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: