Wait, did I miss Elf?

Sitting on the mantel are 35-ish actual real Christmas Cards. A number that has dwindled over the past few years as the thrifty one in the house (me) has carefully tracked who else was willing to spend the time and fifty cents to send a card the Barlow way. That’s not meant to be catty at all – anyone who still does Christmas Cards knows… it takes thought! Which pictures to include? How many? Make sure you have the same number of Zack pictures as Zoe pictures. Make sure your double chin is hidden since you’ve given up disguising turtle necks. Does Rich look okay? Does that matter? No, no – better to focus on my outfits.

Then there’s the content. Do we just stamp it with a ~ The Barlows? Include our names? Even though that will drive one of the teens, who prefers a different name, batty? Summarize the year or no? I assume anyone who knows us knows what we did this year. Do they really need another recap? And how do I make it sound like we live with the Care Bears yet not in a life that’s too perfect. Because no one really buys that anyway, right?

Where do they end up, these cards? I keep them all in a tin Santa inspired hangy thing so that anyone can read them before the year is out and Christmas comes down. One of my all-time favorite activities is digging thru my parents’ cards each year – which my mother knows and still saves the pile for me to be read…well, it may be June, but I still love it. Do our cards last or are they quickly scanned and tossed? Did anyone notice my lack of double chin (thoroughly worked on in 2019)?

With the virtual world, we are all updating each other all the time. Like all the time. Which is great because it certainly closes the distances forced upon us from jobs, marriages, life changes, etc.. All good things that come with the price of miles being put between me and the water cooler. Although, there’s always the question of whether Facebooks algorithms are ‘hiding’ my updates because I refuse to copy and paste large paragraphs that will bring all my 656 of my friends back to the top of my feed. So when it comes to the Christmas Card, I often feel silly even putting a summary. Shouldn’t everyone already know what we did this year? Weren’t they paying attention?

But I do like the moments to reflect – it often comes right at the beginning of the holiday craze (I try to have our cards ordered by Thanksgiving, when @Shutterfly has their 50% off sale (@Shutterfly, I just gave you a free plug on a blog followed by nearly three dozen people)). I enjoy looking back at the year, at what we’ve accomplished together and individually, remembering our highs and lows, successes and failures…sometimes with the soundtrack of Legends of the Fall playing for dramatic inspiration…and thinking ‘okay, how much of this can I put into two paragraphs at a 10-point-font on a 5×7 no-fold card?’

The first draft is often very generous – we’re amazing! And then I think ‘who the hell wants to read about this perfect family?’ Also, that’s not us. Far from it. This year, as with all of them, has many imperfections laced through it. Better to share those as a tribute to the rest of the families with imperfections. So yes, we went on an amazing vacation in February, Zoe entered the workforce and started applying to colleges, Zack did camp and a few mission trips and Rich & I toil away as full-time employees in the land of technology.

But the skinny behind the summary goes something like this.

Our cruise was full of nagging, pushing, pulling, tears, small and large arguments. We just could not get it together. Well, in public we did fine – but close the cabin door and it was one thing after another. I really did try to find flights home from St. Kitts just to get ahead of the return enough to change the locks. As is often the case, we realized later that fifty percent of our entourage were ridden with hormones – the teenage girl kind and the post-menopausal girl kind…arriving as a surprise and in a place where a box of girl goodies cost half as much as the cabin itself. This year will be Disney – the happy place on earth. No chance to jump overboard.

Zoe had a huge year – license, car, first job, second job and the start of the road to college. The reality is, she hates her car (not nice enough), hated her first job (too boring), started out hating her second job (too crazy) and we’ve yet to visit more than the two colleges Rich & I had set up for her in June (Pitt & Penn State). She’s gotten a few solid “Yays” (VCU & ODU) and a “Nay” for Pitt main campus but a “Yes” for a regional one. And Rich and I continue to balance the practice of not babysitting her through the process but still pushing the process to happen.

Zack, Rich and I hit Jordan Lake with my parents in June – which went great until my mother took yet another tumble. There’s no telling if that was when she broke her back or if it was something else – either way, it was the second time in less than a year that she had back surgery. While she does seem to spend more time on the ground than upright, we’re all pretty confident that the forced sentence to rehab (the physical therapy kind) has given her the standing and balancing skills she had lost track of. And I learned what it’s like to feel the pull from two directions – wanting to be with Mom, but also understanding rehab was the best place she could be while the crazy Barlow summer needed me here at the helm.

