Cards and Conversations

Observations about life, people and relationships from the card department.

The Mother’s Day Card

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In the card department the other day, I frantically set the final batch of mother’s day cards to keep up with the gargantuan demand for all-things-mom.

There are cards for mom, mother, mother-in-law, grandma, nana, grandmother, sister, aunt, like-a-mom, friend, daughter, daughter-from-your-mother, mother-from-your-daughter-, mother-from-your-son, stepmom, and of course, mom-from-your-dog. Guess you never thought of all those options, huh? A large majority of the cards are sweet and sentimental but my favorite are the funny cards. These had customers laughing out loud and I laughed along with them.

In its simplest form, I believe mother’s day is the busiest greeting card holiday of the year because it represents unconditional, unlimited, beautiful love. Who wouldn’t want that?

Ah, a beautiful thought, but when shopping for mother’s day cards the day before the holiday, the message of love can get lost in the shuffle. Tenacious and focused, I continued to put the cards out despite the tension in the air.

I heard my favorite conversation which went something like this:

Little girl: “Daddy.”

Pause.

“Daddy.”

Pause.

“Daddy.”

Pause.

“Daddy!”

Then, finally, the dad: “What?”

Little girl: “There’s a lot of daddies here!”

I looked around and laughed out loud. A row of men ten across and three deep were looking for mother’s day cards.

That little girl is going to be a card merchandiser one day.

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The (Self) Birthday Card

In the card department the other day, I noticed the birthday section more closely. Why? Because I celebrated my own birthday recently. I had fun contemplating which of the various birthday cards my family and friends would choose for me.

One of the best cards I’ve seen recently says this on the outside:

Happy  ME

             ME

             ME

                   Day!

And on the inside:

Yes, it’s all about you.

On all the other days of the year, I try to live out my morals and think about others more than myself. It’s not easy to do. However, on my birthday, I believe I can claim the day as mine. Time to act like a toddler again, and enjoy it. It’s the one and only day of the year to be indulgent in self-focus, right? I also remember how precious, special and loved I am, too. After all, there’s only one “me!”

I have a close friend who has a tradition of reminding us about her birthday throughout the entire year. On the day after her birthday, the next year’s countdown commences. I’d receive this text: “It’s only 364 days until my birthday!” Then, a couple months later: “Ten months until my birthday!” And again a few more months later: “Guess what’s in six months?” I love my friend’s enthusiasm for her birthday which exemplifies her enthusiasm for life.

This year, I celebrated my “ME ME ME” day by making my own cake, just the way I wanted it. Inspired by a recent cake-decorating class I attended, I designed my cake’s flavor (pound cake), filling (lemon) and icing (vanilla buttercream). Last year’s cake was designed by a friend and was as delicious as it was pretty:

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 What’s your favorite way to celebrate “YOU!?”

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The Easter Card

In the card department the other day, a woman spent quite a bit of time finding Easter cards for her four grandchildren. Two were over ten years old and the other two were preschoolers. She wanted cute cards with, you guessed it, bunnies, on the front for the younger children.

What’s with Easter and bunnies? Since when have bunnies started to lay eggs? One source states the Easter bunny legend began in Germany and was brought to America in the 1700’s. I think it’s easier to believe in Santa Claus.

Whether it’s a bunny, a chick or an egg, symbols of fertility and all things spring might be cute and cuddly on a greeting card, but when it comes to the grown-up-sized bunnies for the photo portraits, I think we’ve gone too far.

 
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These characters are fodder for horror novels, in my opinion. I can still remember when my daughter screamed bloody murder every time we came within 100 feet of the dressed-up Easter bunny at the mall. Needless to say, we never participated in the Easter bunny photo experience. I still find it strange to see children pose with a bigger-than-life bunny so they can get the candy and eggs and candy-in-plastic-eggs they desire.

Personally, I prefer my Easter cards to talk about the real Easter story. You know, the amazing love story about how Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead? Yup, that one. Then, maybe we can also talk about marshmallow peeps and egg-shaped chocolate. God’s love and candy. Those are the sweet treats I can enjoy. Those are what I’d like to see on the front of my Easter card. How about you?

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The Encouragement Card

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In the card department the other day, the conversation between a young mom and her toddler gave a sneak preview of the scene I was about to witness.

“Mo-ommm!” Two syllables made the little boy’s point clearer.

“I said ‘no,’ young man, and I mean it. Now put it back.”

“But I want it!”

“No,” she said again, calmly but firmly.

They approached me, the mom with her dark curly hair thrown back into a quick ponytail, and her son, with his same dark curly hair toddling behind her. He was carefully holding a tiny bag of even tinier rubber bands for one of those new bracelet looms. Her response prompted him to object by throwing the bag down. The bag opened and a pile of rubber bands ended up on the floor. Mom was at the end of her rope.

I bent down to help pick up the pieces.

