A few mornings ago, Felicity received a Danish elf in her Advent bag.
He's quite menacing, as you can see.
When she came into the living room and saw his cheerful face and pointed hat poking out of her red, glittery bag, she immediately burst into tears, crying, "NO! NOOOOO! You don't want the elf!" Then she backed away, tripping over her own feet in her haste to escape, and collapsing to the ground in a wailing heap.
I lured her into the kitchen with the promise of bacon, and she calmed down as she ate. I told her how the elf was good and nice, and it hurt his feelings that she didn't want to give him a hug. Fortified with breakfast, she cautiously ventured back into the living room and took the elf into her arms. "He's a sweet elf," she said. "You're giving him a hug."
I thought that she had been won over by his rosy-cheeked Scandinavian charms, but that evening as we were playing before bed, she threw the elf to the ground and then tried to rip his legs off. Obviously, this resulted in (1) swift removal of the poor elf from his violent surroundings; and (2) an immediate, no-questions-asked bedtime for the elf's tormentor.
This has been a scene that has replayed in similar circumstances with the nativity scene (the players in which have been cast about Felicity's room in bursts of anger), the Santa hat (which she swung around wildly this morning, knocking some (non-breakable) ornaments off the tree), and one of her Christmas books (which she tried to crumple and then tossed on the floor).
Perilously close to getting on the Naughty List.
I'm not sure what it is about Advent gifts that causes such explosive behavior, but this morning we had a Serious Talk about how we won't have the Advent Bag anymore if Felicity can't treat things nicely. I indicated that this situation would be escalated to Santa Claus should it continue, since Santa would surely want to know if Felicity would not be able to be gentle with all the new things he was planning on bringing on Christmas morning.
I never anticipated using Christmas as a bargaining chip/behavior mechanism, as I didn't want to sully the overall message of the holiday (love, generosity, eternal salvation, etc.) with the equivalent of a holiday-themed Time Out, but it does seem to be pretty effective.
Each time we've had one of these episodes and a resultant Serious Talk about being nice to things and people and using one's words instead of trying to break stuff and listening to grown-ups when they ask you to do something, Felicity has vowed to try harder. And I can see that she IS trying. Not because she thinks she will fail to receive a Santa-hat-wearing bear in her stocking if she doesn't, but because she's seeing that there are consequences that flow from her actions. The more abstract conversations linking Santa and the Baby Jesus with being nice and good are accompanied by a tangible, instantaneous set of results: Elf gets thrown/maimed --> elf gets taken away. Mary and Joseph get stomped on --> nativity scene disappears for a day. Mommy and Daddy have to ask 1,000 times for her to get in the bath --> no time for a bedtime story.
(She also follows up each instance of misbehavior with an apology and a request for reassurance: "I'm sorry for trying to hurt the elf. Mama, I want a hug! You want Mommy to make a happy face." She's clearly engaging in textbook boundary-testing to see what happens when she doesn't follow established norms and expectations, and then making sure that we still love her even when she doesn't comply. It's almost endearing in a way, as if she's pre-programmed; she doesn't really want to do this, but this is what 2.5-year olds do.)
So tomorrow we are taking a day off from the Advent bag, in the wake of this morning's Santa-hat-swinging, book-crumpling outburst. But all day, since the incident, Felicity's been doing better.
Perhaps the root of the problem is that morning, when she receives the Advent bounty of the day, is not her best time (though the promise of discovering what's awaiting her does make her leap out of bed in a way that she typically does not, so it's a useful tool in moving the routine along), and the evening, when the other bouts of unpleasantness have occurred, has always been a flashpoint for her, behaviorally speaking (parents coming home from work, transitions to bath and bedtime, general fatigue all around). So it's not that she's inherently anti-Advent, but rather that the influx of new items each day gives her a focal point for her morning and evening vexation.
We shall persevere and hope for gladder tidings to come.
Of course, there remains the possibilty that she is simply scarred from her initial encounter with the Danish elf two years ago:
Baby down! We have a baby down!
Even then, she had begun to plot her revenge:
Bwah ha ha! YOU are going down, elf! Just wait til I'm two-and-a-half...