No, There is No Receipt.

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I’m living the Great American Cliché: every year, despite my crystalline awareness of its approach, the holiday season swarms me with a staggering swiftness that feels unexpected.  This year, in addition to gorging on calories, consumables, and stress, I’ve resolved to take time and establish a new, year-end tradition: handwritten letters to my children.

Most people accept the concept that we all have a basic need to feel as if we matter to someone.  Despite my own emotional intellect, I don’t typically take the time to express the specific aspects that I cherish about the people in my world to the people in my world.  I attempted these “What I Like About You” conversations with my children, but was confronted with suspicious squints, and I wondered if they comprehended the depth and breadth of my sentiments.

This was the seed of inspiration for

the annual holiday letter.  On a broad scale, “putting it to paper” serves as an opportunity to express love in a way that can be difficult to articulate, but it’s also a means to document the finer, individualized points of their lives.  The season provides the chance; the paper and ink provide the permanence.

As my children grow, the demands of dance class, schoolyard angst, and PTO fundraisers have crashed into our lives like a pack of embarrassing family members, and I’ve lost sight of the delicate, fleeting details of their earlier childhoods.  I suspect I’ll be so dazed by the events of my children’s adolescent years that I’ll be rendered completely unable to recall that my seven-year-old daughter’s hair smelled like coconut when she’d been in the sun or that my youngest always liked to drape a dishtowel over his arm and ask, “At what hour will we be dining tonight, milady?”  Neither time nor teenagers can dim my memories surrounding their character-based linchpins: generosity, empathy, and mischievousness, but it’s the nuances that slip through my fingers.  Nuances, by definition, don’t make a big splash, but without their presence, the story is incomplete, inaccurate.  What parts of ourselves are missing simply because we have no evidence that they existed?  Writing has the magical ability to capture the gossamer threads of detail and freeze them for tomorrow.  These letters are the indelible chronicles of the seemingly unimportant—their charming quirks—as well as recognition of their essential core identifiers.

Therefore, I’m letting my son know of my overwhelming pride as I’ve witnessed him traverse an entire school grade in four months, accomplished through a staunch dedication and commitment that he must have inherited from the sky.  I’ll marvel at his Lego engineering ability and animation skills and reveal my genuine astonishment that he’s found a way to marry the two talents in the form of creating stop-motion films.  I’ll write of a galvanized bond with my daughter, and I’ll remind her that rond de jambes are what she loves most about ballet in this year of 2012.  When my youngest is grown, he will read the narrative of a child who mastered uppercase handwriting by the age of six—a nod to his serious approach to academia.  I wonder if he’ll be as amazed as we were that he had uneaten Halloween candy as December approached.

It’s entirely possible that my progeny will not realize the value of these letters; there is little foresight in youth. I will set them aside for when they are older.  I’ve been bequeathed knowledge that I’m grateful they have not yet inherited: the letters’ stock will rise.

I also have a letter, given to me by my own mother (excerpted below) more than thirty years ago; today it’s a personal treasure.  It offers tiny glimpses of a little girl that I don’t remember, but whom I know of, courtesy of gossamer threads that were preserved just for me.  My mother passed away on Christmas Day, 2010; her enduring words are an everlasting gift:




How can you be a child of mine?
Each facial feature a perfect creation.
Your eyes holding truth behind each spoken word
Of innocent child talk.
Each question asked with purpose and insatiable curiousity.
You mimic me with humor fine.
How can you be a child of mine?
How do you give when I cannot?
My angry arrows are not for you.
Your patience by silence teaches me.
Again, a lesson, you ask, “What can I do?”
“Set the table? Make the bed?”
A wise and wonder-filled little tot.
How do you give when I cannot?
How can you have so many fears?
The dragon dreams are within all of us.  
For you, they’re newer, just beginning.
Let me hold you, we’ll reassure each other.
Don’t cry now, no need for tears.
How can you have so many fears?
How can you be a child of mine?
You’ve been lent to me, this I know,
For purpose I cannot see now.
Often days pass and I forget what a gift you are to me,
But in evening as you sleep,
I look upon your face and remember the gift of eternal life.
True treasure of all held divine.
How can you be a child of mine?
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  • Suddenly Jamie


    Ahh … and now I see the softer side of you, my friend.
    This brought tears to my eyes and I’m sure it must bring tears to the eyes of any mother. The tenderness and reverence of your words is so touching, and the poem from your mother is truly a treasure.