“Thank you,” she said, exasperated.

“Don’t worry,” I said, “I remember those days.”

“This has not been a good trip!” she said.

I’ve had plenty of not-so-good trips. It has been over a decade, but I still remember the days when toting my small children along for what I thought were simple errands required monumental project planning and time management. I’d harbor a tiny sense of hope that this time, things would go smoothly and I’d get done effortlessly, like when I was single and in charge of my life. I remember using the same words to define the experiences as a “good trip” or a “not-so-good trip.” This helped to keep my frustration encapsulated within the boundaries of the trip. Otherwise, it became a not-so-good day, or week, or month, or more.

It was these times, however, that I’d receive just the perfect encouragement card or note in the mail from a friend. A simple “I’m here for you,” or “You’re a great mom,” or, “You’ll get through this” was sometimes all I needed. Those encouragement cards go a long way on the trips that aren’t so great. I think it’s time to send another one out to someone soon. How about you?

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In-Law Cards

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In the card department the other day, a couple was in the “daughter” section looking for a birthday card. This one was not for their daughter though, it was for their daughter-in-law. Then I heard the strangest comment. The man said they needed a card which celebrated her, but didn’t condone her.

I don’t know what he meant.

In-law relationships are fragile.

Another day a woman asked for a holiday card for her “grandson and his wife.” Was she trying to include the granddaughter-in-law or was she making a point that her grandson was more important?

I still remember when I first met my husband’s grandmother, the family matriarch, more than twenty years ago. Getting invited to her house for dinner was how I knew our relationship was serious. Would I make it in her eyes as “family material?” I needed to spruce up on my manners. Who wrote those old books on manners, anyway? Smile pretty. Keep elbows off the table. Use gravy on the mashed potatoes. Take just one pat of butter. If the internet was popular then, I would have searched for Emily Post’s website on etiquette to brush up before the big event.

Grandmom turned out to be a sweetie. She told fascinating stories of times long ago as she served her favorite meal, roast beef. Of course, she had all the proper fixings, including mashed potatoes with gravy. She made her exquisite gravy by pouring the meat drippings into a separate saucepan, quickly whisking in some flour while heating so there were no lumps, then straining carefully until it was smooth and came together. Rolls with softened butter and steamed green beans rounded out the feast. It became clear Grandmom enjoyed company and preferred to have people over to share some of her favorite foods with her. Then came dessert. The lemon meringue pie she served was so perfect it looked fake. It tasted immaculate.

A couple years later, I was an official in-law. What a treat when I received a birthday card from her that year which referred to me as “granddaughter.” Maybe they didn’t have granddaughter-in-law cards then, but I like to think she was trying to tell me I was a true member of the family.

So yea, in-law relationships are not always smooth but, like the gravy, sometimes it all comes together.

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Love is Still in the Air

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In the card department the other day, I finally removed the remaining Valentine’s Day greetings. So much love, so little time. It’s estimated the greeting card industry sold over $800 million in sentiments for the heart-shaped holiday this year. All for a single three-word message: I love you.

Saying “I love you” has never been out of style. And believe me, there are a bazillion ways to say it. There were serious cards, funny cards, sentimental cards, wordy cards, short-and-sweet cards. There were musical cards, pop-out cards, and, my least favorite, insanely glittery cards. Glitter belongs in the craft aisle, not on cards. After a while, the cards all started to look the same, like photocopies of each other. But one day, I had a different experience. It was the day the Asian man with his three kids, all looking like photocopies of himself, strolled past.

He approached me and asked, “Where are your (insert hand gesture as if describing the large fish he just caught) BIG musical cards?”

I’ve fielded many card-finding requests, some typical, some unusual. There’s the “Where are your granddaughter cards?” and the “Where are your great-aunt cards?” but seriously, no one asks for the musical cards. They pick them up by accident, out of curiosity, never planning to buy them. They simply want to check them out. Many people seem to be in too much of a hurry to enjoy the cards. It’s a shame, because there’s always a giggle or a smile that follows the 30-second show. But this guy was looking for them. Not only did he ask for the musical cards, but he wanted one that was the size of a notebook.

“I don’t think they’re quite that big, but the musical cards are down at the other end of the aisle, over there,” I pointed.

“Thanks!”

He and his three children spent the next ten minutes looking at, listening to, and laughing at practically every musical card on display. Not only that, he selected one, grinned a gargantuan smile, and left.

Now that’s love.

Have you witnessed any unique ways of expressing love lately?

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The Multi-Purpose Card

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In the card department the other day, a gentleman was reading the Halloween cards, intent on something specific evidenced by his furrowed brows and methodic card-reading. One at a time he’d pick up a card, read it, put it back, get the next one. When I passed the orange section again fifteen minutes later, I couldn’t help but ask.

“Anything in particular you’re looking for?”

“I need a card for a nice young lady,” he said.

