’Tis the season. And while I think these days a lot of people are grappling with feeling genuinely grateful given the national implosion of common decency, it is the Hallmark’ed time of year to remember those you love, think fondly of the year that is coming to a close and look excitedly ahead.
I love when the holiday cards start stuffing our tiny New York City apartment 3×3 square lock-and-key metal “mailbox.” Our doorman does not. We are not prone to checking our mail regularly — I find rarely anything good actually comes in the mail these days — and the holidays make this obvious. More often than I’d like to admit, the postwoman clears our mailbox and hands the bundle of junk mail studded with holiday cards to the doormen to forcefully unload on us so she can make room for that day’s load of mostly crap (massive, unrequested, tree-killing catalogs; 5th renewal notices from magazines we purposefully didn’t renew; and the occasional jury summons).
But sifting through our mail is less of a chore come December, when the holiday cards start pouring in. I love seeing the family poses and the kid candids. The designs are beautiful and the messages range from tragically trite (“Anya lost her first tooth!!!!”) to truly informative (They moved to California? Their baby chickens have flown the coop for college already? Grandma died?), and best of all, funny. My friend Deirdre and her husband Jonathan used to send these outrageous holiday-card spoofs where they were either dressed to the gills in full plaid posing smile-less like Waspy wooden statues, or naked shoulder-up with the suggestion that he is either caressing and admiring her frontally or preparing to breastfeed from her. My oldest friend Michelle and her family send cards — and even short films — that hilariously poke fun at their family, holiday traditions and the latest political goings-on.
When I get the beautiful, gold leafed, life-idealizing cards from families where I know both parents work full-time, all I can think is: How the hell did my girlfriend have the time to do this? I feel confident in my presumption that 98% of these cards are the output of moms — from the choice of photographer, photo shoot location and matching attire to the eventual photo selection, actual design, word choice, stamp adherence and envelope licks. (Wily moms can get an assist on the envelope-licking from eager under-5’s who will lick just about anything). I have a mental image of my friend Beth tiredly cutting her tongue on envelopes into the wee hours of the morning, waking up three hours later and returning to the groundhog day grind.
But we appreciate her pain! We love these little, hopeful reminders that we are loved, liked, tolerated. The kids actually treat these cards as collectibles. Each year, Zoe snatches away the card from the family of the boy she is most unconsciously crushing on and slaps it on her bulletin board wall where it will remain, ever so un-casually, until the following holiday season. No biggie. I leave them on the kitchen breakfast bar, where the kids sift through them like playing cards while waiting to be “served,” making new observations (“Does Aunt Susan dye her hair blond?) and self-interested comparisons (“The Bakers got a dog! They are so lucky! Why can’t we get one? Why are we so UN-lucky”).
So we love these cards, but we (meaning I) will never send one. Why? Every year, when the lovely greetings pile up on our kitchen counter, my husband, feeling more guilty every year about not sending a family card of our own, comments, “We really should get our act together next year and send one.” And I inevitably respond with feigned naiveté: “We’ve been going strong nine years with kids without sending one. Why start now?”
I gently dismiss his suggestion with sarcasm-lite, but secretly it drives me crazy — because WE wouldn’t be sending anything. I would. And we both know it.
I’d like to say my objection to “getting our (read: my) act together” is because I am a strict environmentalist and don’t believe in sacrificing trees without necessity. But I gleefully print out basketball rosters for my daughter and Ninjago pages to color for my son from the Internet on a daily basis, most of which go un-colored, despite my son’s frantically earnest 20-minute selection process.
No, the real reason we-but-really-I will never send one is I don’t take on work that is optional and unenjoyable. Not anymore. It’s a sign of maturity, I have convinced myself. Sure I send thank you notes that double as excuse notes to all those thoughtful enough to include us on their holiday card lists. Stuff like “Love the card! Mimi looks adorable covered in cake. She is really starting to look like you!” (Because I know it’s the mom who is reading the responses, so I don’t clarify who “you” is). Yet another year we didn’t get our act together on sending one. Sorry!”
If I did send one, I would want to send something realistic: Me sitting on the couch watching Netflix with a half-eaten pint of Halo ice cream on my lap (Ben & Jerrry’s on tougher days); Ben playing Sim City on his phone when he thinks no one is looking; Rhys still in his pajamas at 1pm, hidden somewhere in a fort that used to be a couch, Zoe enthusiastically destroying said fort and straight-facedly denying that she is.
For the central, obligatory posed family pic, we’d have Rhys with his mouth open (because he never stops talking); Zoe rolling her eyes (because family pictures — like everything else in this world, save candy, rollercoasters and video games — are so uncool…and annoying); Ben looking devastatingly handsome with his blue eyes blazing (he was a college catalogue model. Now retired); and me with sunlight brazenly shining through my tragically thinning, short hair, revealing transparent orange wisps through which you can still see the tree behind me, a nice reminder that my once glorious head of long, thick curly red locks now breaks and deteoriorates at shoulder-length.
If we go professional, I will have to pay a random family photographer for the wildly overpriced honor of spending two hours threatening two unenthusiastic kids to get ready and dress in something other than sweatpants and a Patriots or Star Wars t-shirt. I’ll get ready in the final 5 minutes before the shoot is set to begin, and will look terrible and feel aggravated and underappreciated. I will have only fake smiles on hand for the next 1.5 hour over-produced, shutter-snapping hours, so my smile will be weirdly huge, consuming roughly 70% of my face.
Go with candids, you say? I have thousands of candids of the kids (in part, because my eldest refuses to pose). But in the past nine child-having years, I would say my husband Ben has taken about two dozen pictures — 99.8% of which do not include me (unless specifically directed by me to be taken, thus not candid). Ben’s pictures usually involve babies/toddlers in odd head gear or consuming large hunks of meat, his favorite themes (Must be Freudian).
Plus, how could I possibly get a candid family photo of the four of us if the stringy-haired fourth is the one taking the picture? Logistically impossible — or at least morally (I don’t believe in selfie-sticks, blaming them, in part, for the decline of Western civilization).
Also, culling addresses and tracking responses from 200 of my “closest” friends and relatives (in addition to Ben’s work circle) evokes wedding anxiety flashbacks. And then addressing/licking 200 plus envelopes? I’ll leave the unwanted licking to Harvey Weinstein.
So while I genuinely can’t wait to see your family’s holiday card, please forgive me for not sending my own. But just know I would if I wanted to, because yours are so damn great. Merry Christmukahza!