What is it about the holiday season that compels people to write those godawful brag letters? You know the ones: They slip out of the perfectly-posed pictorial Christmas card proclaiming the annual accomplishments of their highly gifted and talented children.
Little Penelope (age 7), president of her school’s EcoClub, managed to find the time to read all of the Newberry award-winning books while earning a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. Younger brother Donovan (age 5) was named most outstanding goalie on his traveling club team and just held his first art gallery showing. Not to be outdone, darling 8-month-old Shkye (the 'h' is silent) is completing full sentences in sign language and is already walking. Rounding out the happy family is Benson, who placed third in the Westminster Kennel Show.
What about the families whose kids have struggled throughout the past year? Why is it that we never see those letters?
Little Sarah (age 7) was expelled from yet another elementary school after being tied to a rash of locker break-ins, but seems to be doing better at the district’s alternative school. Younger brother Danny (age 5) is still wetting the bed and infected the entire family with lice; but, on the upside, he did learn to tie his shoes. Baby brother Josh (8 months) still isn't sleeping through the night, has been crying for 8 months straight and has mastered the art of projectile vomiting. Finally, the family mongrel, Buster, chewed up Dad's shoe (it was a Ferragamo!), ate the babysitter's retainer and attacked the postman for the last time — earning himself a trip to the glue factory.
Or the ones from regular, ordinary families. We don’t see those either.
Little Tommy (age 7) is in the second grade and is reading at the second-grade level. Younger sister Anna (age 5) is enjoying Kindergarten and is on track with her sight words. Baby sister Brooke (8 months old) is crawling around like crazy and pointing to everything she sees. The kids have been begging for a dog, but we’re thinking that might just be a bit too much for the time being.
Reading brag letters leaves me with the sense that everyone I know has children who would be described as "above average." Known as the “Lake Wobegon Effect,” it seems unlikely that ALL of these kids are so extraordinary. In fact, my rather limited understanding of averages leads me to the conclusion that approximately half of these kids should be above average and half should be below average. But we don’t see those letters. Is it that I don’t know any families with “below average” kids? Or is it more likely that only the parents of the wunderkind write letters?
Come to think of it, why are we bragging at all?
What are the qualities about which we should brag, anyway? Come to think of it, why are we bragging at all? It’s one thing to share a particular accomplishment with close relatives. But everyone on our holiday card list? Don’t we try to teach our kids not to brag?
So for those who just have to send an update to every person they've ever met, here’s what I propose: a non-brag recap. Pick a couple of neat things that happened to your family, and share them instead.
Warren and Rebecca marked 17 years of marriage – which Ben, Lilly, and Jacob celebrated with homemade cards, fruit salad they made with just a little help, and sleeping late on their anniversary.
Or maybe something funny.
In typical Schorr fashion, this year’s summer road trip included flying underwear down Interstate 5. Seems that someone (not naming any names) failed to secure the suitcases atop the car. Upside? Outlet shopping.
And if you must talk about the kids, highlight character traits rather than accomplishments.
Benjamin (age 7) made certain to give good hugs when saying thank you to family for gifts this year, saying that it's considerate to thank people for the thought even if we don't love the gift. And when he's not aggravating his sister, he's particularly kind and gentle with her. Lillian (age 4) has been especially helpful with the baby and, when her big brother isn't vexing her, plays quite nicely with him. Jacob (age 8 months) continues to bring light to all who feel the warmth of his smile. He hasn't been sleeping so well but his cheerful disposition more than makes up for that.
After all, if you’re going to brag, make it something worth bragging about.
As for those other letters from those other parents? Read them if you feel you must. And then feel free to toss. Just make certain to recycle lest you undo any of the good works done by the president of the Eco Club.
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