Christmas Cards

‘Tis the season for receiving Christmas cards. For the most part, I really love to see photos and read updates of friends from the various phases of my life: High school buddies who saw me through my most awkward stage, married couples who lived on Campbell’s soup like we did during those first years of our marriage, fellow parents whose kids are best friends with our youngsters. The mailbox holds a new treat everyday.
The drawback to the whole exchanging cards tradition is the limited amount of space we’re allowed to explain an entire year’s worth of experiences. We carefully choose a picture that projects our intended image. The kids’ faces are round with wide grins and they’re tenderly grasping hands in sibling devotion. The honest picture would show what happened just after the picture was taken. When she pinched him and he bit her and they wrestled on the carpet for ten minutes before mom had to step in and pull them apart.
With the advent of Facebook, I should be accustomed to this type of meticulous name branding but it seems more intentional at Christmas. I could post things about my life all day long on Facebook, (“I just made a cake in the shape of Voldermort for Johnny’s birthday!” or “Thank God for lattes! LOL!” or “It’s Monday :(” etc.) but you just have that one chance every year for the card. I’d love to see a card starring a mom stirring a bowl with one hand as she balances a phone on her shoulder and points to the arithmetic mistakes on her daughter’s homework with the other hand. That’s real life. Maybe I’d throw in a naked toddler running just out of the frame and smoke pouring from the oven for ambience.
I’m just as guilty as the next girl when it comes to putting on a show for the Christmas card. There are some friends—due to distance and/or busy schedules—whose only correspondence with me is that annual card. What do I want them to know about me and my family? What do I want to know about them? I wish I could sit down with everyone on our list and find out—Barbara Walters’ style—exactly what makes him/her one of the year’s Most Fascinating People. What would they share that they left off their 2012 recap? I know I would discover something new every time. These people I call Friends have talents and experiences completely unbeknownst to me. Although there’s nothing wrong with putting our best face forward when it comes to mass mail-outs, I have to ask myself what kind of card would God send us? Here’s my guess:
The holidays are just around the corner and the three angels who visited Abraham are in charge of designing the Christmas card this year. They’re scrolling through pictures for the perfect photo. This card will be sent out to everybody (and when I say everybody, I mean EVERYBODY) so it has to be perfect!
ANGEL 1: “Here’s the one with Gabriel on the slopes. Oops…he closed his eyes in the picture…”
ANGEL 2: “How about this one? It’s really festive.”
ANGEL 3: “No. Michael hates that one. Spike, the rockstar angel, is always trying to do the hair metal, back-to-back, air-guitar thing whenever any angel within fifty feet pulls out a camera. It’s getting lame.”
ANGEL 1: “Raphael looks good in this picture. He really has that ‘Hark the Herald’ thing going for him…wait a minute…never mind. His halo’s on backwards. Good grief. We’ll never pick out a card!”
After much deliberation, they take their possible choices to God’s throne to get his opinion but He has a different idea.
GOD: “This is a going to sound crazy but instead of a Christmas card this year, I’m going to send Jesus down to a tiny town called Bethlehem to be born of a Virgin.”
ANGEL 2: “What?! He’s the quarterback for our football team…”
ANGEL 3: “And the best baritone in the choir…”
ANGEL 2: “And the lead in all the musicals! We were going to do Jesus Christ Superstar this year!”
ANGEL 1: “Why would you send Him down there anyway?”
GOD: “I want everyone to really know Me. Not the watered-down version but the real, salt-of-the-earth, Creator of the Universe. It’s hard to explain so I’m going to send Jesus and he’ll live it out for me. Don’t look at me like that—it’s going to work. It’ll be messy but totally worth it.”
ANGEL 3: “Why not send just send lightning bolts and shake the ground with thunder?”
ANGEL 2: “Yeah. I like it, and so will Spike. It’ll be like the best rock concert of all time!”
GOD: “Nope. I’ll shake the earth later, I promise. But this year will be about a baby—a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. Now get going to choir practice. I just wrote a new song for you. It goes like this: ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.’”

So keep sending those cards! I only wish I could say “Merry Christmas!” to all of you in person!!

Make ‘Em Laugh!

