That damn Elf on the Shelf. Just recently we gave in and followed the crowd.
My kindergartener came home with a friend for a playdate. Within minutes, the friend asked, “Where’s your elf?” (as matter-of-factly as if he’d asked, “Where’s the shitter?”)
And my kid responded, “We don’t have an elf,” (as matter-of-factly as if he’d said, “we eat cauliflower on Thursdays.”)
Up to that moment, avoiding the damn elf on the shelf nonsense had been a point of pride. Friends were in awe at us having avoided the charade. I thanked my lucky stars as I occasionally scrolled social media documentation of elf creativity I never want to emulate.
But when my kid showed no sense of betrayal or disappointment, I felt all the more guilty that I’d deprived, neglected, abused, manipulated, and robbed his childhood of the true meaning of capitalist Christmas: the damn elf on the shelf.
I pledged then and there I would join the crowd. No longer would my kid need to accept being short-changed by Christmas (corporate) magic.
The next day, I zipped right over to Barnes & Noble. (When was the last time you made that statement. Poor big box under-dog.) It was already December 19th, so elves were in short supply.
I’m sure all of you know that elves come in different genders, skin tone and eye colors. (That was news to me.)
This day all they had were blue-eyed boys. How…ironic? Typical? Dated? Pathetic? Socially irrelevant?
I grabbed a stupid WASPy elf.
And then I noticed the accouterments shelves. AYFKM? There
are wardrobes and accessories for these dumb-ass symbols of capitalist excess?
And then I was inspired! I’d get a “girl” set to make our elf at least interesting.
I s’pose I should give you some context for this need to make our elf “interesting”.
I was in the Broadway show, Head Over Heels. Quick explanation of the show: “punk Shakespeare set to the music of the Go-Go’s and smashing the patriarchy.” The plot smashed the hetero-normative paradigm with gender-bending and gay love aplenty. And one of the stars of the show was Peppermint, made famous by her turn on RuPaul’s Drag Race as the first openly transgender contestant. In the show, she played a non-binary character.
Further, my older child is gender-fluid. Our current line in the family is that she has a “boy” body and a “girl” brain. She latched onto this line, herself, after reading I am Jazz, a wonderful picture book about a transgender girl.
So my point is, my 2nd grader and kindergartener are totes woke. They grasp nuances of gender identity and a non-binary world better than 90% of adults.
Back to the damn elf on the shelf.
The next day, walking home from school, I told them to
expect a surprise.
We walked into our apartment, and on a shelf right inside our front door is our elf on the shelf.
I am not exaggerating when I say their heads almost exploded.
Even if just for that magical moment, I’m so glad I joined the insanity that is the damn elf on the shelf shenanigans.
Right away, my older kid (while jumping uncontrollably) asked, “What are we gonna name him?”
Younger kid enthusiastically agreed and they started running through names.
Rudolph? Santa’s Helper? Jeff? Red Tiger?
They assumed elfie was a he, despitemy shelling out for the dumb-ass $20 felt skirt and scarf…accessories I could’ve sewn, myself. And I can’t sew.
So I pointed out, “Well look, kiddos – the elf seems to have short hair.”
“But is also wearing a skirt.”
“I mean – it sort of looks like a boy and is wearing a
skirt? Or maybe it’s a girl with short hair?”
The kids pondered and stared for a second.
And then my younger kid – the five year-old who tolerates the insanity of his dads and drama of his gender-fluid older sister – shouts:
“Maybe it’s trans-ginger!”
The kid said trans-ginger.
Then, my non-binary badass shouts, “It’s name is Trans Ginger Jingle! But just “Ginger” for short.”
With that, I became a disciple of that damn elf on the shelf.
I’m fascinated by the ongoing societal discussion of sexual
harassment and worldwide reckoning with the thousands-year exploitation
The movement makes me think about a badass dear friend of mine, Charlotte,
who talks about the dawning of the age of Aquarius (unrelated to the
song) and who’s personal mission is to reunite people with their inner
I’m not well-versed in astrology, new age intellectualism, or
vortexes. But I do believe there is a deep energy force that connects
humans to each other and to nature, and is what orchestrates the harmony
with our Mother Earth (however unharmonious we humans try to make it.)
Call this energy what you will. I’m fine with calling it God.
So Charlotte is the leader (she hates that term but I’m proud to call her that) of an ever-expanding “circle of women”. They believe in the sacred feminine and the sacred masculine (which
are vastly different from the notion of gender roles) and seek to
harness the power (or divinity) within human beings to reformulate a
more peaceful, energy-focused, divine world that’s less fucked up by
humans and the institutions that screwed it all up for us: government,
Or, if you will, organizations constructed by men.
