I am not a huge fan of Christmas cards, Happy New Year cards, or any type of card anyone sends to convey an image of their wonderful life. I’m okay with letters wishing people well (just in case someone from the card industry is getting bent out of shape). I just wonder if these holiday cards are missing the point of the holidays.
Now, I do not mean to exclude anyone here with the overtly Christian tradition of sending Christmas cards. I am not Christian, although I do celebrate Christmas because that is my culture of origin. So, try to leave out the Christmas part and go with the notion of sharing with others the status of our lives. Some people send a picture of the family or the kids and sign their name. And then there are those who send “the letter.”
I first realized the toxicity of “the letter” before my ex-husband and I ever even had our first child. One of my ex-husband’s old friends had sent a letter describing the amazing achievements of his four-year-old son, which included, and I quote, “college-level drumming.” While this may have been true and a wildly incredible accomplishment for this talented youngster, I am not sure that it was entirely sensitive to those receiving the letter. Now, for those of you who have children to brag about, you may find this hard to accept, but there are some of us who would chop off an arm to have one day of normal, let alone extraordinary.
As the years progressed, I continued to receive letters that made me feel like a failure as a parent. The pictures of perfect children dressed in matching outfits all in a row, happy. The letter describing the travels, talents and accomplishments of a normal family. Some of the letters are even in prose written by the children themselves. Often, I wondered if I should write a letter (I have to laugh at what that might look like). I can barely get my children in clothes let alone matching outfits. My oldest son has worn the same brand of sweatpants from Target since he was 5 (same brand of shorts in the summer) and always a particularly soft T-shirt made by Life is Good. My oldest daughter would rather scratch your eyes out than wear something she considered uncomfortable or not in line with her style du jour which is almost everything. Getting my youngest not to flip off the camera when you were not looking is next to impossible. And my second son would just revel in his ability to drive any of his siblings crazy utilizing a myriad of tactics (e.g. loud noises, smirks, “accidental” contact).
News… what would my news be? If I had great news of even normal accomplishments they might include my son learning to tie his shoes when he was 14 so he could go bowling in his summer school PE class (he has since forgotten how to tie his shoes). He did learn to ride a bike at 16. Oh, how about the day we discovered mood-stabilizing medication! Or the day my other son exhibited deep remorse for setting the yard on fire. Maybe when my daughter learned her colors after years of prompting. No detentions for skipping PE? Finding a great neuropsychiatrist. The long awaited untreatable genetic syndrome diagnosis. The sad part is I know there are parents out there who would kill for my seemingly pathetic moments.
I can feel pretty down, even victimized, that our victories do not measure up to the norm, let alone college-level drumming.
Then, there are those sobering moments in life that burn an image into your brain that keep you humble and grateful for what you do have.
I was sitting at Chili’s, the restaurant, with my daughter and stepson, exhausted by life, praying to get through the meal without some scene erupting. I noticed a couple across the restaurant sitting quietly with their adult son who had to be strapped to his wheelchair. He could not speak or feed himself. He drooled. He made loud grunts. They never flinched. They just kept their heads down and ate.
They look tired. Not like “I haven’t slept in a month tired,” the kind of tired you experience from years of worry, fear and anger. Years of wondering:
“Can we endure this?”
“Do we even have a choice?”
“I feel guilty for wishing for my child to be normal?”
“I cannot take anymore.”
They will never be grandparents. They will never live apart from this child. They will never cheer for their son’s victory in any sport. All they can hope for is the money not to run out, their relationship to endure one of life’s most difficult challenges, and there to be someone to care for their son if, God forbid, he outlives them.
These people are my heroes. I look at this family, and I am humbled. I am grateful.
The card I would send them would be filled with love and compassion.