Mommy Mondays: Black Felt-Tip Pen

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Because I am a writer by trade and by brain, I have chosen Monday as the day that I will take a short break from reviewing subscription boxes and talking parties and stuff to write a bit about life as a mom, toddlerhood, family stuff, life stuff, basically anything I feel like doing a little babbling about. If you just want box reviews, feel free to keep scrolling, they are down there!

For as long as I can remember, my dad has always sent hundreds of Christmas cards. Every single year. This year, he and my stepmom combined will send 700.  You read that right. Seven zero zero.  These aren’t the kind of cards we are all now used to. The pre-printed ones that are made by companies far away with the main effort on the part of the sender being uploading some digital photos and a cute note. And possibly, if you didn’t opt for the address automation, then you might spend an evening drinking wine and writing a hundred or so addresses with your husband after the baby is asleep. Almost like a date night. I am so familiar with this process because that is how I have done my cards for the past few years. I still do a little writing, but I do it in the online form, and everyone receives the same message of hope and cheer right next to a photo of Mike and I snorkeling in Thailand or clutching a squirming newborn. But that is not how my dad does it.

He starts his “card project”, as he often refers to it, in late October, though I am pretty sure he is thinking about it in August. Or July. Or always. In the past, he has taken his own family photo or enlisted a friend to do so, a front yard attempt at getting everyone to smile and have a good attitude at the same time. Or if there happened to be a big family gathering that year, like a wedding or something where everyone was in the same room, then that is a jackpot to him. Photoshoot done. However, like most mixed families, we are in a couple of states, and unlike most families, we siblings are not close, and so it is rare to find the entire gang together. So my dad adopted the policy of letting us each submit a picture of our respective families. He then takes those photos to a camera shop, where they charge him way too much to meld all of the photos together into a single collage with mini captions under each shot. This is something that I could do for him on my Mac in about eight minutes for free, but he likes to do it his way. He then uses some sort of adhesive to attach the photo to the inside panel of a traditional Christmas card. On the back he also does some adhering, this time with his selected bible verse of the year.

What he does next is baffling.  He writes individual messages inside each one. A message to each family with personal anecdotes and congratulations on that year’s happy happenings. Meaningful condolences to those who have lost loved ones. Genuine concerns about health and wellness.

He does this seven hundred times.  In pen. Black felt-tip pen.

When we were younger, it was part of our job to help him. We would all be required to pen a few hundred addresses and stick a bunch of stamps while he toiled away on his personal messages, and those days have become some of my fondest Christmas memories. The holiday music playing, quiet, quality time with my dad, who during the week was a dedicated career man, and a feeling of warmth and happiness that can only come from knowing that you are about to send a big pile of love out into the world, care of the United States Postal Service.

My sisters and I joked over the years about how my dad sends a card to the entire population of my hometown, in addition to hitting all fifty states at least twice each.  When I was 20, dutifully helping my dad fill in envelopes, I wrote what was probably my hundredth address in my nicest penmanship only to look down in shock at what I’d done. “Dad! Why are you sending a card to my gynecologist?!?” I held up the card accusingly, ready to tear it into pieces.

My dad, used to the the drama that comes with having three daughters, looked up calmly to read the address. “Oh,” he said, “His wife used to work for me”

Not missing a beat, my older sister deadpanned, “He probably won’t recognize your face anyway”

Throughout the year, my dad is the meticulous keeper of an address book, now online, but just as important. I finally helped him input all of his addresses into his computer and taught him how to update it a couple years ago. It prints out the address labels each year so that he can stick them on instead of writing them out, a marvel of modern technology that still thrills him.

I have explained to him several times that I could automate his process. I could add his bible verse and collage of photos to a card of his choice online. I could help him with captions and a nice note that would be appropriate for everyone. But he refuses. The last time I offered, he told me it would be great, but then he would just have to write a note to everyone explaining why he had sent them this newfangled type of card, so it would basically be the same amount of work. And what about his elderly friends who were alone, he wondered. Sometimes his note was the only one they would receive.  He needed to write it in pen. Black felt-tip pen.

And so, my dad, who at 76 is considered elderly himself, is currently, as we speak, most certainly holed up in “the craft room” with his stacks of cards and treasured pens and his stamps and photos and bible verses, armed with his system that no one else might ever be able to understand. That is where he sits for hours on end, for days at a time, writing sweet notes to everyone who has ever had the great luck to become his friend.

