Ye Olde Gag and Brag

THE GAG – I distinctly remember a Christmas card, sent by one of my parents’ friends with a photo on the front showing a film noir delivery room scene, complete with a masked doctor, gore and a screaming infant. My sisters and I google-eyed that one until my mother snatched it away. Our Aunt Elizabeth was a champion with the Christmas letter gross-out. She wrote two full sheets, single-spaced and neatly stapled, filled with nasty accounts of surgery horrors followed by long-winded descriptions of her heroic recuperation. We knew way too much about Aunt Elizabeth making visits a little awkward.

THE BRAG – Some people are blessed with “Golden” children. These children may live among our average children, but their parents make it very clear that they are on a higher plane.  They accomplish amazing feats of greatness, as they lead their sports teams to victory and inspire their classmates with their benevolent presence.  They speak in full sentences from the crib.  “Hello Dear Mother, I believe I may have soiled my pants, but if you would be so kind as to change me, I will then read this college-level book and bring you glory as I gain admission to Harvard by the time I am four.” You know what I’m talking about.

It is possible to write an interesting year-end letter without inflicting emotional or physical pain upon your family and friends. Here are some tips:

  1. Don’t say anything about physical ailments. The people who care already know about it. Really.
  2. Quotes.  Throughout the year, I write down the funny things my kids say and then pick from the list.  Important note – just because it was funny then doesn’t mean it will be funny now.  Be choosy.
  3. Highlights of the year will do. Don’t share everything you did. You run the risk being labeled an overachiever.  I usually ask my kids for their favorite memory of the year. If it was the hole they dug in the yard – so be it.
  4. Let a kid tell about a vacation from his perspective.  For example, the only thing my little sister remembers from our family’s trip to Europe was the inside of the car.  By using her description of Europe, the readers  would still know that our whole family went to Europe, but the “look how cool we are” factor is gone.
  5. Keep it humble – your kid may actually be THAT great, but the rest of us are losers, OK?
  6. Lastly, include a picture of your WHOLE family, not just the kids.  We send Christmas cards to homes where we have a relationship with the adults in that home. Be honest about this – don’t you feel a little gipped when you get a picture of just kids?  I did this for a few years until I got this polite comment from one of my friends,  “Cute kids, but where are the parents?” She was brave enough to say what we all think.
  7. Single page, one side, leave some white space, 12 point font – no exceptions!

If you follow these seven simple rules, you will have a Christmas letter that people will read…maybe.

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So, Why Do You Want To Date My Daughter?

Dream Boat or Dud?

My husband leveled this question to an anxious young man as he shifted in his seat at our dinner table. He gave the pat answer; he was interested in her mind, liked her personality, yadda yadda yadda.  Yeah, right. I remember teenage boys and my husband was one. We knew what this kid liked about our daughter and her mind wasn’t at the top of his list.

We got the idea to interview our daughters’ dates from a radio show, Family Life Today. The host, Dennis Rainey, was compelling.  He had a successful ministry to families and had raised six decent kids. Since we were totally clueless about this stuff, we decided we might as well do what he said. We were all for protecting our precious little girl from lecherous boys.  Our wispy blonde-haired baby would one day blossom into a beauty and we intended to be ready.  No “knuckle-dragging Neanderthal” (direct quote from my Dad) was going to put his paws on our girl.  Additionally, I never met a teenage boy who couldn’t benefit from a healthy dose of DAD.  We set our resolve and began our campaign early

We enlightened her to the fact that she was too precious for us to just hand over to any guy with a car and a movie ticket. We prepped her for the embarrassing fact that before she could go out alone with any boy, the young man had to ask DAD for permission. Then, DAD was going to ask him a series of questions and inform him of our expectations. She accepted this readily at the age of eleven, as boys were still really gross.  When she got her braces off and entered high school, the sharks began to circle. We were very glad for our firmly established dating conditions. What we couldn’t know then was how this practice was going to pay off in the lives of all our children; sons and daughters alike.

Our simple requirement caused the children to evaluate whether a dating relationship was worth pursuing. It weeded out the riff-raff.  The prospect of “alone time” with DAD scared off a few candidates.  Awe… too bad.   This was not a crushing blow to our daughter, since she never actually spent enough time with these boys to become attached. We got the golden opportunity to point out the qualities she really should admire in a young man; honesty, forthrightness, courage, respect, etc.

Since we are equal opportunity parents, we required our sons to ask permission from the father of any girl they wanted to date, even if the he didn’t require it. When our boys were small, we taught them to respect their sisters and me by holding doors, waiting to eat until we were served, opening car doors, etc.  Their Huckleberry Finn lives, filled with frog catching and fort building, would soon end.  Girls might be boring and weird now, but that would soon change.  If our sons were going to respect and value women, a glaringly absent character trait in today’s young men, we had to teach them to “man-up” and be OK with being different. A girl has to be pretty special for them to risk the encounter with an unknown DAD.  Our policy was a success.  To illustrate this point, one of our guys was completely enamored with a lovely young lady from their high school.  We reminded him that he needed to ask her father for permission to date his daughter.  He said, “I know, I’m going to…soon.”  Time went on and we stopped hearing so much about this girl. When I asked my son about her he said, “She wasn’t the girl I thought she was.” Interesting.

Just so there are no grand illusions, interviewing your daughter’s date is pretty awkward for all involved; sweaty palms, shuffling feet and stilted conversations abound.  But, we think that our kids are worth the chagrin.  A young man pursuing one of our daughters will never doubt her value to her parents.  He is less likely to treat her with disrespect when he knows that DAD expects him to be a gentleman. As an added bonus, I have had mothers profusely thank me for raising such polite sons. One prom date told her mother, “Mom, he held every door for me, EVERY DOOR.” That’s what I want to hear.  There won’t be some angry DAD coming after one of my boys with a shot-gun. (another quote from my Dad) One young man, actually passed the DAD test and won the heart of our oldest daughter; she will be married in a few months.  We have no doubt he will be an excellent husband and father. Our daughter has very high standards.

Old-fashioned?  Perhaps.  But with the rising statistics of teen pregnancies, drug and alcohol abuse, and a culture where parents are “throwing up their hands” wondering what went wrong, we prefer to view ourselves as cutting edge.