    Thank you so much for sharing and for reminding me of the importance of taking the time to capture these moments in a snare of words. I have been remiss of late, but the days and months and years are slipping by. It’s time I put back on the mantle of chronicler and archivist in order to ensure that my daughter can hold her own treasures close to her heart when I am gone.

    Much love.

    • admin

      Thanks Jamie. Yeah, there’s a whole deep side lurking. It’s not all Cheetos and porn around here.

      • Suddenly Jamie

        The genius is in combining the deep brilliance with the Cheetos and porn. You got it goin’ on.

  • Nichole

    Okay, I’m crying like a baby.

    This is beautiful and so poignant. How much better we as adults might be if all our parents had taken the time to capture those moments and memories on paper? Your children are blessed, indeed.

    • Wendie

      Aw, coming from you? I feel like my work here is done. *takes bow* *exits stage*

  • shanna

    Oh Wendie, this brings up so much for me. I long for something like this from my own mother, even as she lives just one doorstep away from me.

    I will never have children to which I can deliver such words. My choice, indeed, but bittersweetness permeates everything human, doesn’t it?

    This is breathtaking–truly–as my breath is caught in my throat. And I thank you for that.


    • Wendie

      Well, thank YOU for sharing. I was very apprehensive about sharing it with the Siren-you-know-who group. So much respect…

  • Claire

    I bow to your greatness! Was so glad to see this.

    • Wendie

      Greatness? *glances over shoulder*

  • Jim

    This is a fantastic idea. I have old letters in my scrapbooks, and one of the items in our fire-safe is a letter to John from his Mom. truly priceless keepsakes.

    • Wendie

      One word: safe-deposit box.

  • gail

    Great! I want to say fabulous…but i’m overusing that word.

  • Monique Happy

    I loved this, and your mom’s poem truly touched my heart. My son’s father died a few months back, and when I was going through his laptop I found an unfinished letter to our son. It was just a few sentences, but it was an amazing gift and brought a smile to James’ face. I also still have the letter I wrote to my daughter the night before she turned 1.

    • Wendie

      I know. I think about James and have him on my prayer list. We all want to know that we were worthy of writings. (And to have YOU for his mom!) How wonderful for him.

  • Rach

    Your Mom’s words have rendered me speechless. That is truly the most beautiful exchange from mother to child that I have ever read. Please don’t hate me for copying and saving it to my desktop.

  • Wendie

    Enjoy it, just add her writer credit:Jone Victoria.

  • misty

    Beautiful! I have been keeping a journal with memorable things my kids say or do, but now after reading this, I might have to include how I feel about them as well. Your children will cherish those letters as much as you cherish your moms poignant poem.

    • Wendie


  • Melissa

    I know I’m highly emotional today, but I don’t think that’s why this touched me. I love reading JV’s writings. I knew you then, and I know you now… “what can I do?” – a person doesn’t change, that much. What an absolute treasure. Thank you for sharing this, my 3am friend.

  • Tiffany

    It is scary how easy it is for a memory to leave us. Just the other day my daughter did something that reminded me of something from her baby years I had completely forgotten. And that forgetfulness saddened me.

    What a beautiful way to remember and to show love. And so beautifully put too. Thank you for sharing, Wendie.

  • Cori Padgett

    Beautiful Wendie. And a what a great idea too. I’d set up a blog awhile back to do something along similar lines, but more as a diary of all of our lives… but I nixed it.. felt too impersonal somehow. I absolutely love the idea of letters though. And the poem your mom wrote was so sweet and poignant. It must make your heart ache every time you read it. <3 <3 <3 xo

  • Hands Free Mama

    This is one of the most beautiful and meaningful holiday gift posts I have ever read. You have nailed it — a gift that will mean more than any toy or electronic device. You are right, our children may not know the value of it now, but one day, when I am no longer here, these notes will be more priceless than gold.

    I can’t wait to see my daughters’ faces light up when I read to them every silly, lovely, unique thing about them — their 2012 self — that will live on through the magic of the written word.

    I thank you for your inspiration. Just shared it with all my friends on “The Hands Free Revolution” FB page. I hope the holiday letter is the most popular gift of 2012!

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  • Janine

    Great minds …. and all that stuff. I started a “Birthday Journal” for each child when they were born. I wrote/write in them on each birthday, telling them what all happened during the year, how they grew, changed, matured, etc. And always, always how much they were/are loved by us. Still us.
    And your Mom’s words are beautiful. My children will see them soon, with her name of course. Thank you so much for sharing them, Wendie. :)

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