Wednesday, December 7, 2011

...to Share a Sample Christmas Letter

Some readers of "Old Enough..." may feel unsure about approaching their holiday newsletters, perhaps because they have never written one before and/or have never read one.  For these readers and any others who may be interested, I provide a sample Christmas letter here as a follow up to my ten tips for writing Christmas letters.


Dear  Kelly,       
As usual, I have waited until the last moments of the year to begin writing our year-in-review letter, as if I’m waiting to see if anything else remarkable might happen and earn a place in our reflection.  (Actually, I’m just procrastinating.)  Our year has been so action-packed, I can only share a smattering of the many stories that have filled our lives with joy, wonder, and sheer exhaustion. 
Francis has spent the year redefining the phrase “working hard.”  Fourteen-hour days have become the norm, and every once in a while, he takes a weekend off.  I usually don’t even bother to put away his suitcase since he travels almost every week.  If you feel that you’ve been snubbed by Francis in the past year, get in line.  There is a section of Obama’s The Audacity of Hope devoted to his early days in the Senate that often saw him travelling or otherwise away from home, leaving Michelle to single-handedly care for their young daughters and run the household.  Poor thing!  All of that sacrifice and look where it got her!  I’m still waiting for the big payoff that will land me in a swell, rent-free mansion, a 24-hour personal security detail, an army of drivers in sweet rides, chef-prepared dinners daily, and a hefty wardrobe allowance.   Meanwhile, Francis apparently finds his frenetic schedule exhilarating and the work captivating.  Ever the Special Forces operative, he clearly thrives on the challenge to do the impossible, so I have to assume that the chances of this schedule changing are about as great as the likelihood of me becoming First Lady. 
Alex is pleased to report several new additions to the Scribner household.  He is now the proud owner of five fish, two frogs, and snail named Gary.  Despite my ban on non-mammalian creatures in the house, he has periodically campaigned for the privilege of adopting some sort of slimy creature to call his own.  His campaign culminated late in the summer when he pulled out all the stops:  suddenly the Lego d├ęcor was removed and put away.  Randomly scattered books were replaced on the bookshelf.  School papers strewn around the floor magically found their way to their file folders, and toys were always re-stowed after use.  It was wonderful.    I rarely had to lift a finger to maintain this unusual state of cleanliness and often had to refuse the offer to help me around the house because there simply was nothing left to do.  His valiant efforts to demonstrate responsibility were rewarded when three weeks later I finally relented and allowed him to buy an aquarium with his saved up gift money.  As promised, I never lift a finger to clean, feed, or otherwise care for the creatures.  He had done such a great job caring for his fish that I allowed him to buy a smaller aquarium for two African frogs who vie with the fish for our attention.  When he is not caring for his animals, Alex works hard on his schoolwork, plays soccer in the fall and the spring, and helps me to handle thorny classroom issues by illuminating the student perspective.    
I continue to love teaching writing at the University, and the English department continues to pay me to indulge myself.  Good thing, too!  We have become card-carrying members of Ortho Aid[1] which supports a group of needy orthodontists in State College.  See, the way the program works is we arrive at their office completely clueless about the architecture and mechanics of jaws and teeth.  In an earnest effort to educate us, these needy orthodontists kindly share their hard-earned wisdom about the mysteries of the mouth and tell us that our sons’ teeth are horribly misaligned and will cause them untold misery when they are forty.  Then, over the course of several years, we write out numerous checks for large sums of money in exchange for small implements of torture being semi-permanently installed in our children’s mouths.  The orthodontists then drive home in their Lexuses to their well-appointed mansions and sip martinis by their pools.  Another fascinating part of the program is that it is fully interactive!  This is not an organization to which you just send your money and then forget about it.  No, no.   I get to participate in the torture twice a day by cranking a miniature medieval rack affixed to Danny’s upper teeth, all the while assuring him that this pain now will prevent untold misery when he is forty.  This explanation comforts him not in the least, so I try to assure him that at least the needy orthodontists are well-provided for, and he can offer up his suffering for the souls in purgatory.   The last beautiful feature of the program is that our contributions grow with our children!  Just when we think we have averted future untold misery, the needy orthodontists create a new implement for preventing the aforementioned suffering, and we continue to fight the good fight with our charitable contributions.  In two months, Alex will be fitted with a full set of braces one year after he retired his rack.  We feel very blessed. 