A wide gamut of possibilities entered my mind. His daughter? His granddaughter? Yes, the graying hair had me wondering. Nah, it couldn’t be…a girlfriend?

He had two cards in his hands and showed them both to me.

“Which do you think she will like?”

One was a romantic Halloween card implying the woman cast a magical spell on him; the other was generic with pop-out bats and blinking lights within.

This was getting deep. What was he thinking? What does she think about him?

I suggested the bats. Magical spells are getting too personal in my opinion.

I continued with my work, and fifteen more minutes later he found yet another card, and of course showed it to me.

“How about this one?”

It said something about a Halloween hug.

“Sounds good,” I relented.

“It’s our first date,” he responded while walking away with a skip in his step. Pleased with his choice, I said a little prayer that the woman receiving the card would feel the same way. It seemed the fate of his future romantic life was in the hands of the words on the card. Such pressure.

When we are using cards to say more than what is obvious, things get tricky. Simple is better. Happy Halloween, that’s all. Or, I like you. Or, Happy Birthday. Someone recently asked me for a Congratulations-on-your-wedding-and-happy-new-home card. Like the photo above: is a dandelion a flower or is it a weed?

Yikes.

I prefer simplicity. What kind of cards do you like?

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The Wedding Card

In the card department the other day, a middle-aged woman looked up and down the rows of white and silver wedding cards, lined up in sparkly precision, reading them one by one. She took her time with each card, and after what seemed like an eternity, she picked out a special one and smiled. She finally found the perfect card for her son’s wedding the following weekend. Then she turned to me again. “Do you know where the engagement cards might be?”

“A wedding and an engagement too?” I asked, “You have a lot to celebrate.”

“Yes, my youngest just got engaged. Now all three of my children will be married within one year.”

Wow.

This woman with all her children being married is suddenly an empty-nester. I wonder how she’s doing with it.

Big events in life are expected, celebrated, anticipated. They’re not expected all at once, though. I still remember when I had multiple life changes happen in the form of moving five times in five years because of job promotions. It was all good, but certainly chaotic. Add to that the two children my husband and I had in the meantime and you get a woman wanting to find something solid to stand on. I found my rock in remembering who I was…and still am: a wife and a mom. My job was to hold on to the rock in a way so I didn’t forget who I was in the meantime.

Have you ever had multiple life changes happen in a short period of time? How did you hold on to your rock in the middle of the changes?

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The Thank You Card

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In the card department the other day, a woman asked me to help her find a pack of thank you cards. Not only did she need multiple cards, but they had to be large enough for her to include a recipe with her thank you notes. I wondered if she would then be receiving thank you notes for the thank you notes.

Gratitude is a trait which sustains itself. When I’m grateful and show it, there’s one more smile out there. Someone else feels noticed but it makes me feel good, too.

When I was a kid, my mom always reminded me to send thank you notes, the old-fashioned kind we used to send in the mail, for gifts I received. As a kid, I have to admit it felt like a forced sentiment, especially when it was for a relative I didn’t know very well. Over time, however, my heart grew to appreciate the discipline of the hand-written notes. They are a special treat in today’s high-speed, texting, email-note-writing world. When I personally pen a thank you note, the cover already says “thank you.” And in the interest of having a sentence or two to write, I need to think about why I’m thankful. Maybe that’s what my mom was teaching me all those years ago. Not only to say “thank you” but to know why I’m grateful.

Yes, I think it’s a good idea to send a thank you for the thank you. Sure, it would to create more business for the card industry, but more importantly it nurtures an environment where I focus on the good stuff to help deal with the rest. I think maybe we all could benefit from a little more of that focus, don’t you?

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The Wife Birthday Card

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An elderly gentleman, wearing navy slacks, a collared white shirt, and a black baseball cap with an infantry logo, passed me in the card department the other day. He asked where the “wife birthday” cards could be found. He made his selection after reading every card in the section. How cute. I asked how he would be celebrating her birthday.

“We’ll go to dinner,” he said, “as usual. It’s always special, though, because I feel lucky to even be here.”

“Why do you say that?” I asked.

His eyes glazed over at a memory from decades ago. “I served in Korea. And I saw too much. It’s hard to believe I’m still alive today.”

He continued. “We got married as soon as I got back. I was 20 years old. And we’ve been married 62 years now.”

“That’s amazing,” I said, “and thank you for serving.”

I couldn’t stop thinking about this man’s story. How he was so young, serving in the war, in love with a young lady who gave him a reason to come back. The happy ending of a marriage spanning more than 60 years includes with it the memories of a young kid in a war. Time doesn’t heal all wounds, it seems. Love heals most wounds, though. And this man’s chance to celebrate a birthday with the love of his life continues to heal him. It’s not only a celebration of his wife’s birthday, but a celebration of freedom, of relationships, of survival, of love.

How about you? Do you think there’s more to a birthday card than the reminder of another year gone by?

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