Way back when, in 2000, life was giddy and good and I decided to write my first Christmas newsletter. Except, I didn't want it to be like every other Christmas newsletter out there. You know the ones I mean. The travelogues: "In March, we had an audience with the Pope; in June, we toured Spain with Michelle Obama; in August, we met William and Kate for a weekend." The kid-alogues: "Junior has exceeded on all standardized tests, blah blah blah and can four-wheel and shoot a Coke bottle off a fence at 100 paces."
I decided that my newsletter needed to have what so many lack - a sense of humor. I limited distribution at first to a few family and friends who I thought could take a joke. Then family members talked to other family members and then the joke was out and I knew how Dr. Frankenstein, or every sitcom writer that's ever lived, felt. Each year, I had to produce a Christmas newsletter as funny and original as the first. For a few years, I managed to pull off a few clever lines.
Here's the preamble to 2000's newsletter when my daughter was 2:
"This is my very first Christmas newsletter, and there is so much news, first beginning with our precious baby girl. Laura has been tapped for Toddler Mensa and is first chair cello with the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra. (She actually auditioned successfully for viola as well, but couldn’t of course, play both instruments simultaneously.) Scott is home now, on break from the senior PGA tour. Last month, Pinehurst, next month Pebble Beach. I’m jetting to Oslo to pick up the Nobel Prize for Literature, I guess I can tell you this, the Committee hasn’t released it publicly…"
"I guess I really had you going until the Nobel part. In truth, this has been a year of hard work and joy for us. Laura is enjoying her first real Christmas. We’re the proudest parents of this little girl, so indulge me for a minute when I tell you that she can spell. M-A-M-A, what’s that spell? “Mama.” D-A-D-D-Y, what does that spell? “Daddy.” “L-A-U-R-A, what does that spell? “Baby!”
Really, that one's not so bad, but the snowball started rolling the next year:
This year finds us in serious training for the Everest Summit which we have scheduled for May. As part of the training, Laura is out before dawn each day at Kennesaw Mountain, hiking with her Winnie the Pooh backpack and her favorite bear, Baby Honeybear. I know you’re thinking, “that’s such a big hike for such a little girl!" But it is our sincere wish to give Laura the best in life, and we think that should include climbing the Seven Sisters before age 5. Of course, you would not believe how difficult it is to find high altitude gear for a toddler -- you just don’t find this stuff at Gymboree! The sherpas in Nepal have gladly offered to carry Laura up the mountains on their backs, but our little trooper insists on hiking it “all by self” and doing it without supplemental oxygen! She did say the sherpas could carry her green Play-doh and critters, though.
"In the middle of this training, Scott is busy preparing for a new career. Of course, it will require a wardrobe overhaul -- lots and lots of plaid shirts. Norm Abram’s taking a sabbatical, and needs a replacement, so he called Scott to fill in for him on “New Yankee Workshop” and “This Old House.” Carpenters are out back as I write, working on the “New South Workshop” in the yard. Scott’s buying enough Delta power tools to make Bob Vila drool. Expect to see Scott decked out in plaid in the next season’s episodes when he’ll make a mahogany toothpick. He’s taking the project from start to finish. Right now, he’s planning a trip to a third world country to select that perfect five-foot diameter tree."
At my in-law"s Christmas table a few weeks after publication, my husband's elderly uncle said with a straight face how proud he was of Scott for landing a TV show. I felt so bad, that in subsequent years I wrote - "just kidding!" on Dear Uncle's copy.
2002's letter was an easy seque:
I must apologize that this updating of Laura’s Mt. Everest summit attempt comes seven months after the fact. Actually, it wasn’t quite a summit -- we turned back just short of the Hilary Step because Laura gave her two remaining bottles of oxygen to our Sherpa guide, who needed the supplemental oxygen to return to base camp. Norgay was exhausted from hauling Laura’s critters and green blankie up the mountain. When Norgay got a little weepy because of the failed attempt to reach the summit, Laura comforted him probably the first Barbie tea party held 5,100 feet above sea level.
"In the ensuing publicity (“I’m sure you all saved the People magazine cover!), Laura received many opportunities to endorse products she believes in. We’ve done Disney, been on the Wheaties box and have just inked a merchandising deal for Laura’s signature line of clothes, L.Me. I’m fresh out of fragrance strips for the L.Me perfume line, but look for it in major department stores when it rolls out nationwide after the first of the year. And I have a little secret -- look for our little performer at the Super Bowl next month. She can hit all the high notes in the “Star-Spangled Banner,” we just need to put them in the right places.
"Did you see Scott’s first season as the new Norm? While Scott was very pleased with the experience of hosting “New Yankee Workshop” and acting as master carpenter on “This Old House,” the hours and plaid shirts proved too stressful. When he asked Russell Morash if he could restore a houseboat on an upcoming episode, Russ suggested a replacement. Scott is now enjoying the extra time golfing and planning fishing excursions. As for me, my volunteer activities have attracted some national notice. I’ll be the next president of the American Red Cross. (Please don’t tell my husband, but I got the job because I’ve agreed to go without a salary.)"
In subsequent years, my daughters have had Grand Ole Opry debuts, worked as dolphin language translators and advised the White House on foreign policy issues.
I'm still a bit proud of this paragraph for the Grand Ole Opry debut :
"An influential music critic attending the concert wrote “as if Patsy Cline herself were reincarnated in the form of a wood sprite. Laura’s lilting, mellifluous tones can only be matched by her incomparable six-string finger work, bringing to mind the maturity of a Clapton. The compelling words of her composition, “Ode to Mama Honeybear,” haunt me to this very hour.”
This year, as I contemplated the lies I could tell, I've decided that it's over. There's nowhere else to go, short of launching the children into outer space, perhaps the ultimate shark-jumping scenario. Fonzie has strapped on the water skis. We've decided to adopt a shaggy-haired orphan named Oliver who has the cutest round glasses. A handsome pilot and bachelor named Steve has just moved to the Junction, Petticoat Junction.
After 10 years of lies, and a now-12 year old who is aware of what Mom is writing about, it's time to send out a holiday greeting card with a short, truthful note. I hope my friends and family find this story, because there won't be much in their mailbox this year.
I cherish my friends and family and appreciate everyone who takes the time to read my words. I wish for you the joys of the season and echo the angel, "Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men." May God bless you in 2011.
Text & images © 2010, Lucy Mercer.