Charlie awakened with a broad smile on his face. He was grinning so widely, he could feel the corners of his mouth stretching upward, but he couldn’t help himself. He’d been waiting for this special day to arrive all his life, and for the past year, he’d counted down each passing day on the calendar. Now the wait was over. Today he would receive his diploma, and from that moment onward, things would be very different in his life. He’d no longer be an elfling but would officially become a full-fledged adult elf, at the ready to begin his new job in Santa’s Workshop.
The first thing Charlie’s eyes fell upon when he rolled out of his bunk was his tailor mannequin. He clapped his hands gleefully before brushing his fingertips against the gold lamé suit he’d designed for himself to wear to the ceremony. Of course, he hadn’t gone with solid gold—not quite. He had to include Christmas colors, but then that’s what embroidery was for, right?
And the shoes—oh, but weren’t they just perfect? Gold lamé leather high tops! Tradition dictated that elves and elflings wear the felt booties with curled up toes. They were undeniably cute, Charlie had to admit. But exactly what about him had ever been traditional? It wasn’t like he could show up for an occasion as grand as his own elf graduation looking so…ordinary.
Charlie had always been this way. He’d always kind of stood out. He’d never quite fit in with the other elflings growing up. Even when he got older and advanced to secondary school, he wasn’t interested in the same things the other boy elflings loved. He’d practically flunked out of shop class, which was certainly not the norm for an elfling. Weren’t elves supposed to be toymakers? They were supposed to love constructing things.
Thankfully, Charlie’s shop teacher, Mr. Sanders, had been patient with him, and soon discovered that although he didn’t have a penchant for building toys, Charlie sure had a knack for decorating them. He was soon assigned to presentation, where he was responsible for painting, packaging, and adding all the final details to the newly designed toys. He created fancy logos and stickers for almost all the toys and detailed the artwork on the model cars and trucks.
The classes Charlie excelled in—art and sewing—seemed to be least appealing to the majority of his male classmates. In fact, Charlie took these classes as electives because, unlike shop, they were not mandatory. A few other boy elflings were in his art class, but he was literally the only boy in the sewing class.
If Charlie had had his way, though, art and sewing would not have been the only unmanly electives he’d have chosen. He’d have loved to learn doll-making, handbag design, and makeup. Boy elflings were not allowed to take these electives, though, which made no sense to Charlie.
“But Mr. Smithers, I don’t want to learn how to repair small engines! I’d rather make purses!”
The headmaster of the Elfling Training Center of the North Pole was not amused. Sitting at his oversized desk, he looked up and glared across the long desktop. He folded his hands in front of him and made eye contact with Charlie. “Let me explain something to you, Charlie. I have been headmaster of this institution for over thirty years. Santa chose me himself—hand-picked me, and you know why? Because I believe in traditions. I hold these tried-and-true values in very high regard, as does Santa himself. We’ve never allowed boy elflings to take girl elfling classes…or vice-versa, for that matter. And it’s been for good reason.”
“But, sir, maybe little boys like to play with dolls, too.”
Mr. Smithers cleared his throat, shaking his head dismissively. “Well, that is a parenting matter, and we won’t get into that. Our job here at the North Pole is to create, package, and wrap the gifts that Santa determines are appropriate for all the little boys and girls in the world. And so far, he’s not said a word to me about designing dolls for little boys.” He pursed his lips smugly.
That wasn’t the only clash Charlie had with his headmaster. In his sophomore year, Charlie’s physical education teacher, Mr. Childress, sent him to the principal’s office for non-participation in the ice hockey game. Again, the headmaster was not amused as he read the note from Charlie’s teacher.
“What’s wrong with you, Charlie? All boy elflings love ice hockey, so why do you refuse to participate?”
“Sir, I was participating, and I tried to explain to Mr. Childress—”
“It says right here that you were not. Who am I to believe, you or the ice hockey coach?”
“Well…” Charlie sighed. “I wasn’t actually playing in the game ‘cause I’m not real good at those sports things.” He waved a hand dismissively. “Coach Childress doesn’t usually let me play anyway. He makes me sit on the bench. I think he was just upset because I got up and went over to join the cheerleaders. And you know what? They said I was perfect! We had so much fun, and I even made up a new cheer for them to use. Wanna see it?” He rose from his seat and assumed the starting position for the cheer, then took a deep breath.
“No!” Mr. Smithers held out his arms, his palms toward Charlie. “No, sit down, Charlie. I don’t need to see the cheer. And Mr. Childress is right, you can’t be going off willy-nilly on your own like that. If your coach has instructed you to wait on the bench, that’s what you do. You wait and cheer for your team from there, and eventually, you might get a chance to play in the game.”