It’s December…time for the great ordeal experience that is our holiday mailing. This is a tradition that I have foisted on myself over the past two decades. It’s origins lie within my perfectionism. That much is abundantly clear. But I will say that I inherited some of the tendency from Mommy Dearest.
Initially when it was just me, it began with the quest for the perfect card. Just like Mom before me, it was important to select the right card…the one that would stand out from all the rest. Sure the card would ultimately be looked at for exactly 7 nanoseconds and then thrust into the pile with a bland, “that’s nice,” by most recipients. That was not the point! The point, for those of you who are not neurotically perfectionistic, is to know that at least you sent the most visually appealing card you could find. And the search for said card took you to multiple department stores, Hallmark shops, and stationery stores across the city until y0u found just what you were looking for.
The right card was only the beginning of the process. There was also the requirement of ordering the holiday return address labels, assuring that the right font was used and that appropriate symbol that says holiday and not specifically Christmas was added. Then there was the decision of whether you addressed the envelopes in black, blue or a festive green ink. (Mom always went with black, as per Emily Post.)
Later when the computer entered the equation, there was the additional drama of getting Word to cooperate with the mail merge of the mailing labels you designed in a lovely script font complete with address bar code added for the ease of those in the post office. Yet getting them to print without jamming in the old dot matrix printer inevitably left you swearing and reaching for a well-spiked glass of eggnog.
The other part of the mailing that coincided with the inclusion of the computer as tool in this endeavor was the crafting of the holiday letter. For this we need a little backstory. Way back when I was a kid, I decided that I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. Upon hearing this, my mother, in typical West Indian fashion, replied as follows, “that’s nice, but how do you plan to eat? Writers don’t make much money unless they are really successful.” (Mom was always one for the reality testing even in childhood.)
Realizing that I actually enjoyed both eating and having a roof over my head, I opted to rethink this becoming a writer decision. Long story short, I went into medicine, loved the work, but still had dreams of being a writer when I grew up. So after I got my first computer, I discovered that I actually could get into the writing groove pretty easily with keyboard and monitor, as opposed the struggle I had writing on paper (hated the mess of the scratch outs). And my second passion of writing took hold.
Now all of us have received those dreadfully boring holiday letters that are just written in a manner that makes us understand that writing talent was indeed differentially distributed among people. You know the letters that read something like this:
Montague was promoted to partner at his firm. We were all so proud of him. Jimmy’s baseball team went to the playoffs. This made us so proud. Anastasia continues to excel at knitting blankets for animal shelters. She continues to make us proud.
Oh my god, just shoot me now! Hating this type of catch-up letter, I decided to write a funny, jazzed up version of the traditional what’s-been-up-with-me-this-year letter sent to the holiday card friends…those people you only communicate with during the holidays with your cards. The letters turned out to be a complete hit. So much so that when I opted not to send a letter after a particularly difficult year (the Year of Drama), many people wrote and called to tell me how disappointed they were that there had been no letter. They look forward to it every year, I was told.
But back to the ordeal of mailing. So now our perfectionistic list of tasks for this endeavor includes:
- Choosing the right card
- Crafting the right return address label
- Fighting with Word for the mail merge and fighting with the printer to print the mailing labels
- Writing the ideal holiday letter
- Printing said holiday letter on the right holiday letter paper
Doesn’t this just make you tired thinking about it? But then we have to add another item to the mix. Since getting married in 2003, and definitely since Zara joined our family in 2007, we have had the additional issue of the family photo for the family card.
No longer do we send out standard holiday cards bought from Hallmark or the department store. The advent of the holiday photo card upped the ante 100-fold. Now I have the trauma of finding a photo or photos to grace the cover of our card.
For the first year of our marriage I chose a wedding picture:
|From After Wedding|
That was simple enough. The next year was the Year of Drama where I almost didn’t send cards at all. I went back to a non-photo card and didn’t write a holiday letter. It was a bad year. Enough said.
The following year I chose a picture of us on the top of Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa, the place we went for our donor egg cycle:
There was the coolness factor of being Liana who goes nowhere ending up on a mountain in South Africa, so that was great, even though it was the same year that I lost my mom, had to change jobs, and had spent years trying to become a parent with my dusty old eggs or the eggs of a younger, more wonderful donor. And then in 2006 we had our family in front of the fireplace, pushing on after a year of miscarriage at 16 weeks, surgery, a failed return trip to Cape Town for a frozen embryo cycle. No matter what, we still had each other and our furballs (though the furball I was holding did give me a major gash in my palm as she did not want to participate in this photo shoot).
But last year, 2007, was the year of Zara. It was the year that everything changed for this old lady. And that was the year that I wanted a true family holiday picture taken by someone with true skills as a photographer. So I enlisted my friend Sarah Bloom.
Unfortunately Sarah was to encounter her nemesis in Zara. Zara at 6 months was a very smiley and happy baby…except that day (or any day that a photographer attempted to take her picture). She fussed and flailed and refused to offer one smile no matter what any of us did. (I think that we would have been committed had anyone actually witnessed the foolish actions the three of us went through to attempt to coax one tiny smile from her.) Look how dyspeptic she appears:
We still ended up with some nice shots for our card that year despite Miss Z.
Last year was such a banner year for us that everything was way over the top. Our holiday letter became a full newsletter printed on 11″x16″ color glossy paper (folded into an 8″x11″ booklet.) Our return address labels were done by Family Labels and were disgusting in their cuteness: Our total mailing that year? 210 cards and 110 newsletters. Ridiculous, I know. But we were over the moon happy…the kind of happy that comes from receiving the gift you never thought you’d ever get. And that kind of happy can cause you to lose your mind a bit.
So now we come to 2008. Zara is now a mischievous toddler with a near permanent smile on her face. When I call Sarah to schedule the photo session I assure her that this year will be different. This year Zara will cooperate. I mean, come on, she’ll be in her own house with her folks. There will be a home field advantage. Piece of cake!
Unfortunately Zara never got the memo. Despite Sarah’s superhuman efforts, Zara once again refused to form her mouth in anything that resembled her usual smile. Even worse, whenever we tried to take a picture en famille, the looks she gave the camera were worse than last year’s dyspepsia. We are talking out and out pitifullness.
Doesn’t this little face just scream, I’d rather be anywhere than right here with you two!
Fortunately once we got back inside, she decided to play with the tree garland that I had attempted to use as a prop for our pictures. Sarah then captured some amazing pictures of Ms. Z in her little Santa dress.
Thanks to Sarah’s amazing talent, I ended up creating a fabulous multiphoto card and even used one of the pictures as a photo stamp. So yeah, I’ve become that parent, the one who puts a picture of her kid all over the card, the newsletter and even the darn envelope. But after all the madness that we went through to become the geriatric parents that we are, hopefully people will cut us a little slack.
And Sarah, next year, I promise. She will smile, even if I have to hire the child fluffer from last month’s NY photoshoot myself!