by Leslie Morgan Steiner
I know you’re sick of Christmas cards – it is January. Or maybe you never liked them. Don’t send ‘em. Ridicule the parents who write long-winded holiday updates filled with exclamation marks about how darn special the kids are turning out.
But I just wanted to pause to salute the women I keep in touch with only through the cards we send each December. All of these women I met through work, one way or another. Many are classmates from business school. Others are moms I worked with at various companies before we were moms. Most I have not seen in person in at least 10 or 20 years. We’ve been too busy to call, email or visit regularly. In between cards, I have no clue where they live, work or how old their kids are. But these women – through the cards others might well deem sappy or self-congratulatory -- provide me psychic sustenance and support.
For instance, Nicole’s new return address. Last I saw her, she and I were tearfully packing up our four collective babies and two rent-controlled New York City apartments to follow our respective husbands – me to Minneapolis, Nicole to Texas -- where great careers awaited our men. Neither of us knew what awaited us. It has taken Nicole over a decade to find her way back to Manhattan, but the little rectangle on her envelope quietly declared she’d survived the Lone Star state.
Janet, the prettiest girl in our b-school class, titled her 2009 newsletter “A Very Blessed Year.” Her breast cancer has returned, multiplying and spreading along the way. Forty tumors in her liver alone, she wrote. Up and down her spine. Now she is on medical leave, plus Avastin and Abraxane, indefinitely. No husband. No kids. Many, many friends.
Laura sends pictures from western mountains I’ve never climbed, where she has kept her marketing and sales career and her family thriving, despite making interstate moves every other year to support her husband’s career rather than her own. She looks ridiculously happy in each annual photo. Not me – I’d have killed my husband or given up my work by now if I’d had to resettle myself and three young sons so frequently.
Another friend sends cards so aggressively religious I dread them. I adored this vivacious, caring woman, who welcomed me to one of my first jobs after my excruciating divorce with a smile so wide it seemed impossible to fit those teeth in her mouth. Now even the return address has a Jesus fish on it. I have nothing against being saved, by Jesus or anyone else. I’m just sad because I can’t find my former friend amid all the religious symbolism and judgment of those of us who don’t plaster fish everywhere.
Beth, the most successful new hire during our first job out of b-school. I watched her struggle to find the right man. People said she was unlucky, too picky, too ambitious, too smart. She waited for Mr. Right and didn’t worry about her biological clock. Now, after achieving corporate success I dream of -- for my next lifetime -- she found him and stays home raising two young daughters with smiles just like hers. Beth got it all, her own way.
The wife of a former colleague, a woman I’ve never met who writes me about how much she loves my books. I kiss her card each year. The mother of the three teenage babysitters who deployed her girls to save my sanity when I had two toddlers and a husband MIA in Minneapolis. My kids’ former daycare providers, babysitters and elementary school teachers, scattered from New Jersey to Maryland to Minnesota. Two separate single working moms who’ve been too busy to send cards for the past 10 years. Their photos are like white flags from their own desert island: “I survived single motherhood!”
One of the surprises of motherhood is how it can isolate you from female friends. Balancing kids and work, getting immersed in a new baby, supporting a spouse’s job, can mean we go for months, sometimes years, without being close to our closest friends, the women with whom we have the most in common. So long live my Christmas card crew, still plugging away, reaching out to let each other know we aren’t ever truly alone in this crazy work-kids-life juggle.