12/21/2012 01:39 pm ET Updated Feb 20, 2013

Family Ornaments

I sent adorable holiday cards for years. My friend Gina would come over and take pictures of my kids snuggling like Care Bears. Then I began grabbing candid pictures of them, one's I thought more accurately depicted their relationship. One year they were covered in mud. I was in charge of the holiday card sending and I loved the job.

Then we -- their father and I -- got divorced. Sending a card seemed weird -- did we still have a family? Most of our card list had come from my ex's friendships. Was it proper edict to send holiday cards to people who were no longer my friends? Did I have an implied obligation to continue sending cards year after year to show the progression of our children, until they were all grown? And, if I sent the cards, how could I make it clear that they were from our reconfigured family and not from me to people no longer my friends and family, but still my children's? Could my ex and I send a joint card featuring our children, highlighting our separate addresses? Were we still a holiday-card-worthy-family? There were too many questions to answer and they were too clouded by confusion and sadness. I quit the card thing for a number of years. And then, as a sign of healing, I began calling the kids, myself and our dog, my family.

That first card I sent after my "we're a family, a changed family" reframe, was an unclear picture taken with my phone. I sent those to everyone, including my ex's family. That was perhaps over zealous. The next year, my teenage daughter put together a montage on nice stock paper, printed in color. In one frame she was dancing in a serious performance involving heights and danger and hours of practice. Her older brother was featured in profile -- I think he was riding a tandem bike through town and laughing. Their very different approaches to life were evident. That year, I sent cards to people currently in my life and the kids passed them out to their dad's family. We had found a better, smoother way to share the holiday cheer.

Then, came this year: my son's last year home. The picture is of my darlings on vacation in Maine. Omitted from the photo is the fatigue of driving for hours or the rush to make sure we'd left the house on the island clean enough and the fact that boredom had been an issue, because there's not a lot to do on an island in the middle of the Atlantic. No, none of that is in the picture (or that my daughter had something like walking pneumonia). Instead, they look as they are at their best-- close-ish: My daughter working to make her big bro laugh (she's successful in the pic) and he's relaxed and happy, not yet out of the frame, not yet out the door on his adult adventure. And that's the beauty of the family picture holiday card -- they are pretty ornaments from our lives, they are how we want to remember, they are the story we are telling from the past year and they sparkle and shine and catch our imaginations.