You know those family newsletters you get at the end of the year--those photocopied ones-- the two-page descriptions of what has been happening to the Smiths or the Joneses.
What bothers me about these dispatches from the family front is how absolutely great everything is in other people's lives, how precocious their children are, what terrific trips the whole family has taken, and how, while the renovations to the kitchen were pretty disruptive for a while, now it looks just great and "we just can't imagine how we got along in the old one."
For example, here are some paraphrased -- and substantially revised -- excerpts from an actual letter that a friend of ours received a number of years ago. I am changing names and other details to avoid being sued, but, given the nature of today's society, for all I know I'll be sued anyway.
The message starts off, "Greetings from the Smith Family. We wish you a healthy, happy New Year."
My feeling is, Why don't they just stop right there? Isn't that all you really want to hear from the Smiths, whom you haven't seen in 14 years and, to be honest, barely care about? But no, you've got to read this:
"John got a big promotion this year at Futurebright...As you have probably read in the papers, Futurebright is in the forefront of chemistry research worldwide...John is somehow surviving without baseball, but he is so busy with his hobbies and investments that it hardly seems to matter.
"Marcia is getting ready for graduate school...She will begin graduate studies next fall at the B.F. Skinner Institute for Advanced Study in Behavioral Methodology....
"David is now in the sixth grade, but is taking algebra at the high school. He is doing quite well, and the high schoolers love him...He is a terrific pitcher in Little League, and this year he took up golf!
"Endicott is now in kindergarten...He loves to read and write, and is making lots of friends."
I mean, look at that. Your family and mine have been having all kinds of problems, but for the Smiths things seem to be moving right along without a hitch.
Isn't it time for more realistic newsletters? Wouldn't you get much less annoyed and disgusted if, instead of reading the above kind of family bragging, you got something that read like this?
"The Jones family wishes you the best. We've certainly had our ups and downs this year, and all I can say is thank God for Zoloft!
"I'm happy to report that Bob's affair is finally over. All his jokes about If all those politicians could do it, why can't I? were beginning to wear pretty thin. Unfortunately, just when he stopped seeing that other woman, he lost his job with Lotech. He was just one month away from full vesting for retirement, but we'll get by -- if Bob can finally hit it big with one of those hundred lottery tickets he buys every week.
"And Tim is finished with rehab! He's even talking about going back to school, although that might have to wait. It all depends on what happens when he goes to court next month.
"Jeannie had some troubles in college this year, mainly due to a bunch of bad teachers. She told us that in all of her courses the exams were never exactly what she expected, and the grading was very unfair. She's on academic probation and is thinking of dropping out. She says she wants to find herself.
"But we are excited about her new relationship. It's been three weeks now, so we're crossing our fingers that maybe this is the one. He's really nice and says he is close to being divorced.
"And ‘little Danny' isn't so little any more. He's the biggest child in his first grade class. His teacher says Danny likes to hit the other kids, but Bob's feeling is that the teacher is picking on him because he's so big. We recently had a knife incident, but I think it was blown way out of proportion. It was just a butter knife that Danny brought into school, and I think the suspension wasn't necessary.
"On a sad note, we had to put Puddles to sleep. They say you don't get attached to hamsters, but take my word for it, you do."
Copyright Mark Sherman