I have a wonderful brother-in-law named Brendan who is without question my children's favorite family member, excepting me and their father (well, most days, at least). Brendan is smart and sweet and talented and imaginative ("He's a nut! " exults his brother — this of course being the ultimate compliment in their family). Professionally, Brendan is an award-winning storyteller as a longtime producer of public television programming (in Minneapolis-St. Paul); personally, he is just a really terrific 1) husband; and 2) father, to two daughters who have grown up and out of the house. That Brendan's younger brother — my beloved — has two young whippersnappers to whom he can transfer his fatherly bonhomie has been a grace to him, I think, in equal measure to that experienced by my family. Fave uncle status: on lock.
When my first beautiful and sweet child Matilda was maybe six months old, Brendan sent her a postcard. Beyond all the pink-beribboned congratulations cards attending her birth, this small, simple scrap of pictorial paper arrived as the first piece of mail my daughter received in her own right:
Is this your first postcard? Ask Mom and Dad to round off the corners and they might let you play with it. We just got into town yesterday — we've already gone swimming in the ocean. Today we're off to the zoo to see the pandas.
Hope you're enjoying your first summer.
Brendan, T, M , and L
The postcard reflected a vintage scene of San Diego (where Brendan and family were vacationing), posted to Seattle with vintage postage stamps of Mt. Rainier. In less than 60 words, Brendan scooped my child [well, at first, just me] into his embrace, where she has [I have] been ever since.
Brendan over the months and years faithfully continued to write his charming postcards to my now two children — dozens and dozens of gently teasing greetings sharing news and musings of family life and actual travels, each delivered in a vintage postcard with corresponding vintage postage stamps, typically thematically matching.
By way of example and illustration, some of his missives from over the years (check out the stamps — amazing!):
I don't know where Brendan unearthed all of these postcards and stamps, but the collection is a remarkable record of an uncle's attempt to bridge distance and the lack of familiarity it breeds to create a connection with his niece and nephew. At a certain point in her young childhood, Matilda took it upon herself to date-order Brendan's postcards and put them into a keepsake album that she treasures to this day. Each is a sentimental glory, but also a suggestion that keeping in touch doesn't have to be complicated.
For my kids, receiving mail is a peak experience — they are even thrilled when airlines address frequent flier marketing mailings to them! For every child — of any age (read: me, you) — correspondence from loved ones is precious. And as revolutionary as Facebook and email are for improving communication between people and family members across generations, these mediums can't rival the experiential, tactile joy of receiving a letter, a package, a postcard from someone who loves you. You are a vampire lacking a beating heart if you don't in some small way mourn the lost art of letter writing or harbor memories of your own of a family member who took the time to send you a birthday or holiday card (please, please, please let there be a $5 bill inside!) or a postcard from the road.
Though it must be admitted that I am an exceedingly neglectful correspondent myself, I save and cherish every handwritten letter and card sent to me and my family. Moreover, I strive every year to overcome the inexorable holiday riptide of responsibilities and time demands that nearly always conspires to leave me whimpering pathetically on December 23rd: "I guess it will have to be a New Year's card this year again..."
My lofty best intentions and Luciferian pride are the twin angel and devil on my shoulder who never fail to negate each other into actionlessness in this holiday-card-sending department every year. The angel wants to send to all dear far-flung friends and family members a personal and, of course, super-eloquent hand-written card with — bless it! — a picture of all of us, not just our beautiful children nestled inside. The devil on my other shoulder is totally fine adapting progressively, lamely, to the triage of the holidays that sets in about December 15 - 20, when no family holiday card has been planned, drafted, or set into motion... This is not just my problem, is it?
In the ongoing parenting adventures of Frau Bummer (that's me, nice to meet you) and Captain Fun, the other half of my parenting duo, December 18th-ish is typically the date when Captain Fun suggests we "just" write a form letter. For some reason, this is the bitterest of white flags to me, a renunciation of all my finest loving intentions. Well, I'm exhausting even myself with this indulgent recitation and am going to save you from hearing the sad and all-too-predictable dénouement of this seasonal play, which Captain Fun and I have starred in far too many times. (Despite his dashy alter-ego name, Captain Fun does not come to the rescue, if you were wondering.)
What I'm instead going to share with you is the TOTALLY AWESOME, AMAZINGLY EASY thing I decided to do this year that will short-circuit the whole sorrowful object lesson. I am going to send everyone on my seasonal card recipient list a personalized holiday postcard! My angel would never ratify this move if not for my wonderful brother-in-law's example. But the benefits of the Postcard Path have more recently been illustrated to me through becoming acquainted (e-cquainted?) with a local startup called Postcardly.
Here's why I know this will work for me... The Postcardly service piggybacks on two parental autonomic actions: as we breathe, we also 1) take pictures of our kids with our smartphones; and 2) email. How genius is it that once you've created a Postcardly account and set up your recipients list you can trigger the delivery of a real, physical postcard (mailed with a real stamp, people!) via your computer or smartphone as easily and immediately as you send an email? You simply populate your email with the address of the recipient you have set up in your Postcardly account, and in the body of the email, draft your cheery message. Attach the picture you want to appear on the front of the postcard and hit send. Umm... did you just feel the ground under you shift?
We snap dozens of opportunistic photos of our kids as parents that are immediately consigned to digital anonymity — how awesome (sorry, overusing the word, I know) that in each of these ephemeral and adorable moments of our kids' lives we have the choice, via Postcardly, to transform that image into a lasting record that will be cherished by its recipient? And it takes about one minute from the field to do it!
The nifty uses of Postcardly are endless. Fr'instance: When my mother sends another one of her wildly generous and utterly inappro-pro presents to my kids for Christmas — like the 200-pound, full-and-complicated-assembly-requiring, 12-foot-diameter trampoline she mailed from Colorado last year — I'll use Postcardly again to knock off that thank-you note that I fail to send every year too!
If you are stranded anywhere near the intersection of Best Holiday Intentions Ave. and Hopelessly Overwhelmed St., do what I am this year: navigate to Postcardly.com. I think you'll find as much inspiration and guilt-reduction potential as I did. If you do check out Postcardly and if you like what you find, send me a Postcardly postcard with a way to get in touch with you — I want to hear from you, because I'm thinking maybe you are one of my tribe. I will find something in my capacious ParentMap prize bin for the person who sends me the best holiday Postcardly!
Patty c/o ParentMap
7683 SE 27th Street
Mercer Island, WA 98040
Happy holidays to all you communication-challenged Frau Bummers and Captain Funs out there!