All of these institutions are elements of un-divine masculinity: a perverted basis of power, competition, destruction and war that didn’t always dictate humankind.
For example, Charlotte talks about how Europe in the “Dark” Ages was
actually much more matriarchal and not “dark”, at all. The women had
deep knowledge of nature, plant remedies, and energy forces. Society was
egalitarian and symbiotic. There wasn’t ownership of land by
individuals since villages had to work together to survive. And women were leaders in their communities.
Sure, there were invading Huns, pestilence, and life was about
survival, with much less pleasure. But what we call the “Dark Ages”
wasn’t a time of universal suffering; it just happens not to be
an era defined by conquer, control, competition, ambition, and
domination. Life in fiefdoms was marked by fewer historic milestones, so
the men writing the history books considered it a dark time. But
“normal” life was not “dark.”
But then societal institutions (church, government, and
“companies”…meaning private ownership of stuff) became fearful that they
couldn’t keep control. So they move to repress. And these organizations
run by men certainly couldn’t have women’s input. They were afraid of
losing their grip on power, so these organizations acted as tyrants and
demagogues, harnessing power and competing to be top dog.
Bringing that closer to home, “masculinity” (power, competition, domination, war) has screwed up society and
men. This last-couple-millennia age of war (as opposed to that of
Aquarius) has meant a distorted notion of masculinity has screwed up
men, our notion of manhood, and gender roles.
And we men are so very screwed up. We have impenetrable emotional
walls, we are afraid of showing vulnerability or proclivities other than
the mainstream. In general, we lack the intimate friendships that bond
women to each other. We focus on competition instead of mental health,
domination instead of mutual benefits, defensiveness instead of
And we are afraid. So very afraid – of not being the
strongest, the fastest, the smartest, the richest, the manliest, the
most virile and most respected. We fear NOT being top dog.
But what does being the top dog get us? – things that really matter in life?
We have manipulated our worlds into that of power and conquest –
leading us directly to the scandals du jour of rampant sexual
harassment. Instead of sex being a mutual bond, it’s about domination
And I believe that’s directly related to sexual harassment. We have
unhealthy perspectives of sex and sexuality that have been bastardized
by the institutions that control society and norms and laws…those
aforementioned institutions meant to control society and created by,
(Andrew Sullivan has written a myopic account,
recently, talking about the different genetic programming between men
and women and that men are programmed to compete and dominate. I don’t
dispute that. And he points out that gay men are a microcosm of
competition and domination without women’s influence and basically,
“It’s just fine.” I’d argue that, sure, men and women are genetically
programmed to act differently and that men are naturally more competitive and seek dominance. However, it can
be combined with respect and self-control. Healthy approaches to sex
and being in tune with one’s own ego doesn’t mean undermining our
genetic predisposition. Come on, Andy. You can’t excuse unwanted groping
as being acceptable because of genetic programming…for women or men,
gay or straight.)
But I digress.
I used to think the “Age of Aquarius”
was hippy mumbo-jumbo. But, maybe we are finally turning a corner from
an age of destruction toward an age of, I dunno…construction? You
wouldn’t think so with the saber-rattling of international leaders. But
let’s think big picture – 51% of the world population is acquiring more
influence and proving more than adept in leadership positions. For the
first time, possibly in history, societies are legislating parity.
We know we need to collaborate to save the delicate world that sustains our existence.
We know we are economically interdependent and need to wage cooperation, not war.
This dawning age of cooperation is a marathon, not a sprint. It might
take decades (or centuries) to establish. But war makes less sense.
Domination and selfish competition make less sense.
Is #MeToo leading us closer to Aquarius where men can re-discover the
“sacred masculine” (without fear “compromising” a 2018 sense of
“masculinity”) and women can settle into the “sacred feminine” (or men
can embrace their inner femininity without fear and vice-versa for
The new possibilities are limitless in a world with less fear.
Last night I was giving thanks by opening a beer seconds after putting my kids down, I felt gratitude that they most likely won’t wake for 10½ hours. I am so lucky to have sleepers.
As I sipped, I thought about gratitude. It was a Hallmark Channel moment. And I was reminded: the many ways I’ll be giving thanks this (and every) year is to my mom…for making me a dad.
I write about her in the past tense. Several years ago, she died unexpectedly from a cardial arrhythmia. Doctors said it’s the way we all want to go: one second you’re here, then you’re not.
Several people told me, “Ohmigosh, you’re an orphan!” (a label that never occurred to me til it was pointed out.) But there are worse tragedies in the world than my personal situation. Much worse. But in our culture, 32 is young to be parent-less.
Thanks to our close relationship where nothing was left unsaid, I wasn’t bereft. I was sad, but I’d be ok. That’s a tribute to her.
