elf on the shelf

“Cutie!!!”

I brace myself. She is coming.

She comes every day at lunchtime, diving on me like a jackal on a rabbit. I hear her battle cry and know that it’s only a matter of seconds until her arms close around me, lifting my defenseless body into the air and breathing her Lunchable breath into my ears.

I run through my options. I know how this works: if I scream, or I kick her in the shins, she’ll claim that she was just being “nice” and somehow I’ll be the one who loses her gold star for the day even though I wasn’t the one running around assaulting my classmates. She is one of those pretty Mormon girls that all the teachers loved, and I am the freaky little kid who I suspect the teachers view as most likely to blow up the school one day, and in short, that means that I will definitely get blamed for it somehow. (You know the Sunday school scene in A Prayer for Own Meany? It’s like that. Minus the nuns.)

So I tense up my entire body and prepare for the assault. She grabs me, spins me around, shrieks in my ears, and drops me. Some days, she pinches my nose or my cheeks, as if she were my grandmother (who at four foot nine would never do me such a grave indignity). “Cutie,” she says over and over again. I am never able to discern her motivation for carrying out this ritual day in and day out. I understand that height-wise, I’m the closest thing our second-grade class has to an infant, and maybe she’s just practicing in case one of her fifteen Mormon babies turns out ugly and she has to force herself to call it cute. (Meanwhile, I’m here wishing I could just eat my peanut butter crackers alone in the corner in peace like I do every other lunch day. Don’t other weird kids get to be home-schooled?)

I am small. I have almost always been small. I combed through my medical records a few years ago and read with mild interest as I fell further and further down the percentile charts that track childhood growth. Nobody has ever been particularly concerned about how small I am—my mother, after all, is all of five feet and for a Wilson girl to surpass that is an achievement—but people often feel compelled to comment on it. More specifically, dudes like to comment on it. Women understand how I can, in fact, be both five foot two and a fully functional human, while men seem to be trying to vet that I’m not lying about being over eighteen.

Sometimes, these comments are a clear and harmless expression of surprise that evolution hasn’t done away with my kind yet. Other times, I get the sense that I’m being politely warned that I am likely to be murdered posthaste.

  • The one who told me that I was “beautiful… like a porcelain doll”: Murderer. Wanted to stuff my body and add it to his Madame Alexander collection.
  • The one who nicknamed me “little girl”: Murderer, inspired by some combination of the Brothers Grimm and Hannibal Lecter. I suspect that upon his death, his journals will reveal detailed plans to chop me up and store me in a mini-fridge.
  • The ones who poke and prod at various parts of my body—my calves, my waist, even my ears—and say, “You’re so tiny”: Not murderers. Just genuinely fascinated with the idea that natural selection hasn’t done away with a nose as small as mine. (“Can you even smell?”)

I can’t say I’m totally averse to this line of conversation. As a former ballet dancer, it’s refreshing to be called small or tiny, considering that I had one teacher who used to come up to us at the barre, poke us in the belly, and ask if we had eaten a watermelon for breakfast. (There’s nothing like the trauma of thirteen years in ballet to make a girl seek self-actualization with questionable life partners!)

Really, for the most part, I like being small. Airplane seats are almost comfortable. I can tunnel through a crowd without making awkward eye contact with any of the people that I bodily shove out of the way. I can always fold myself into that three-quarters of a seat next to the dude on the Metro who is airing out his balls.

But there are myriad indignities associated with being small. I often thank the universe that I was born before they started telling parents to keep their kid in a carseat until they were like four foot eight, because the eighth grade was embarrassing enough as it is. At the airport a few years ago, the guy running the backscatter machine asked me if I was old enough to go through. “How old is old enough?” I asked. “Twelve,” he said.

Like my second-grade classmate, men also like to pick me up. As in, when I run into a dude that I haven’t seen in a while and he greets me with a hug, maybe two times out of ten, he will pick me up. I understand that this is out of both love and a desire to demonstrate your masculinity, but 1) I am a human, not a kettlebell and 2) I weigh like a hundred and ten pounds. Call me back when you can bench-press The Rock.

Clothiers seem to be under the impression that I should have four more inches of skin between my shoulders and my boobs. Consequently, every shirt I buy that isn’t designed explicitly for petite women is inappropriately low-cut. I live in constant fear of nip slips. More specifically, I live in constant fear of realizing halfway through a conversation with one of my many male coworkers that my shirt has slipped far enough that my bra is exposed and of course it’s the leopard-print one.

At the ATM or to punch in a code to get into a garage, I can’t just stick my arm out the window like a normal person. Rather, I have to wrest my body halfway out the window and if even then I can’t reach the keypad, I have to open the door and sort of drape myself across the window while the line backs up behind me and all the normal people wonder why they gave a pygmy a driver’s license. I am waiting for this to appear in a Final Destination plotline where some poor sap has their skin burned off in a tanning accident only to be chopped in half by a rogue power window trying to get cash out at her local Wells Fargo.

I came across my second-grade tormenter recently on Facebook. She has a kid now. I imagine if that thing’s internal organs haven’t been squeezed out of its eyeballs yet, it’s probably dressed up in a lot of ruffles and getting posed next to a chalkboard every morning detailing how many hours old it is. Best of luck, kid. May you make it to five foot three unscathed.

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