In 2003, for reasons I still don’t understand, we wrote our new family’s first Christmas letter. Frank wasn’t sure why we were writing it at the time and we both thought that this first entry into our family’s public narrative should be sent out for very limited distribution. Our first letter vividly featured our most pressing and passionate marital argument until that point: a debate on the number of pillows allowed on a bed.
My answer? Eleven.
Frank’s answer? Definitely less than 11.
What was funny to us then, and even now, was how many people responded to tell us how much they enjoyed the letter. And also, to passionately declare their support for either Team Frank or Team Emily.
The important thing, though, is that we felt this surge of connection with the people who commented.
So, we wrote another letter. And another. And another. And we got brave and sent it to everyone on our mailing list. It was exhilarating!
There are only two rules of K-Fam Christmas Letter Writing: 1. Keep it light and 2. No medical drama.
There have been some years when those two rules have been easier to follow than others.
The letter-writing process begins with both a scrubbing of the year’s events as well as a suggestion of a concept. This year, after spending approximately five minutes with his newest daughter, Frank determined that the letter should be a memorandum from Annie talking about the circus she joined called Our Family.
In the case of this year’s letter, I wrote it, deleted it, wrote it again, sent it to Frank, sent him some changes, he sent me changes, I sent him changes and then we were done. Many years, there is at least one request (from Frank) for a chart/graph representing of some sort of achievement (sometimes this achievement is vomit or diaper-related) and most years, I ask for a few extra pages. We’ve remedied these requests by occasionally allowing a gratuitous graph to sneak into the letter now and then; I started a blog.
The most important thing that happens, though, is that first step: we scrub the events of the year. I take out the unnecessary details of the somewhat emergency c-section, the intestinal drama with two toddlers that reside in our home, Frank’s inability to securely screw the top on the orange juice and Annie’s over-the-top cuteness (she’s too young to get into too much trouble right now). Not to put too fine a point on this topic, but Frank, what is up with the OJ? And the Tabasco? And anything else with a lid?
So the events are scrubbed. Cleaned up. We put a bow on the whole thing and send it out first-class mail.
The other stuff I don’t include is how many times I look at my peers and see how they are being a better mom. They have better crafts, better playdate ideas, cuter lunches for their kids, etc, etc, etc. And then I see how some people are truly excellent writers and I’m a hack blogger.
I actually almost didn’t write this blog post because, well, it’s not an original topic or theme and others have written about this particular theme better, funnier and betterer. (That whole sentence is a beautiful mess. I can’t fix it.)
But since this blog exists largely so that my daughters can glimpse inside the brain of their 34 year old mother, I am writing it anyway.
I realize there are two things illustrated with the story about the Christmas letter:
First, that when Frank and I are sharing our story and delighting people and engaging with friends and family – that is when we are the happiest. We love making people laugh. We love the idea of people opening their mail and being excited to see another silly letter from those tall people. We love the connection.
Second, nearly every year I think, “meh. I don’t think I can write this letter.” I didn’t do anything remarkable enough. I made mistakes. I can’t even tell you how many times Frank wanted to write something fun about my job, and I told him to just chill out – write something generic – write something uninteresting that essentially says, “Don’t worry, Emily still has a job.” I did fun and cool stuff when I worked. I worked with remarkable leaders and innovators and true public servants. I helped out with projects that were fun and interesting. I just never could say it because I was weirdly worried that someone would write back and say, “Um, yeah, Emily is lame.”
In a nutshell, I have a lot of anxiety about how people perceive me and I hate that about myself. (I am actually working on a post specifically about that anxiety, but I started it a year ago and I’m still not any closer to done.)
I am not the best writer. I am not the best mom. I am not the best human. I am not number one, I’m not even in the top 50%. The only immediately remarkable thing about me is my height – and that doesn’t help me on the Internets.
I would really like to use that lack of bestness as a reason not to try. I want to say, “Well, I don’t have to write that press release or post that information or play tea party with my twins” or WHATEVER – because someone else is doing it better somewhere else.
Wiser people than me have said now-cliche things like “99% of success is showing up” and other such brilliant things. And they are right.
I write all of this to essentially
steal borrow other people’s wisdom: show up.
Show up and do your job. Show up and be a parent. Show up and be a friend, daughter, son, sister, brother – whatever. If you don’t have the best words to share, the best dish to pass, the best outfit for the occasion – show up any way.
Be brave. Be courageous. Let your little light shine. Even if that light is just a Christmas letter. Even in the worst years, when your spouse lost their job twice and you moved and you were a little freaked out – show up and write the letter and connect with the people you love.
A lot of people don’t show up. Maybe they are scared, too. Maybe they were worried they couldn’t do the best or most interesting, so they stayed home.
I totally get it: It’s hard. I often don’t want to show up. Sometimes, I don’t show up.
And maybe people don’t know that sometimes all they need to do is show up. Sometimes they are worried about a lot of things, like what if they aren’t enough. Maybe, if you see someone not showing up, maybe you could reach out to them. Show up for them.
Stand firm. Be present.
Because the other thing I’ve heard a lot is that possession is 9/10ths of the law. (Note: I am not a lawyer or someone who knows anything at all about the law. So, you know, take that possession thing with a grain of salt.)