That crazy Barlow summer flew by. Zack and I missed our usual time at the pool – every week, we’d start out with huge plans to hit it multiple times – the week would come and go – I think we got our swimsuits wet maybe four times. Zack actually spent much of the summer growing another six inches and discovering puberty (hair in all sorts of weird places and a major drop in vocal octaves). I have learned to knock on every door and lost the shock of hearing ‘hang on, I’m naked’ from the other side.

Zack spent his usual week at Camp Hanover – this time as a group of three friends rather than two. He came home smiling and asking to go to Winter Camp. Uh, what? None of the usual week at Camp Hanover complaints? Was three the magic number? Or has he found his home-away-from-home and latched on to a posse that will follow him through high school. I often hear my older friends talking about their kids/friends and of knowing them all since they were young – stories of how they grew up together, trouble they found and successes they shared. Has Zack found the gang that I’ll be talking about in ten years? Because I adore them!

We wrapped up August with our annual Johnson Family Trek to Myrtle Beach – bittersweet as it was my brother’s last stop before he and his wife moved from Pennsylvania to Texas. While there we had our annual sibling tiffs, Barlow-Johnson tiffs, Johnson-Johnson tiffs, parent-child tiffs and several gin & tonics. I think the only tiff we didn’t have was between my mother-in-law and I, which is odd as that’s the one that usually sprouts first. Are the tiffs a problem? Not really – we always work them out and end up closer than when we came. Maybe they’re actually a present from the universe.

Fall came. For me, that meant the looming surgery – I’d been saying all summer that once tennis was over, I’d get my bum wrist fixed. As soon as we said good-bye to Labor Day, I started a pre-surgical nesting routine. Rich laughed as I started doing Christmas presents in October – just in case. The kids settled into school in quite the opposite fashion – one finding that her final year would not be the cakewalk her father also professed it would be and the other finding that taking classes up at the high school did not mean finding his self-proclaimed intellectual equals (slow down kiddo, you’ll get there).

Zack did his second mission trip of the year with Harvest of Hope – returning with a broken foot to coincide with my wrist work. For two months, we took turns at OrthoVa, him with bi-weekly x-rays, me with pre-op, surgery, post-op, cast removal, therapy (well, I’m still going…) – frequent fliers at Door #1. It was one of those pain in the ass projects that ended up giving us loads of quality car time (remember, when you’re doing above 35, they can’t escape).

And then we hit the slingshot holiday of Thanksgiving (turning a single meal into a five day siesta). For the first time since I’ve known him, Rich brightened my pumpkin pie with offers of, not only, Black Friday shopping – but also Thanksgiving night shopping. I was suspicious, of course, but after a tough few months was delighted that he’d give me this thing that I’ve missed the most since moving north. And though the said shopping ended up being a day and a half at Bass Pro Shop, it was still nice to join the pre-Christmas melee. We even swung into Target for a total of twenty minutes during which Rich declared it absolute insanity. No, my friend…this was nothing…twenty minutes and six kids checked off the shopping list…this was miraculous.

So here I sit – two weeks away from putting 2019 in the books. If this year went this fast – and I’m convinced that having a child who is looming on leaving makes time speed up – how will next year be? Should I prop my eyes open with toothpicks lest I blink and wake up in June? I feel like, each year, I forget more and forget it more quickly. Even writing this, I stop often and think what else did we do this year? I know there was loads more.

It was a roller coaster of a year filled with laughter, tears, outbursts, hugs, zipping around and trying to stop time. A roller coaster that I’ll happily hop on again for 2020 as long as I have these people to share it with.

2 thoughts on “Wait, did I miss Elf?

  1. Hi Friend — I enjoyed this one! I love sending/receiving Christmas cards and you’re right–reading them is always a blast. I have sent them since 1984, the last 20 with a letter. So just b/c I am in the throes of middle-aged melodrama and exhibitionism, I have been posting the last 15 on WordPress. Here’s one that made me think of you (and with funny anecdote on the Will you know “all growed up” — BAH ha ha!)

    XO J


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