And she’s utterly unperturbed when her hips occasionally slip and slam on the ground. She just keeps going in her new normal.
But I desperately hope for to regain control of her bladder and bowels.
Dear doggy lord: my Maddie is walking adequately. I’ll trade further progress in the leg region for any control in her nether regions.
We’ve had to “express” her bladder, otherwise she grows a 3-inch balloon in her gut. We put our fingers behind her ribs and squeeze back and in. This triggers her back legs to shoot straight out while urine sprays out of her with the force of a super-soaker. Not difficult, merely annoying. And a lot of splashing.
But nothing’s as bad as the poop.
Before walking returned, the poor dog soiled herself. Bowels emptied onto her tail and legs and she’d try to drag her paralyzed hind-end away. Daily baths were the norm. (Difficult with a dog who couldn’t stand.) We were all miserable.
Since walking, Maddie still lacks “function” control. Sometimes
(usually at about 4AM) it seems she feels something and thinks, “Oh,
crap. Oh, no. Oh crap, I think I’m gonna…”
She stands, takes two steps, and then: plop. Another step, another
plop. We’ve surrounded her bed with wee-wee pads, so her scat is caught
before she scats.
Then she shamefully hides from us in a corner.
The commotion wakes us, but over the past few weeks, we’re resigned
to it. “Oh, well. The dog lost it, again.” So we clean doggy-doo by the
light of cell phones.
For a month I lined up Ellison’s rubber alphabet tiles down our
hallway for Maddie to walk without slipping. Because she stuck to that
path, a few times she left presents along the tiles.
One night before turning in, I went to check on the sleeping boys, and I stepped in a pile. I was barefoot.
I slipped, smearing ordure along the P, Q, and R letters, at which
point the tiles separated, and my foot further smeared feces on the wood
I semi-sighed/semi-laughed. I wretched as I cleaned.
This wasn’t the first bare foot nastiness. I’m always the one who steps in it.
Recently, I started “expressing” her bowels. (Yeah: I’m a dog saint.)
Imagine, if you will, a grown man squatting behind his dog, squeezing
her haunches until her tail pops up and her anus starts to pucker.
At this point, I’m (sadly) happy for action. It means less mess in the apartment. Since it’s now sub-zero in the Northeast, and I squat mere inches away from her, I actually see steam escaping her butt.
The height of indignity is when I force my dog to fart in my face. It happens almost daily.
We hardly react to this, anymore. It’s become de rigueur for the kids.
“Did Maddie go poopy again, Daddy?”
“Yes. Don’t touch it, please. I’ll clean it after I make your toast.”
One time, a babysitter sat on the couch reading to Ellison when my younger kid delivered something. It was poop.
To this point (knock on wood) Maddie’s had no diarrhea. So clearing the crud is quick and easy and it’s easier for me to say “I’m a dog saint.” Sometimes we scrub with chemicals, sometimes we just wipe with a paper towel. We’re so resigned to it now, we just shrug and keep on keeping on.
I haven’t cleaned with bare hands. That’s probably next.
We ask every visitor if the apartment smells like dog droppings.
I’ve written a variation on this theme, before, but it’s the greatest hope I have for my kids.
“Daddy? You be ‘Anna’ and I’m going to run away from you with my cape and you say, ‘No, Elsa! Don’t go!’ Ok?”
Even Colton, who’s words are limited to “pee-pee” and “nana” gets into it. When he sees anything Frozen, he shouts “Anna!”
As already discussed, our household is ruled by Frozen. (Actually, Thomas the Train still rules, but there’s a lot of Disney princessifying going on.)
Frozen thrills Ellison. He plays all the rolls: Kristoff,
Sven and (especially) the sisters. I’ve gotten good at fashioning
dresses out of old swaddlers (blankets, not Pampers.)
The other day I figured, “Eh, he hasn’t watched it in two weeks. Why
not?” As we waited for the movie to load on my computer, Ellison jumped
on the bed shouting, “Hooray! Hooray! I’m so excited to watch Frozen!”
He shouts “hooray” sans irony. I mean, who talks like that? It’s so…earnest, so…“Barney” dialogue.
After a recent snowstorm, we built “Olafs” in our backyard with some play-date friends, a boy (age 5) and his sister (age 3).
When Ellison started singing, “Do you want to build a snowman?” the boy said, “I hate Frozen. It’s all about love. And I hate love.”
“Wow. That’s…specific,” I sputtered.
His little sister said, “Yeah. I don’t like it, either.”
“Oh,” Ellison said; then (matter-of-factly) added, “I like it!”
It was as if they’d said “my name begins with R” and he said “Oh. Well, my name begins with E.”