While a good portion of the year and the annual income was spent trying to save our children’s teeth, part of our time was devoted to saving Danny’s soul.  This year he made his First Reconciliation (a.k.a. First Confession) and his First Communion, which required countless hours of retreats, rehearsals, and explanations of the mystical that left him totally unmoved.  In the Danny Universe, if you can’t grab it or make it explode, it doesn’t exist.  Additionally, if it doesn’t have an impact on Dan, it must be a fairy tale.  Needless to say, I have not found the religious education texts to be particularly helpful in this Universe, so I began to rewrite the book.  For example, Dan is learning that sins are sins not because they offend God but because they are bad for Dan.   I suppose this explanation undermines the whole selflessness thing, but at least I don’t get a blank stare when we talk about the mysteries of the Divinity.  After his First Reconciliation, our church’s Director of Religious Education whispered to me, “He’s back from the Dark Side.”  I smiled and nodded as I muttered to myself, “Don’t count on it.” The big attraction of First Communion was getting to eat the “cookie,” which, surprisingly, Mr. Fussiest-Eater-on-the-Planet thinks tastes “really good”! 
This blessed event occurred on the holiest of holy weekends when State College witnessed the second coming.  Nooooooo, not THAT Second Coming!  State College was blessed with the second coming of Bruce Springsteen to Penn State.  On the same weekend that we celebrated Danny’s First Communion, Olivia, Grace, and I celebrated communion with Bruce and 15,000 of the faithful in a concert that moved me to religious revelation.   In contrast to our last Springsteen concert experience from arena seats anchored directly in the flight paths of several small aircraft, this year we stood, mouths agape, within thirty feet of the man we’ve admired since he was a scrawny, snaggle-toothed, shabbily-clothed wharf rat from the Jersey Shore.   Through a once–a-millennium alignment of the planets, we were able to secure four of the 700 places in the “pit” in front of the stage, close enough to count the grey hairs on his head and watch the beads of sweat drip down his face.  Among other observations from this blessed event was the realization that whoever thought to call an energy drink “Rock Star” is a genius and that somehow my pool workouts are not benefitting me quite as much as Bruce’s regimen is benefitting him. I concluded from this AARP coverboy’s electrifying performance that 60 truly is the new 40, a conclusion to which I cling desperately.
Extrapolating from this observation that 50 is the new 30, I decided to reinvent my exercise routine so that in ten years I can look as good as Bruce does now.  With this goal in mind, I have doubled the length, duration, and rigor of my swim workouts and have taught myself how to do the butterfly stroke, a skill that has eluded me for the past twenty-five years.  I should clarify that by “butterfly stroke” I mean my torso undulates in an odd, syncopated rhythm while my arms flail haphazardly at my sides, and lots of water splashes around me.  I’m sure it is a wondrous sight to behold.  Michael Phelps, move over!
When I am not trying to age gracefully, I am grading student essays, trying to teach Dan the new “new math” (you wouldn’t believe it if I tried to explain it to you), and folding laundry.  Occasionally, I read a book (my newest discovery is David Foster Wallace, God rest his troubled soul); often, I think about essays I’d like to write; and daily, I dream about seeing my name in print.  Frank McCourt, God rest his soul, too, wrote Angela’s Ashes when he was 63, so I figure I still have some time. 
We hope the many blessings of this year carry you into the next decade with a renewed sense of hope and accomplishment. 
With warmest wishes for you and yours this holiday season,

[1] Ortho Aid is a semi pain-free organization that tries to inflict only medium pain on your child while preventing dangerous ailments like slightlycrookedtoothitis and yellowtoothfluenza. (Alex’s footnote)

Now you try!  Have fun and happy holidays!

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