Handle with care

regan-chesterfieldIt’s a certain kind of woman in her 90s who thinks a package being delivered to her house might be a bomb, and then opens it anyway.

And this is why I was sending her cookies and peppermint bark, because throughout my life she has been one of those important people I am fortunate to know.

The package was kind of battered by the time it arrived. The address was faint. She had been outspoken online and thought maybe this was retaliation.

But one is right to approach such a package with caution and to wonder at the sender’s state of mind. The holiday season is fraught with danger and irrationality.

It was I who prepared the sinister package, in a kind of divine bargaining. I could not muster the spirit to send out the usual holiday card, in which I cannot write the perfect note that tells you what I think you want to know about our family, or says exactly everything except what you want to know about our family, or even what is most important about or to our family, or provide that picture in which I may or may not have photoshopped someone’s head or present us as people without a care in the world, or scare you with our imperfection. Which is why the cards I send are a family photo and a note. Here we are. Another year has passed. We are thinking about you. We have stamps.

I just hit a point last November when I thought, re cards, pass. Can’t do it this year. People have their limits and they should know them. I hadn’t read this post by Brené Brown, which two friends just posted on Facebook, but I had a similar series of thoughts and revelations, and decided to let that particular ring of the circus go dark. I felt a little guilty. It was like cutting class. And I baked. Was that cheating? I don’t know my limits. And then our friend thought she was getting a bomb. No, it’s just me, undetonated, ticking things off a list.

Another part of the bargaining, if you let me not send cards, I will… reply to the cards we get so that people don’t think they have been “dropped,” but I suspect that I didn’t get to do as many of these as came in. So if we normally exchange cards and I didn’t respond even with an email, I am sorry.

We decided to do cards again this year. I had known I was only taking/being granted a year off. I ordered the stamps a while ago so I didn’t have to panic buy generic ones from Costoco. And then at Thanksgiving, when we were dressed for dinner, I asked a friend who was joining us to take the picture with my phone (I had warned him in advance.) And as soon as we got home I ordered the cards. So far so good.

Pulling the addresses together is always a bit of production because I have two computer printouts that I use, from different databases, from the 90s, then my Filofax, which I bought when I started my second real job, then my phone contacts, email and Facebook messages. It’s shocking how much a list can change when you skip a year. But the nice thing about doing the cards is how it brings all the people of your life back into focus. I sent several messages out to collect the addresses of people who have moved or might have moved, which led to a little catching up, which reenforced the value and purpose of what I was doing. I read over some of the cards from last year, the cards I was saving so that when the craziness of the holidays abated, I would sit down at a writing desk with light filtering through the window treatment of choice and pen words that would be worthy of the recipients. Or I would chuck the cards in the cupboard under the bar and blog about it a year later.

I make cookie dough and my daughter rolls it out. We listen to Serial until we are all caught up. I do the lights on the tree, she decorates it. We put Christmas music on her phone and run it through the bluetooth speakers (these would make a great for someone on your list). The technology is working. I address envelopes. There are still roughly two weeks until Christmas. Getting through the holidays tests your ability to pace yourself, to let the point unfold. But when it does you realize that each of these moments is a gift and this is instead a test of your ability not to endure but to be. The people will receive their cards, sent with love and realistic expectations of self and others. Be careful as you open cards and packages; the idea of perfection is the hazardous material within.

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5 Replies to “Handle with care”

  1. Every year I think about not sending cards, or at the most, sending an e-card, but then a few of the relatives tell me how much they look forward to receiving them and seeing how much my children have grown, blah, blah, blah, and I am back where I started. Truth told, I keep all of the photo cards that I receive and look back at them each year.

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  2. this year, i didn’t get my cards in the mail until 12/22… and to make matters worse, i under-ordered, so i had to order — post-haste — an extra set post-holiday (which i changed slightly to read: ‘happy new year’ instead of ‘happy holidays’ — as Pee Wee would say, “i meant to do that.”)… bah humbug, Ringling Bros. i do NOT want to run away and join the circus.

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