Like Scrooge on Christmas Eve, I am haunted by persistent specters. But they are not of Christmases, past or present. They are of Christmas thank-you cards not written.
I have a friend who is efficiency personified. She has a son my daughter’s age. I’ll call him Spencer. When Spencer receives a gift there is a thank you note in the mail by the next day — literally. The notes are handmade, with artwork by Spencer. They contain little quotes from him about the gift in question. These quotes are clever, pithy, and convey all of his sweetness and wit. They make you feel great, like your gift was the best he’s ever received.
These thank you cards are, to my mind, the Platonic ideal of the form.
So I decided to try to replicate them. I knew my friend wouldn’t mind if I copied her idea. She has fifty more where that one came from. They are all brilliant, unique, ingenious. She is capable, if necessary, of executing them all at once, in an hour, while juggling six vases and singing the Messiah. Some people are just born that way.
I am not one of them. But this even I could do. How hard could it be? MJ and I could probably knock out six or seven at a sitting. BadahBAP, relentless specters!
I cut some red construction paper into a rectangle, folded it in half, and presented it to Myra-Jean.
“We are going to make a thank you note for Grandma. Won’t it be fun?”
She shook her head. “I want to play with my blocks.”
“Not right now.” I pushed the paper towards her. She let it drop to the floor.
“Myra-Jean,” I said firmly, picking it up, ‘”we have, like, 150 thank you cards to send. We need to get cranking.”
My daughter is a generally agreeable sort. She really does like to get along. But there is an obstreperous streak in her, too. Once awakened, it is hard to tamp down.
“Look,” I said. “Mama’s gonna clip this card to the easel. Now it’ll be just like making art!”
This seemed to work. Myra-Jean approached. Excellent. I handed her the paintbrush and pointed at the construction paper. She commenced to paint. On an entirely different piece of paper.
I’ll bet Spencer never does this. An image rose before my eyes: him, seated politely in a chair, a small stack of blank cards to his left, another of completed cards to his right, working with quiet efficiency…
What’s the saying? Compare and despair. I brushed Spencer from my mind and turned back to MJ, who was attempting to paint the leg of the easel. She is constantly doing this. Her father approves. He says she is “thinking outside of the box.”
Hah. Let him send out the thank you cards.
I dabbed a brush in paint. I would lead by example.
But it was useless. First of all, I suck at art. Secondly, what are we going to do with a card painted by me? No one wants that. Not even my mother. I suppose I could lie and say it is MJ’s work, but how pathetic is that? Forgery, toddler style. No thanks.
After several more tactics failed, I gave up. Then I had an inspiration. Perhaps I had been putting the cart before the horse. Maybe we needed to write the cards first, and decorate later.
I picked up a pen, removed the forlorn card from its spot on the easel, and opened it up.
“OK, MJ. How about some copy? Tell me what you liked about” (here I refer to a list) “the teddy blocks.”
This, you understand, is where Spencer would say something like “I love those bear blocks. I want to hug them. Grandma is my favorite.”
I looked at MJ expectantly. There was an intense, almost introspective look on her face. Was she contemplating her response? Would it be breathtaking? Amazing? Deep?
“I’m pooping,” she said.
The moral of the story? My thank you cards will be late this year. And they’re gonna be banal. I’m sorry. Some of us are made for crafting lovely, quaint, personalized notes. Some of us are made for Target.
Which is where I’ll be heading later this week.
Hopefully we can get through it without a poop.