I sent about 200 cards this year, the generic, computer-generated kind with a photo of our son staring out at each recipient from the front and a heartfelt note to our friends and family on the back. It gives me abject pleasure to do this each year, and sitting down and writing out addresses, though my weapon of choice is a red, Ultra-Fine Point Sharpie, is by far my favorite part of the holidays. My other favorite part is receiving cards in return. It’s a great way to see photos and updates from everyone we care about, even those that time and distance keep us from really getting to catch up with anymore. It’s a window into the lives of friends from our past and present and a connection that I hold near and dear. Though the new cards are amazing, and there are so many cool things you can do with computers these days, my favorite card to receive is still my dad’s. Though I am not a religious person, his card with its stuck-on photo and bible verse is the one that makes me tear up because I know how much work and thought and love he put into mine and 699 others. That card is the one that gets hung front and center, because it is the one that is a piece of home, written in black felt-tip pen.

Mommy Mondays: Holiday Ho-Hum

Because I am a writer by trade and by brain, I have chosen Monday as the day that I will take a short break from reviewing subscription boxes and talking parties and stuff to write a bit about life as a mom, toddlerhood, family stuff, life stuff, basically anything I feel like doing a little babbling about. If you just want box reviews, feel free to keep scrolling, they are down there! 


The iconic Joni Mitchell

It’s funny how poor timing can make even your favorite things feel off. With Thanksgiving so late in November this year, everyone is getting ready for Christmas early, not just the retailers. Friends are posting Christmas tree photos on Facebook, people are already sending cards, and the stores, of course, are completely decked out for Christmas while the few Thanksgiving and harvest decorations have been cast aside into clearance bins. Even the radio station that plays all holiday music and nothing but holiday music from Thanksgiving until Christmas every year has started early. That particular radio station, in fact, was what clued me in to my less than stellar mood. My husband, knowing my propensity to get giddy over holiday music, stealthily switched the station and turned it on this weekend. But instead of being excited about it, I felt suddenly accosted. I asked him to switch it back.

I am normally a total holiday nerd, donning a Santa hat, sending out 200 cards, and begging to put up the tree as soon after Thanksgiving as my poor husband can stand. I love the decor and the cooking and the smells, and I love the shopping and the giving and the parties. And I love the general feeling of happiness and cheer about the snow and the cold, because, after all, who does not dream of a white Christmas? But I wasn’t ready this year. I don’t know if it is the fact that every part of our lives still feels as if it is hanging in the balance or that I feel so useless as I am figuring out my career transition without anything completely definitive to grasp on to. Or maybe it isn’t me, and everyone else with their damn holiday cheer and red and green decorations up BEFORE Halloween are the crazy ones.  Although, to be honest, it is usually me.

I sat wondering what was wrong with me for awhile this morning. D is sick again, so I was sitting in the car in the parking lot of the pediatrician (where they told me he does not have bronchitis again, but I KNOW he does because I KNOW my boy, and if the timing is as it has been the last few times, it will get really bad right on Thanksgiving) D was snoozing in his car seat, and we were a few minutes early, so I sat drinking coffee, staring at my sweet, sleepy boy, and wondering what the hell my problem was. And what occurred to me was that I didn’t go through that stage this year where Fall arrives and I spend a few days crazily missing my mom like I have every other year. My mom was the champion of holiday love and traditions and her joy for Thanksgiving and Christmas was completely contagious. Each year as October closes, I always end up spending a few days in introspective moping, missing her, lamenting her short life, feeling cheated, and then eventually getting on with it and whipping my bad self into holiday shape. Cookies need baking, presents need wrapping, and the cards need to be meticulously written. But I guess with a toddler and our whole lives in tumultuous uproar, I somehow forgot to mope this year, and then it snuck up on me. I never got it out of my system. I heard Joni Mitchell sing River too early and I wasn’t ready, and before I knew it I was in tears driving down the road. I smelled the pine and cinnamon too soon, and it made me sad instead of giddy. I thought about going to cut down our tree and just felt like getting it over with instead of loading the car with snacks and mittens and happy dogs and enough holiday CDs to get us up the mountain pass and back without ever repeating a song.

Maybe now that I realize what was going on in my stimulus-riddled brain, I can try to find my normal holiday spirit and get on with it and find my happy place. I can let myself be a little sad and then whip myself into shape. I can remember the lady who was the the best at holidays and try to emulate her instead of whining about how my son will never experience Grandma done exactly right. There are fifteen people headed my way on Thursday, and I am expected, as always, to reprise my role as the queen of happy holidays and all things traditional. That gives me three days to get my shit together.