Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Tragedy of the Elves

Today I have a horrible elf hangover. No, I didn't fall too deep into the egg nog last night. I was up until the wee hours doing the work of the elves.

As always, this wasn't how I'd planned it.

A few weeks back, the Bear mentioned that the one toy that caught his imagination in the Christmas catalogs was a puppet theater. I whispered to his dad that we could maybe build our own; the one in the catalog looked small and flimsy. By "we," I of course meant "he." The Bear didn't bring it up again - until a few days ago, with hope gleaming in his eyes. By then, his dad was under the weather and nothing was going to be built of wood and hardware.

But I started to fret that the Bear might be disappointed to not get the one and only toy he'd requested. So yesterday, I got the brilliant idea (and by "brilliant," I of course mean "harebrained") that I could sew a puppet theater. These Martha Stewart-ish fits strike me only about once a year. They always end in me feeling grateful that home ec was a required course during my long-ago North Dakotan girlhood - and foolish at not having learned my lesson during my last fit of craftiness.

4 p.m.: I'm in Wal-Mart, scouring the fabric department for supplies. (Please don't chide me for patronizing the evil empire; it's the only source for fabric within 40 miles.) Finally I find the only bolt of velvet in stock. Technically it's velveteen, but it'll do. It's lush and black. As for trimmings, I settle on sequined braid, ribbon, and tassels, all in a festive gold.

9:30 p.m.: I sneak the sewing machine out of the upstairs closet and past the kids as their dad gets them ready for bed. I discover that the prongs on the plug are badly warped. I unwarp them just enough to render them pluggable. Mercifully, the machine runs smoothly; I hadn't used it since I'd driven all the way to Zanesville for repairs after I'd broken the entire needle unit while sewing a Halloween costume. It dawns on me how stupid it is to engage in Christmas brinksmanship.

9:35 p.m.: The Bear appears downstairs. I bark at him - rather unmerrily - to get back to bed. I thank my stars that it wasn't the Tiger, who still believes.

11 p.m.: My husband slinks out to his woodshop in the garage, after all, to sand down a dowel to support the bottom of the stage's opening.

12 midnight: We cross the Christmas dateline without any kids appearing again. Ribbon loops grace the top edge of the curtain, an arched opening has taken shape, and I'm about to hem the edges. I realize that the edges are really long - six foot along the floor and nearly five feet vertically. This theater is big enough to accommodate three or four puppeteers.

1 a.m.: Everything is finished except the trim. I reconsider my original plan of using the hot glue gun to attach it. What if it makes the curtain too stiff? What if it melts the sequins? If I wreck the theater, I've got no Plan B. How about if I sew the sequins on with the machine? No, no, no - that's how I broke the damn thing last time. (My machine is no match for the glue on sequined fabric and trims.) I google variations on "attaching sequins" and come up remarkably empty. Oh Martha, Martha, why hast thou forsaken me?

1:15 a.m.: I sigh and start sewing on the sequined braid by hand. It is two yards in length. I learn that black is a truly fiendish color in dim artificial light when your eyes are tired and you've refused to get bifocals despite advancing presbyopia. I take off my glasses and bring the fabric within a few inches of my face.

2:30 a.m.: I go through another round of dithering about how to attach the tassel trim. This time, I use the machine. The metallic gold thread breaks again and again.

3:00 a.m.: I hang the theater on the suspension rod. I can't believe it's finally done. I can't believe it actually worked and - as the Tiger loves to say - "it looks awesome." I'm so tickled, I have to take a picture.

I lay out a trail of animal puppets to lead the kids from the stairs to the theater. Santa's work is done, and not once did I use the seam ripper.

3:30 a.m.: I crawl into bed.

4:00 a.m.: The Bear crawls out of his bed.

6:15 a.m.: The Bear wakes me up to inform me that the motor for one of his toys just overheated.

I promised you a tragedy, so I'll tell you right now that nothing burned down from this incident. But as I groggily assured the Bear we'd figure it out later, I realized that yet again, the kids proved it's impossible to witness their pleasure when they discover Santa's goodies. Unless, of course, you stay up all night. Hey, I nearly did pull an all-nighter, and I still missed that mythical magical moment.

That's the tragedy of the elves, isn't it? Every year, they do Santa's bidding. And then, every year, Santa gets the credit and the elves - unless they're uncommonly early risers - miss the show.

I'm reminded of a story my mom still tells of how my dad once built a kid-sized tool bench for my brother. Santa got the glory. I'd always vowed that I wouldn't do the same; that I would refuse to let Santa be a free rider.

Except for this: The Bear is in on the secret. A few years ago, he dissected all the logical flaws in Santa's cover story. And so after I finally dragged my bones out of bed later this morning, he and I exchanged a few knowing, smiling glances. He knows. I know he knows. That's good enough. That, plus the excited gleam in his eye as he said, "I really love the puppet theater, Mama."

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