If there's one thing I know for sure, it's that parenting is one of the most competitive sports on the planet. And nothing seems to say, "I'm a better parent than you/my kid is more brilliant, hilarious, talented and handsome than yours," than a flawless holiday photo. It would seem, then, that the holiday card is the definitive way of saying, "I'm besting you in this parenting gig."
But from one imperfect parent to another, I can promise that's not the message I'm trying to convey when I mail you my photo card.
See, to me, everything is more beautiful around the holidays. I love watching my everyday world transform, bedazzled in garland and bows, regaling in holiday music, ornament exchanges and twinkling lights. I love the scents of Christmas -- pine tree, peppermint and eggnog -- and all the yummy food it brings.
And, most of all, I love receiving holiday cards.
Each day through the month of December, I am giddy about my trip to the mailbox, much like I was as a kid anticipating the mountains of toy catalogs. And, oh, the treasures I find: photos, handwritten cards, letters summarizing the year's highlights. It's all so happy. And beautiful.
True, some of that beauty may be disingenuous. Or as fellow blogger and communications specialist Stacy Crinks describes, "the total fake-out holiday card," in her post "Holiday Card Grammar: Getting It Right While Reinforcing That Subtle 'Perfect Family' Message."
"Nobody drinks too much because he hates his job," she writes. "Nobody is going through a [really bad word] mid-life crisis and wishes she were in Africa building schools rather than driving a dirty blue minivan filled with candy wrappers and dog hair."
There's no arguing that, as Crinks says, "Holiday cards are like Facebook; they're for showing off to all your friends and family."
But here's the problem: We all know that life isn't always beautiful. Add in being a parent, and it can be even less so. Vomit and discipline. Poopy diapers and sibling rivalries. Homework and dining table smeared with marker.
Who needs reminders of that mess during what I consider to be the most beautiful time of the year?
Honestly, would you prefer a snapshot of real life on a holiday card? Perhaps like this outtake from last year's photo shoot that should be titled, "Mommy on the Edge," or "Why kids and dogs (and sometimes husbands) should never be included in family portraits." (I mean, really. You can't fake that level of exasperation.)
Photo by Suzanne Deller.
For starters, my boys were refusing to get dressed just moments before we had to march down to the neighborhood park in coordinating outfits. The husband was a grump. And the dog? Well she was so uncooperative that we finally had to just lie down in the leaves with her to get a decent shot.
Photo by Suzanne Deller.
So why suffer through it at all?
Because photos have always meant an awful lot to me. I cherish the pictures I have dating back to my first camera, around age 10. And photographs have lined the walls of every place I've lived, from my college apartment to my current home.
You want to know something else? It's the one thing I can say with confidence as a mom that I do well: document my kids' lives with photography.
On the flip side, I hate cooking, and I'm often overwhelmed by the domestic skills required to manage a household of four. My kids are neither abused nor neglected, but they have heard their fair share of yelling from me. Possibly the occasional f-bomb.
There are more days than not in a year that I feel I fall short. And I'm as guilty as anyone of comparing myself against other moms.
Like my friend Lora, who is a phenomenal cook and loves making fun meals for her family. A recent Facebook post included photos of pancakes accompanied by slices of strawberry and banana she had lovingly arranged in the shape of a candy cane. My kids are lucky to get those fruits in the form of an actual strawberry and banana.
But I remind myself that this is one of her strengths as a mother. She loves cooking, so that's her priority.
Yet I'm surprised when another mom compares herself against me.
"Wow, I'm so glad your house looks like this," said my friend Christine, taking in my dining room table covered in kids' schoolwork, and the heaps of toys on the couches where my boys sit and watch television.
"What did you expect?" I chuckled, knowing full well she often wishes she could volunteer at our kids' school as often as I do in lieu of managing her demanding veterinary business.
My point? We are all doing the best that we can as moms with the best that we've got. For me, that's volunteering at school. And managing once a year to organize a successful family photo shoot.
In essence, my holiday card is tangible evidence that, at least for that one hour of one day, I didn't screw up everything. If for only one day, we all matched, showed up at the same time and (mostly) smiled for the camera on cue.
It's also a way for me to celebrate what I value most: my family. Regardless of race, creed or religion, the holidays are for many Americans a time of reflection and revelry. A time to appreciate the good, the beautiful. My holiday card is simply an extension of that.
So when you see my photo card in the mail, it's not to best you. It's to say, "Hey, this is sent with love because I can't do much else that well."
I hope when you open my card, you think, "Huh, so THAT's what she looks like with make-up," or, "Her boys actually seem to like each other in this photo!" I even don't mind if you think, "Hey! They aren't so uncivilized after all!"
And when you read the greeting, "Happy holidays from the Mundts," I hope you know I mean it. From my imperfect little family to yours.