed, said “Noelle” like a child actor in a scripted 90’s TV show (where did she learn that?) and Eleanor came up next to her and gave her a squeeze.

“Ahhhhh. Too squeazy.” Abigail said. They laughed together. Until their laughter turned to bickering.

“I said too squeazy!” Abigail shouted.

My back was turned to them as I was putting the dinner leftovers in the Tupperware. I snapped the top on and turned towards my girls.

“STOP!” Abigail yells and pulls my attention back to them.

“No you stop pushing!” Eleanor screams back.

I take a deep breath and start the nighttime herding process.

“Come on girls. It’s time for bed. Upstairs. Now. Come on. Stop fighting!” my hands motioning up the stairs as I say it. As they separate and head upstairs I gently pull Eleanor back, kiss her on the head, and tell her thank you for saying those things to Noelle. She winks at me (where did she learn that?) and says “I think Abigail needed to hear it”.

We get upstairs and now the dressing and the washing and the brushing and the tucking in begins. The just one more minute’s as Abigail arranges and rearranges her overcrowded dresser top with every trinket and Chapstick and tiny drawing her pockets accumulated that day. The I can’t brush my teeth for that long, you used the spicy toothpaste and the water’s too cold to wipe my face followed by now it’s too hot five seconds later as Eleanor stands at the sink in her pajamas.

Abigail starts crying because I’m rushing her and Eleanor decides now is the perfect time to decide which stuffed animals she’s going to bring downstairs after our conversation three days ago about cleaning her room. As my patience starts to wane and the tone of my voice shifts I hear Abigail start to cry louder as she says “you know I don’t like being rushed and you know I don’t like your voice when…



Kathleen Dawson Clancy

Short stories and poems about motherhood, grief, and life. Follow along @kdawsonclancy on instagram.