There are plenty of things to stress over when it comes to parenting: multiplication tables and table manners, vitamin deficiency and sugar overload, caffeine and nicotine, the birds and the bees…I could keep going but I’m starting to feel queasy. One of the least important things to worry about is facilitating the development of a sharp sense of humor in my kids, right? But if I don’t do it, who will? Spongebob? I don’t think I want to leave something this important in his skinny, less-than capable, yellow hands.

I have a few theories about what makes a person funny:
  • Most of kids’ television shows today are pretty lame. The laugh tracks and the predictable storylines make me want to rip my hair out or, at the very least, change the channel. We’ve tried to strike a happy balance in our kids’ television and movie-watching habits. We don’t want them to be totally unable to relate to their peers so we’ll let them watch a few current shows and movies (I especially like Word Girl and Electric Company. And there’s nothing better for fun family entertainment than whatever is the newest Pixar movie.). To keep things interesting, we’ll add in some episodes from The Dick Van Dyke show, The Andy Griffith show, and I Love Lucy. My girls are becoming junior aficionados of musicals from the 1940’s and 1950’s. That should wow their fellow 5th graders. After I teach them the card game Mille Bornesand the finer art of constructing tissue cozy covers out of plastic canvas, their education will be complete. Voted Most Popular of the class of 2020? You’re welcome, girls.
  • Speaking of girls, I think it’s trickier for women to be funny. I’m not blaming chromosomes or uterine lining for it; I’m blaming society. At some point, most girls are brainwashed to believe that they must giggle at every little thing said by the boys they like. This is usually done during the crucial humor development ages of 8-14. They should be making their friends laugh with witty and carefully crafted comments about their chorus teacher not giggling at fart jokes made by the baseball team. Why do you think that most successful comediennes are of the sexual orientation that makes flirting with boys negligible? Growing up, they didn’t care if they made the boys around them feel hilarious. I’m not saying you have to be gay to be a funny woman—not at all—but just think about my theory the next time you’re watching Ellen.
  • Another important part of nurturing my kids’ love of Funny is making sure they’re open to unusual experiences. These are comedy fodder. I’ll give you two recent examples from my own life:
    • I am the co-director for the Shining Stars, a children’s sign language/singing group at my church. We were asked to sing on a Sunday for a large group of Chinese who were coming to our building for a special service.  We had chosen “Revelation Song,” a song we’d been practicing for a few weeks. At the Wednesday night practice before “China Sunday,” one of the kids in our group informed us that in China if you stick up your pinky—something that we did about sixteen times in the song—it’s the same as sticking up your middle finger here. Whaaa? Is that for real? We asked a friend whose sister-in-law is Chinese to confirm and yes, it is an offensive gesture. Great! We scrambled to have the kids change the sign to point all of their fingers up to say “I” or “is.” Phew! International disaster avoided.
    • We had a fundraising event at my kids’ school that involved having one grade at a time go outside and walk/run laps around the parking lot. They asked me to wear a furry lion suit so that I could encourage the kids to continue running their laps with my furry hand-waving and kiss-blowing. That sounded easy enough. At the beginning of the day it was cool outside and the kindergarteners were adequately awestruck by my appearance. As the day went on, the suit revealed to me the similarly sweaty experience of its former occupants. In other words, I began to reek. To add insult to smelliness, the older the kids got the less respectful they were of the suit. It was as if an adult wearing a full body animal costume doesn’t mean anything anymore! They started trying to un-Velcro the back. They would slap me as they ran by just to see what I would do. I started fearing for my safety! I would pretend to growl at them when they were naughty but since they couldn’t hear me and my face was frozen in a non-threatening smile, it didn’t have the desired effect. Since all I could see was what was visible through two Ping-Pong ball sized eyeholes and some of the 4thgraders would be bigger than me, I gave up after lunch. Those older kids would have to dig deep within themselves to find the will to go on. I was out!

I wouldn’t be able to share those anecdotes if I had been concerned about little details like not knowing sign language or how I look (and smell) in public. Although there are plenty of other weightier things to worry about for parents in this day and age, I have to at least devote a small amount of effort to make sure my kids are funny. But truthfully, they were born with all of the funny this world can handle. My job is to keep laughing so their “funny” supply won’t dry up for lack of use. The good news is that one of the best ways to encourage their humor is the same fix-all they give us for almost everything else: Just sit down to the table for supper with them as often as possible. They’ll have you shooting milk out your nostrils in no time!