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Fergus Cullen: The Christmas card many of us wish we could send

December 19. 2013 7:50PM

Dear Tom and Sue: Thanks for your cheery Christmas letter and photos documenting, in tedious, self-centered detail, what a truly unbelievably good year your family of overachievers had. Each of you, even toddler Hillary and Davos the dog, leapt from one achievement to another with nary a setback. It's obvious that you have awesome careers, a perfect family, indeed a better life than me. You win!

Our family's 2013 reality was a bit more nuanced, to be honest. Our kids are nothing to brag about, and we can't afford your vacations. No amount of garland can disguise the fact that most days Liz and I are too worn out by the grind of raising kids and putting food on the table to attempt half the things your family seems to do.

Congrats to your daughter Mercedes on her election as treasurer of the Spanish Club, her field hockey team for making the playoffs, her marching band playing in the Rose Bowl parade — all while finding time to work the Hollis soup kitchen and read to the deaf. I'm pretty sure Brown admissions will see through all that. Maybe I've become cynical, but is it possible the February vacation trip to Costa Rica was motivated more by the allure of tropical beaches than building a school for orphans? There are orphans in cold climates, aren't there? Just asking.

Our hopes for Stevey going to Dartmouth have faded to black. Our fallback goal is to get him through high school on time without being arrested or smashing the family car. He was such a sweet little kid, it's been hard to see him turn into a disrespectful, back-talking teenager, especially for his mother.

It's great that Krugman placed fifth in the 200 meter backstroke for the Little Manatees swim team and plays for Souhegan Septic in Cal Ripken. But there's nothing here to suggest he's on his way to a college scholarship or the 2024 Olympics, is there? As for his getting third place in the Cub Scout Pinewood Derby, were there more than three competitors, or did you buy his car pre-made from a kit? Because winning a trophy in the Pinewood Derby is prima facie evidence the kid didn't make his own car.

Mercedes does seem to be a precocious three-year-old, what with playing the violin, Mandarin lessons, competing in the Miss Charm pageant, and already reading the third Harry Potter novel. Sign her up for Smith. We're hoping our three year old will be potty trained before first grade.

That picture of you summiting Kilimanjaro is inspiring, and congrats to Sue for doing the Tough Mudder half marathon. You have not only stopped, but reversed, the aging process. Alas, the evidence is mounting that I'm not as young as I used to be. I'm so stiff in the mornings I have to sit on the stairs to put on my socks. I got kicked out of my CrossFit group for bringing a Boston Crème donut for snack. I'd consider taking up golf, but if I took four hours off once a week my wife would divorce me before I reached the back nine.

Liz spends $20 a month at Planet Fitness so she can pretend she goes to the gym. Buying yoga pants has not made her look like the women in the Athletica catalogue. She says the increasing gray in my receding hair makes me look distinguished, but I think she's only trying to make me feel better.

Neither of us loves our jobs, but we keep working because our investments trailed the S&P. Twice the market gave me the opportunity to buy Apple for less than $400 a share this year, and twice I waited for it to bottom out first. I sold my Netflix $100 ago and my conservative buy-and-hold strategy is killing me on Blackberry and Zynga.

We did not tour Australian vineyards like you did, but we did go camping at Gunstock. An afternoon at the Kahuna Laguna indoor waterpark in Conway sort of feels like going to Florida. The only thing our garden produced is inedible bloated zucchinis even the backyard chickens wouldn't touch. A raccoon ended that experiment anyway.

We'll try again next year.


Fergus Cullen, a freelance columnist, can be reached at and followed @FergusCullen.

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