Saturday, December 18, 2010

Elf Meets Dog; Chaos Ensues

The elf is most assuredly on the shelf. Even in baseball’s off-season, the injuries can pile up. Especially when you pit a few ounces of innocent felt against 58 pounds of curious canine.

Last year, my girls joined an ever-growing number of children whose holiday seasons are now overseen by a wide-eyed creature dressed in red. The “Elf on the Shelf” has taken the Christmas season by storm, adding several more reasons for children to be nice rather than naughty. This elf is a wee 13 inches from his toes to the point of his red cap. He’s dressed in red and white felt, and his big blue eyes stare at you with a mixture of wonder and wildness.

He sits in a spot inside our house each day, watching the girls closely with those big eyes. At night, he flies to the North Pole to give Santa a kid-behavior report, then catches the red-eye back to our house by morning. Each day, we find him in a different surveillance spot.

The girls named our elf Freddie last November, and declared that he was a she. A white skirt was produced, and Freddie seemed to enjoy her time with us last year. But oh, how things have changed.

In February, the girls’ birthday gift was a very cute and fluffy golden retriever puppy named Daisy. Some nine months later, that puppy has grown plenty big and strong. In late November of this year, Daisy met little Freddie. It began with a sniff here, and a tail-wag there. And then it got ugly.

One morning, Freddie thought she’d be safe inside a ceramic boot Christmas-card holder. It felt secure enough to her. But Freddie forgot to take into account that she was now within Daisy’s reach. What happened next, only Daisy and Freddie know for sure. I can only describe the grisly aftermath.

The dog was standing over the red elf, whose body lay splayed across the rug. Daisy was licking the red fabric of Freddie’s jacket, but that was certainly not the worst of it. As my wife picked up Freddie, she noticed the tear. The elf’s right shoulder was partially detached from her body. This was a torn rotator cuff of the worst sort. Were Freddie a pitcher, she’d be out of action until 2012.

In the case of felt elves, glue surgery works better than anything involving tendons, ligaments and bone spurs. Freddie was given a night off from flying, and permitted to rest on the kitchen counter while the glue hardened. By morning, she was scarred, but ready to return to work.

Daisy turned one year old on Thursday, and we celebrated by giving our dog some toys and treats. She’s matured in plenty of ways over the past year, from knowing when and where to poop to knowing how to sit, stay and roll over. But there are other ways in which Daisy is still very much a puppy. She still has a tendency to view her own poop as a snack, and she has a fetish for dirty socks, tissues and just about anything else left on the floor. As my dad has noted, she is no scholar.

When Daisy goes after a newspaper or a paper-towel roll, she gets disciplined and hides beneath the table. She knows, in some way, that the thing she just did was wrong. In the case of Freddie, she did the same. But at this moment, her loss of self-control had done more than just damage some paper. It had placed an innocent helper of St. Nick on the North Pole Disabled List. For a half a second or two, I think Daisy might have felt badly about it. But then she moved on.

As for Freddie, I don’t think she’ll ever forget the night she and Daisy met face to face. Elves can do a lot of cool things, but even Santa can’t save them from the nosiness of a golden retriever. The shelf can never be high enough.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Goodwill; Good Grief!

The Charlie Brown / Cliff Lee Christmas Special.

[Scene begins with a dad, once nicknamed “Charlie Brown” by his grandfather, conversing about Christmas with his older daughter.]

So Katie, if Santa could bring you one gift this year, what would it be?

[A pause, then an answer] A dachshund.

Now Katie, you were given a dog for your birthday last year. Daisy isn’t even a year old yet. Let’s move on: If Santa could bring you two gifts this year, what would the second one be?

A bed for my dachshund.

All right now, Katie. Let’s move away from the dog gifts. If Santa could bring you a third gift, what would that be?

A panda bear.

(Sigh.) Good grief.

Sometimes, even the most wonderful time of the year is fraught with negotiation. While there will be no hot dog-shaped canines or black-eyed, bamboo-eating bears under our tree this Christmas, there has to be something. And when the girls finally got serious and gave us their Santa lists, the requests were, well, staggering. In a Sally Brown kind of way.

- An iTouch
- A new backyard playset
- An e-Reader
- An iPod
- A bicycle

They didn’t say it themselves, but I’m sure they’d also be pleased with Sally’s request of “tens and twenties” on her Santa list. What happened to the days when Lite Brite was a lot to ask for? What happened to hoping upon hope that a new Joe Montana jersey lay beneath the tree? What, in the name of Charlie Brown, ever happened to Lincoln Logs? Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?

Linus isn’t home right now, Charlie. Lucy is, though, and she’ll tell you it’s all a big commercial racket. She’s reading the newspaper today, and she’s interested in a story about Cliff Lee, the left-handed pitching ace from Arkansas. Still undecided on what his next team will be, Lee can be certain of one thing – when he does sign, he’ll be at least $150 million richer. There have been a lot of negotiations between Lee’s agent and assorted major-league teams over the past month, and the teams keep piling more money in front of the lefty. If Lee wanted a dachshund and a panda, several teams would happily provide them for him tomorrow.

Of course, Cliff Lee could build his own zoo with the money he’s about to make. He can look at my girls’ list and take care of it tomorrow – with his own shopping assistant, if he so desires. He might even buy himself one of those big aluminum trees. Maybe one painted pink. It’s not the easiest Christmas for some families, but for elite baseball players such as Lee, the stocking is overflowing.

Santa will bring some wonderful gifts to our house on Christmas morning, but he did not spend two weeks shopping in Best Buy or Petco for the 8-year-old and 5-year-old who live here. The gifts will be just fine, and I have a feeling my two girls will be very grateful for what they receive.

In our living room, after all, we have a new holiday ornament this year – a replica of Charlie Brown’s tiny Christmas tree. The girls like it a lot, and I’d like to think it reminds them of one of the many great messages found in Charlie’s holiday classic – that nothing needs to be pricey to be a thing of beauty; all it needs is a little love.

Sure, Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about.

Ah, Linus. There you are. Bring that blanket over here and tell us a story. Lights, please.