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Christmas newsletters all about keeping score

Christmas is just around the corner, and with it comes the flood of holiday family newsletters into my mailbox. These days, at least one-third of the people who send me a Christmas card feel compelled to tuck a family newsletter inside.

My relationship with these newsletters is very circumspect. Each time one pops out of a card, I'm not sure I want to open it up. It's like walking by the tabloids at the grocery store. My common sense tells me to avert my eyes and focus on more important things, but then curiosity gets the best of me. Are Brad and Angelina getting married? Did my cousin's daughter make the honor roll this year?

For those keeping score at home, the answers to those questions are "no" and "yes," and make no mistake about it -- family newsletters are all about keeping score.

The folks who send me these newsletters seem to be engaged in a race to see who can be the family that did the most, bought the most and traveled the most over the previous 12 months. Extra bonus points if your daughter had a violin solo at the spring recital. A gold star to the whole family for spending a week down at Walt Disney World.

Most of the newsletters that I receive come from people between the ages of 30 and 45. Though all of these men and women are very different people, all of them share one interesting character trait: all are parents who have an obsessive interest in the lives of their children.

Two years ago, I read breathless accounts of a toddler's potty training and the renovation of a 12-year-old's bedroom. Last year, I received a newsletter from a woman who devoted three paragraphs to the trials and tribulations of her son's travel soccer team, but only one solitary sentence to the death of her grandmother. How weird is that?

Actually, it's not very weird. Though adversity, loss and failure weave their way into the daily fabric of our lives, none of that makes its way into these holiday newsletters. All the news is good news. Everyone's child is an exceptional child and every vacation is a life-altering event. I always feel like the authors are trying to con me into believing that their life is nothing but blue skies and rainbows.

Just once, I'd like to read a holiday newsletter that is blunt and honest. Along with reading about all the good stuff that happened to a family throughout the year, I want to read about how Jacob got cut from the basketball team or how Jessica's teacher gave her detention for picking on an overweight girl in class. At the very least, I'd like to hear a little less about travel soccer and a little more about Grandma's funeral. At least then I might feel like the authors had their priorities in order.

Last year, my favorite Christmas message came from a family that clearly did have its priorities in order. Sadly, the entire family was forced to confront some major adversity, including a diagnosis of cancer and bouts of chemotherapy. I would have been interested to read a newsletter from that family. How did they break the news to their kids? How did they celebrate when they were told that the cancer had gone into remission?

But there was no family newsletter tucked inside their envelope. They were too busy living life to devote any time to writing about it. Instead, the family sent out a nice card with a note that said, "Hope you have a great holiday and a blessed and healthy New Year. Things are good here and getting better every day."

Enough said.

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