Wednesday, December 3, 2008

On Christmas Cards...

In 2003, I received a Christmas card from my son Jack. This was only odd, because at the time he was about four months old. There he was—not the best picture of him mind you—in one of those typical drugstore slicks with a framed heading that read, “Baby’s First Christmas.” Underneath? Nothing but “Jack Emerson.” Apparently, I had not sent my Christmas cards out in a timely enough fashion for my mother-in-law, so she had taken it upon herself to convert a photo we’d shared with her via e-mail and sent them to our entire collection of family and friends. The big kicker was that our baby announcements had yet to be sent, so this was Jack’s very first introduction to the world at large.

It’s been years now, so I’m over it, but I can say with conviction that in the moment I wanted to muster up the little energy I had left from months of sleepless nights, and max out my credit cards for an airline ticket home so I could see her face when I called her every name I could eek out without taking a breath. I’d also rehearsed giving her permission to queue up child services, because I was pretty sure his baby book wouldn’t be filled out by the time he was 16 either. The fact is, my mother-in-law is one of the sweetest women I know…and me? I’m not usually that insane, so I can only conclude that the subject of Christmas cards just has a tendency to bring out a little of the crazy in all of us.

Christmas Cards. Just the mere mention of the phrase has the little hairs on my neck doing their best tiny soldier impressions. I literally start to panic sometime toward the end of summer, suddenly desperate to find a beach, crisp linen shirts and bribe my boys to hold hands for more than two seconds while my digital camera pauses between takes and misses every perfect shot. Then I think, “No, a Fall setting would be nice,” but before I know it, it’s December, the trees are bare and I’m dragging the both of them to the mall hoping that the Santa on duty has a good sense of humor.

In any case, Christmas card season calls for a special group of coping skills, and in order to survive it with any modicum of success, I believe you must first decide who you are. For instance, you may fancy yourself a determined idealist and therefore will cling fiercely to the hope that all the stars will align and you’ll find that perfect smiling, good hair day, stain free moment regardless of how long it takes. Or maybe you aspire to be the carefree technologist. In this case, capturing the perfect moment holds no anxiety for you because your computer skills allow you to fabricate it. These folks simply find the best faces out of the year-long photo library, pair them with bodies that are all facing forward and Photoshop them together to simulate perfection. Of course if you want to go this route, I would highly suggest that you’re already competent in this area to avoid ending up somewhere between Joan Rivers and a Picasso. Now if you’re a true realist, you’ll simply commit to the inevitable failure of it all and use a card that has separate spots for each child. I’d like to meet the designer who came up with that idea first. I’m thinking it was a woman. Whoever it was, their bonus was NOT big enough. But my personal favorite and own tendency is this: embrace the comedy. Put out whatever tragic attempt you’ve made with all the kids on Santa’s lap and send out the card with little Susie bawling, the baby spewing something green on Santa’s beard, and wee Johnny making an extra special mug for the camera.

Regardless of where it all ends up, I wish you more success than failure. But for those of you who do have success, God forbid you get it totally right, because come January 1st you’ll be the ones wondering how you’re going to top it next year. Good luck with that and the happiest of holidays to yours from ours.