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And the Shelf He Rode In On (Part II)

Thursday, 8 December 2011

You Gotta Get Up - Five Iron Frenzy (mp3)
Please Daddy (Don't Get Drunk This Christmas) - John Denver (mp3)

Part One -- "The Origin of Laura Jane," wherein I mention our transgendered hero/heroine, Nicole Kidman, late night elf pornography, and Gmail)

November 29, 2010. My elder daughter -- let's name her Billie Jr. -- writes a letter to Santa and places it under our Christmas tree. In it, she requests a new Elf on the Shelf of her own so that she doesn’t have to share Laura Jane (our gender-transformed female elf who looks like all the other male elves) with her sister.

You see, my second daughter was always far more obsessed with Laura Jane writing her emails almost every month... and we didn’t know it because we didn’t check Laura Jane’s email account until Thanksgiving Perhaps because Billie Jr. was resigned to never be capable of loving Laura Jane quite as ardently as her sister, she was hoping to start over with a new elf.

And this is where I morph into the bad guy. Here comes my Tragic Flaw.

I crafted an email from Laura Jane that started something like this:
My Dearest Billie Jr.,

I read your note to Santa because I thought it was for me.

Have I done something wrong? I am feeling quite awful about this and wonder how I have failed you. Just this morning you want to know about my life at the North Pole, and then this evening you are asking for a different elf. I am trying not to cry, because I must have done something awful or mean for you to want another elf.
The email went another two paragraphs. Laura Jane was heartbroken. Santa can’t send multiple elves to households. It’s one or none. She might lose her job. The sky is falling, and the Pole with her.

We have struggled with Billie Jr.’s increasing inability to attune to the aches and needs of others, to empathize and to grasp the depth of The Golden Rule. What better way to address that level of selfishness, I thought, than to let the voice of absolute North Pole innocence address it?

Her mother and I had sat her down on numerous occasions to discuss this matter with her, but we had gotten nowhere. Perhaps Laura Jane could accomplish what we could not.

If results can be measured by the level of psychological and emotional distress inflicted, then I earned a gold medal. My daughter looked like death warmed over for two days. She lost the ability to speak in complete sentences, and it was obvious that every time she emerged from a moment of privacy that she’d spent her alone time crying.

Her first email to Laura Jane first thing in the morning was a panicked apology. Her second reply, later that evening, was this:
you have made me cry even more.now i am very sad.I am so so so so sorry!i wrote that note because (my sister) & i argue about who has you and so on,but i am truely sorry.My thoughts have changed so much and thank you for reading the note. it has made me relize christmas even more.
You'll need to trust me on this: Billie Jr.'s apology was more about the fear of losing everything than about an appreciation for what she had. Her concluding sentence was more platitude than truth... although I think she really wanted to believe it.

The 72 hours after Laura Jane’s heartbroken email involved a gradual evolution of personal assessment for me. At first I was proud. Laura Jane’s email had worked. The message had penetrated. The seed would grow into something good.

Then I was defensive. My daughter needed to be taught a lesson, dammit, and some lessons are hard. But sometimes you can’t learn about a stove eye being hot unless you touch it and burn your hand, and human emotions are the same way, and she needed to learn about selfishness.

Then I was panicked. Had I just embodied the persona of one of Santa’s elves and crafted a note intended to stab a psychological knife into my own daughter’s heart? Nooo, of course not... no. Not quite. No no, nothing that awful.....

Then I was horrified. What kind of father does something like this? Isn’t what I did, in some way, even more dangerous and harmful than if I’d pulled out my belt and lashed her a few dozen times, something I would never in a million years do? Isn’t inflicting emotional scars far more cruel and dangerous?

Not to mention the hypocrisy of me -- ME -- having the gall to try and teach someone else about being self-centered or selfish. Who the frick was I to go judging my daughter so much more harshly than I’ve ever been willing to judge myself??

Suddenly I was eyeball-deep into a state of despondency not unlike that which had overtaken my daughter the first day of Laura Jane's “lesson” to her. Except as the puppet-master and supposed adult, my sadness went deeper, and my self-evaluation was unflinchingly brutal. Everytime I heard or thought “Merry Christmas,” I cringed. The season was suddenly a symbol of deception, heartbreak, manipulation... nothing good.

A week later, Laura Jane was dead to me. My wife didn’t handle my resignation very well. I have little doubt that I failed to share in any adequate way my internal nuclear chain reaction with her. I probably mentioned to her once or twice that I was bothered by what had transpired, and the next thing she knew, I was quitting, and it was non-negotiable. That jump from "bothered" to "done" seemed extreme and unfair, I'm sure. (Like many men, I'm not fond of breaking down in the presence of others.)

She begrudgingly and angrily took over Laura Jane duty and carried that seething frustration with her like a sack of coal, thus adding one more body to the list of Christmas casualties, all borne from my single heartbroken manipulative scheming late-night email.

Now it's the 2011 Holiday Season. Daughter Number Two has continued her pen pal devotion to Laura Jane...

Part Three - "The Night Before," Wherein at last shines a faint glimmer of hope.

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