Yesterday, I took a break from the latest editing gig to update a spreadsheet with addresses from three years of Christmas cards. This might actually mean that my family and friends will receive some kind of holiday note from us next December. I feel organized and restored by having completed a chore that has haunted me for so long. I have sent Christmas cards since I was 12 years old—writing the first ones to kids I met at summer camp. The last two years have been chaotic and I have sent none. Ceasing the creation and mailing of cards has felt like some kind of counter to the holiday spirit. Having lived in six states, I have friends everywhere. I loathe not being able to keep up with each one intimately; the cards, therefore, are especially important.
Each year, I used to mark on the bottom of a card to my former painting professor the words “I still paint” to let him know that he was wrong about at least one of us those years ago. Almost 17 years later (has it been that long?), yes, I still paint—not as actively as I would like, but there are still commissions and sales and the occasional lending of work for some purpose somewhere. Am I Ford Smith or George Rodrigue with financial success and notoriety? No, not yet, and maybe someday or not at all, but the point is to remind my dear teacher that his lessons were not lost on me.
The year I left my first husband, the Christmas card was a simple photo of my children. Without newsletter or further explanation, it read the following: my name restored to its original as printed on my birth certificate, my children’s first and last names, and the complete absence of their father’s name. It said everything by saying nothing, and the responses were tremendous—notes ranging from sorrow and empathy to those that read, “We saw this coming. There are things we knew that we never told you…” A friend from out of state sent a note about his own troubled marriage and an embarrassingly large check to help with Christmas that year. (He and his darling wife are still together, thankfully.)
The past two Christmases, I wanted desperately to send a letter to the world about my new family—my husband, his lovely girls, my two little ones—and I even wrote one, but I could not make myself produce copies and mail them, and we were in the middle of a stressful and distracting custody suit anyhow. I kept asking myself questions about how hard it would be to get addresses of friends from my husband, about whether or not my former in-laws would appreciate a card, and if sending some kind of printed holiday report made me impersonal. (My mother used to hate holiday newsletters and took the time to carefully pen signatures and personal notes by hand on close to 100 cards.) The first married Christmas, I felt that including pictures of my step-daughters would be to take a liberty with them that they were not ready for me to employ—their image, their snippets of life as though I had some kind of claim on them. Plus, were the cards to go to former in-laws, would they take the sight of new family as some kind of slap in the face?
Things are different now, but last Christmas, I was overwhelmed by the craziness of having an early celebration here with all four children, travelling across three states for another Christmas with my birth family, dropping off my two children for them to have a Christmas event with their father and his step-children, and trying to complete a massive graduate school application plus keeping up with the contract work I do. I just gave up.
This year, I now can print labels off my Excel spreadsheet (the original file was lost to a hard drive crash). I have reconnected with a handful of former in-laws, whom I missed dearly once I was able to let go of so much bitterness. I think that, the world of Café Catiche aside, there is a gift in the electronic publication of a more personal note about my family’s accomplishments and events. But most of all, what I want to say is this:
Yes, we think about you. We send you this note because you represent various chapters in our life and we are grateful for you. We can’t afford to send Christmas gifts to everyone, but we can tell you how we are doing, send a picture for your fridge of the lovely clan we have evolved into, and most of all let you know we love you and your memories stay with us. We wish you love and happiness; success with work, school, and/or childrearing; peace in your family; and for you to be the great spiritual connection that helps keep others grounded in unfortunate times.
It’s February—nearly March, really. I suppose with the remaining months in the year, I can manage this, but I am already a month and a half behind on birthday greetings. And yes, I have been working fastidiously to rectify this matter. My sister was the only one to receive her Valentine’s note (a gift of pedi socks, actually) on time. My youngest step-daughter will receive her Valentine on Monday. And so it goes, and so it goes…