Friday, October 17, 2008

Christmas letter dilemma

That perennial family tradition of writing a Christmas letter to be inserted in cards to folks we only hear from once a year was also a hallmark of our family life. As vulnerable people, we often dread the writing of one, and maybe more often abhor the reading of other’s, especially if we have a tendency to compare achievements. But in our fast-paced modern lifestyle, the Christmas letter seems to be one last vestige of trying to stay connected with people from all points in our walk through life. I like to hear from people and I read every single word of every newsletter that comes our way from acquaintances that cared enough to keep us informed.

However, determined not to be overwhelmed with an overly-active schedule and too many committees, appointments, sporting events, extra-curriculars, and so forth, our family has made a concerted effort to not be described as over-achievers. Many people admire this choice, and we are a closer and happier family because of it—until it comes time to write that Christmas letter. What is one to say?

For the first fifteen or so years of our marriage we had the perfect solution. Instead of writing a dull list of things we’ve not done, places we’ve not gone, and awards we’ve not won, we instead collected and wrote down all the funny things our kids said over the course of that year and let their insights be the content of our newsletter. People began telling us how much they looked forward to our Christmas card. Some folks even asked to promise never to drop them from our mailing list. Another friend said she wanted to do the same thing, but was embarrassed about copying. I said, “Just do it. You will be thanked.” What I didn’t say is the thanks will come from friends, but also from your own family later on. And you will thank yourself.

The following is a short compilation of some of the best entries in our newsletter. I’ve changed the names to ages, and of course, as the kids got older their ages changed. The four-year-old in this first entry is the ten-year-old later on.

Three-year-old: I’m going to be a cow when I get big.

Four-year-old: You can’t be a cow. A cow has 1, 2, 3, 4 legs and you only have two.

Papa: How did this cassette get in here?

Four-year-old: Papa, I was going to bring it back and then my schedule changed.

Four-year-old: I took a prayer time, mama. I sang “Christ is Risen” and “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”

Five-year-old: (at K-Mart, drumming fingers thoughtfully) Papa, I’ve been doing a little thinking here. Let’s get some nails and build a skyscraper in the backyard.

Four-year-old: (While eating an ice-cream bar) There’s another ice-cream bar in my mind.

Four-year-old: (saying his bedtime prayers) Dear God, I pray that papa wouldn’t have any problems at work, that mama wouldn’t have any temper tantrums, that my brother would stop picking his nose and teasing me, and that I would be a good brother to him. Amen.

Five-year-old: Before any people were made the dinosaurs were on the earth, but nobody knew it ‘til they got the book and record.

Ten-year-old: Mom, did you ever think that if Adam and Eve didn’t sin, would there still be Legos?

Nine-year-old: (hearing that a friend bit someone) I can’t believe anyone would do that? You might bite someone’s poison ivy!

Four-year-old: (saying dinner prayers) Thank you, Lord, that my brother barfs olives.

Nine-year-old: Mom, you’re the greatest mom in the whole world.

Four-year-old: Yeah, our mom’s never mean.

Nine-year-old: Oh yeah. Well, you haven’t lived as long as I have!

Three-year-old: Mom, can I wake up from my nap now?

Five-year-old: (worried) Mom, I just don’t know how my life is going.

Mom: Do any of you need to go to the bathroom? I don’t want to have to stop at the grocery store to take you to the bathroom.

Five-year-old: Mom, that’s just the way life works.

So that’s the idea. Sadly kids grow up. They are still funny, but it takes whole paragraphs to describe the personality quirks of the individual, all the circumstances surrounding the event, and why they said what they said, before you even get to the punch line. We chose not to explain it all. Plus some individuals knew our ears were cocked for funny stuff, and it isn’t funny when someone is just trying to make it into the Christmas news. Our letters have gotten dull again, but the past letters have been saved and brought out for a laugh over and over again. Besides, no one-page blurb about our family could possibly sum up the fun we have had, the eagerness with which we come together, and the affection we hold for one another. My oldest son, when he was about twenty-six, said, “My friends will ask me to do something with them on Saturday night. I tell them I can’t because it’s our family time together. They say ‘Can’t you get out of it?’ and I say ‘I don’t want to.’ They just don’t get it. I don’t want to miss Saturday night with the family.”

No Christmas letter can quite capture the essence of our life together—but that short explanation of my son’s tells me that maybe our under-achieving dullness was OK after all.

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