And in that moment, I felt a desperate need to stop time, grab Ellison, and say, “Buddy, you go ahead and LOVE Frozen with all your heart, just as you do, now. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.”
Their mother rolled their eyes saying, “Whatever. They were both dancing around in Frozen dresses, this morning. Peer pressure. It’s no longer cool for him to like the movie. And his sister’s just following.”
“Already?” I thought. “At five years old social acceptance looms?”
I hate that.
I’ve spouted lessons for my son in this blog. But above all, I wish
most for him to hold on forever to that innocence where he loves what he
loves. If he’s thrilled with Frozen or football or fungi, I’ll be elated to talk about it.
How I wish he could live divorced from anyone else’s opinion.
Watching his captivated face as he’s engrossed/scared/delighted watching
Frozen warms my heart.
Eventually, I know he’ll follow crowds.
I know he’ll say to me, “Daddy, don’t hug me so much,”
or “Daddy, it’s not cool to sing,”
or “Daddy? Can you drop me off at the corner? I can walk the rest of the way myself.”
But I wish it wouldn’t happen soon.
Son, just hold on to whatever makes you feel joy and free and light
and inspired. And if whatever inflames your passion is something that
isn’t cool for the outside world, I promise you: it’s safe in our house.
So act out Frozen or play football or become bizarrely obsessed with fungi.
Your passion and interests are always safe with me.
I know you’ll be influenced by others far too soon.
What is it with Frozen? I know people with 4 -6 year-olds
went through this last year, but my 3-year-old is quickly catching up.
He is obsessed with Elsa, Anna, Olaf, Kristoff and that insidious song.
I mean, do any adults think the movie is amazing? How on earth did they craft something so addictive for kids?
Is it immediacy?…that we can conjure the song on phones and parents couldn’t have done that with The Little Mermaid? Would we have gone ape-shit over Aladdin if we could YouTube “Never Had a Friend” while on a ski lift or in line at the grocery store?
Obviously Disney creates magic, but I wonder if they don’t have a
“Department of Nefarious Arts” in a turret of Sleeping Beauty’s castle
where they plot to seduce impressionable minds with
scientifically-chosen colors and committee-crafted plot points?
Ellison is learning a lot about families, behavior and body parts with his preoccupation with Frozen. Last
Tuesday he asked me 16 times why Elsa stays in the room hiding from
Anna. I explained twelve times (and ignored the other four), “Because
Elsa has magical powers in her hands, but she doesn’t know how to
control them. So she hides from Anna to keep Anna safe.”
“But Elsa loves Anna. They’re sisters.”
“That’s right, buddy. Sometimes you have to protect people you love by hiding from them.”
How on earth is that a concept he can understand? But maybe Frozen is expanding his brain capacity?
Yesterday, Ellison pulled a blue yoga mat around his chest and said,
“Look! I’m Elsa. My purple cape flew away. Now I’m in the blue dress.”
He does this with blankets, towels and, once, a paper towel.
It’s hilarious how he taps into the role-play. (I bet this woman would have something to say about it.)
As we walked to school, the other day, he asked this non-sequitur: “Do Elsa and Anna have penises?”
“Um, no buddy.”
“Oh. What do they have in front of their hinies?”
I took a deep breath to quell my guffaw. “They have vaginas, buddy.” (We’ve discussed anatomy, before.)
He responded, “Olaf doesn’t have a penis.”
“Oh,” I said, newly enlightened. I refrained from saying, How do you
know he isn’t just suffering from shrinkage? He’s a snowman!
Another non-sequitur: while playing trains, Ellison stood, stomped
his feet and informed me, “When Elsa stomps her foot on the stairs, she
makes snowflakes. She runs up stairs but she doesn’t fall. I don’t run
on stairs. I could fall.”
Bless his preschool and their staircase vigilance.
And the song. Seriously? Is it really that good? Even Idina Menzel,
herself, has declared the song “too damn high.” (I can’t find the
citation, now, but I swear I read it.)
And the ending? “Cold never bothered me, anyway.” Isn’t that some
kind of dangling grammatical deviant? It’s so clipped…like the writers
jumped off the horse mid-stream.
But maybe this is the Disney psychological warfare? Adults are musically unsatisfied, the kids don’t seem to care.
And the writers and Disney are laughing at my novice criticism all the way to the bank.
Yesterday I needed to wake Ellison from a nap (he could nap for hours
in the afternoon, but then he’d never sleep at night. So I wake him at
45 minutes…resulting in crabbiness.) I brought him from the brink of
tears by pulling up “Let it Go” on my phone. Breathlessly, he whispered,
“What’s that song, Daddy? It’s…it’s…it’s ‘Wet it D’oh.’”