THE BLOG
12/31/2013 05:46 pm ET Updated Mar 02, 2014

Who Are These Children in my Mailbox?

Before beginning that dreaded day spent packing up ornaments, vacuuming fallen pine needles, retangling Christmas lights and scouring the house unsuccessfully for that one missing gift receipt, I embark on a post-holiday tradition that becomes more depressing each year.

I gather all the Christmas card photos we received in the mail and slowly peruse them, an undertaking I never have time for during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. Amid backdrops of Cinderella's Disney World castle, majestic ski slopes and white sandy beaches, I see smiling children in various stages of growth whose parents have included us on their holiday card list.

And increasingly I find myself thinking, "Who are these kids?"

I don't ask rhetorically, as in "who are these kids who I still remember as infants and are now driving cars and graduating high school?" Nor do I ask with alarm, as in, "Who ARE these kids with tattoos, lip rings and striped hair?"

No, I seriously cannot remember who they are. My wife is worried about my memory, as she always has the answers ready. When I say, "Who are Robert and Patrick?" she quickly replies, "The Stephenson boys. Their mom was my college roommate."

Of course. "What about Emily, Hannah and Dylan?"

"The Buckmans? Our old neighbors? Moved to North Carolina a few years ago? Ring a bell?"

Right.

At 51, I'm having trouble recalling my own kids' names, much less anybody else's. And it used to be so easy. At first, our married friends had kids slowly so we could keep up. In the mid-'90s we received one, maybe two cards with smiling, toothless babies. Our single friends didn't send photo cards and those friends in the married-but-not-quite-ready-for-kids category sent photos of themselves accompanied by their "practice child," usually a Golden Retriever.

Then suddenly, as our social circle increased, an onslaught of offspring hit our mailbox every December. And while those kids get older, new ones keep coming. Late-in-life children, toddlers adopted from other countries and foreign exchange students are being added to the mix. Meanwhile, as often happens, communication with some friends decreases. Suddenly I'm supposed to look at a photo and identify children whom I haven't seen last December.

Sorry, I can't do it.

But a few dos and don'ts of holiday card preparation would certainly aid the memory-challenged like me.

Ready?

DON'T think for a minute that including your kids' ages in the photo caption is the hint I need. If I can't recall who Rebecca and Trevor belong to, the numerical clue "Rebecca (16) and Trevor (11)" isn't going to help.

DON'T obscure your kids' adorable faces in ski goggles, snorkels or Halloween masks. You are sending a holiday card, not a convenience-store surveillance image.

DON'T succumb to those online card services that tempt you to drag and drop 15 postage stamp-sized pictures of your kids onto a single card. The only thing fading faster than my memory is my vision.

On that note, DON'T make your kids' faces compete with a famous landmark. I'm glad you finally visited Paris. But a shot of your children taken from 150 yards away so the entire Eiffel Tower is visible in the background is worthless... unless I have a magnifying glass.

DON'T send a card of your kids in their sports uniforms. Once you slap a jersey and a number on a child, he or she becomes indistinguishable from every other budding athlete.

DO have the caption and your children's names professionally printed. As you age, your cursive writing skills grow shakier. Admit it, and put the pen down. It will save me from having to ask my wife, "Who are... Kmrgfiv (17) and Bpqweiz (13)?"

Finally, would it kill you to just include your last name in the photo caption? Unless you sired an entire youth choir, there should be plenty of space on the card to say, "Happy Holidays from the O'Malleys."

Can't wait to see your kids next year. Whoever they are.