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Why one family doesn't send Christmas newsletter

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Friday, December 18, 2009

The Christmas newsletter has been a way of reconnecting with friends and family. In an age when Facebook provides regular contact with them 365 days a year, will the holiday letter fade into history?

It's that time of year. The mailbox is full of cards from friends and family wishing us Merry Christmas or sending Season's Greetings. Every day, the kids come home from school and look to see what cards have been added to the pile. Some days my 8-year-old catches me before I have opened the envelopes, and she rips one open herself to be the first to see the card inside. Will it be a funny one? Are there pictures? Who are the Taylors? If there's a Christmas newsletter enclosed, she puts that aside without reading it.

The Christmas newsletter: a boon to the sellers of holiday stationery, and oftentimes the bane of the recipients. My husband is cynical about them. He recites before even opening one: "Jack and Jill are growing into delightful teenagers. They both excel at soccer and are on the honor roll at school." I enjoy reading them -- at least most of them.

We have never written a Christmas newsletter. It's not that we aren't proud of our four children and their achievements. It's more that their accomplishments don't always translate well to paper. They range in age from 15 years old to 22 months, and they are arrayed boy/girl/boy/girl. Their gender symmetry is matched by their abilities: special needs/normal/special needs/normal. While we read that our friends with 15-year-olds are experiencing high school sports and learner's permits, we know that our elder son will never drive a car. His achievements in Special Olympics soccer and basketball are impressive, but he won't be playing on his high school team or see his name on the plaque in the gym. Friends with children who started school this year write about their play dates and learning to read; our 6-year-old son has finally mastered the climb to get on the bus each morning. He is almost potty-trained, much to my relief.

Our Christmas letter, were we to write one, would describe our joy that our 8-year-old daughter, sandwiched between two brothers with special needs, shows signs of developing an empathy and understanding of others that are unusual in children her age. And it would tell of our excitement that the baby has a wonderful vocabulary, and already recites the alphabet more readily then her 6-year-old brother. Perhaps, most amazingly, we would say the girls have yet to be crushed under the weight of our expectations for them as the healthy ones in the family.

So, clearly, we are proud of our children, all four of them. And I love almost nothing more than talking about my kids and our busy lives. It's just that the reality of our family is usually a conversational showstopper, and I have never been able to convey in a few sentences the truth about the six of us. Often, I don't even try. In the midst of a group of friends discussing their kids and their activities, I sometimes hesitate to share my own stories. I don't want others to feel uncomfortable, and I truly enjoy hearing about the successes and blessings that their families are experiencing. My own story seems out of place.

I guess the real reason we don't send a Christmas newsletter is that we can't possibly condense the texture and depth of our lives to fit on a single sheet of paper with holly berries and candy canes around the border. I imagine that those of you who do craft holiday letters really can't either, but I do appreciate the attempt. Really. It's my husband who doesn't like them.

-- Michele Steinbach, Sterling

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