Wednesday, December 10, 2014

worth a thousand words

Long before malls were dotted with the Picture People, before families dressed in jeans and white button-down shirts and said “cheese” on the beach, before Tiny Prints, there was the Sharell Family Christmas card.

It all started when I was four. My mom and I were twins, dressed like real-life cameo brooches. Over the years, my brothers donned Mickey Mouse sweaters, and we paid homage to movies like Urban Cowboy, and my all-time favorite, The Breakfast Club. That’s me above, striking Molly Ringwald’s pose from the movie’s poster. Epic!

It was no easy feat. My mother left no rack unturned as she scoured department stores for the perfect outfits. Armed with bottles of hairspray, brushes, makeup, and wardrobe changes, we’d head to Hollywood for our photo shoots. These were arduous sessions that lasted for hours with my mother shouting “big eyes, BIG EYES” so we wouldn’t squint.

It didn’t stop there. Next came the proofs, the graphic design, and finding the perfect saying for inside the card. My mother found it impersonal not to include a note, so she’d be up till all hours writing. Envelopes were addressed by hand and given the right stamp -- the Madonna and Child for our Catholic friends, and a holiday stamp for all others. Finally, they’d be on their way!

Did I want to deal with this massive aggravation, ridiculous stress, the meticulous detail, the expense, and added work when I had a family of my own? HELL YES!!!

My family’s card said we were happy. It showed how much we’d grown, how cute my youngest brother had gotten, and how big we could make our hair! But MY card would pull double duty. It would say Happy Holidays AND “We’re Married,” “There’s a Bun in the Oven,” and “Baby Makes Four!” 

There would be only one card, though, with both my children and their parents. By the time Christmas rolled around the following year, I had already been separated for two months. Though I was in no mood for Christmas, I sent a card with pictures of the kids and signed it from both my soon-to-be ex and me. That bought me time -- time to figure out what was going on in my marriage, time to avoid having anyone speculate or ask. My inner circle was privy to what was going on and that was enough.

The following year, I sent a card with a picture of my kids, but I only signed their names and mine. Tricky, right? That was my subtle way of saying it's over. Only those who paid attention to detail would get it.

Then one year I decided that's it! I was ready to let my world know, loud and clear, that we were a party of three. Full disclosure -- my friend happened to have taken a killer shot of the kids and me at a party! Nonetheless, it was a brave move that said so many things -- it said he’s literally no longer in the picture. It said we had nothing to hide or be ashamed of, that we’re still happy, and that we’re moving on. Did tongues start wagging? You bet your ass, but that happens when split happens, regardless!

These days I Nancy Reagan it and “just say no.” No to the hassle, no to the photo shoots, the design, the special stamps, the post office. It’s freeing, really -- the pressure of creating a card worthy of my family’s legacy is gone. I have too much on my plate right now to worry about what this year’s Christmas card will really be saying, so I’m done. Now, if we happen to take an off-the-charts, super-cute picture… well, that’s another story!

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