Here it is creeping toward mid-January and I have one last holiday card to write. I suppose it will have to be a New Year card at this point and luckily, having stockpiled roughly 4,638 greeting cards over the years, I have one handy. The problem is what exactly to say since the person I’m sending it to seems to have stopped speaking to me.
I’m not absolutely sure she isn’t speaking to me. It’s one of those relationships, you see, that is built on best intentions but no longer involves any actual connection. “Gloria” was my daughter’s home daycare ‘mom’ in San Francisco for just one year before we relocated back east. We don’t talk on the phone, we don’t exchange emails, we’re not Facebook friends; we’ve only seen each other once on a rare family trip back to the Bay Area. We just exchange holiday cards and share what I believed to be a mutual devotion and fondness that we extolled to each other whenever we had the chance.
It’s a relationship that exists in that fragile sphere where someone who was once tremendously important in your life is now essentially irrelevant but you pledge, to yourself and tacitly between you, to reserve a permanent place of honor for the other.
Gloria gave my daughter several gifts when we left, including a photo album of their year together and a book inscribed with a beautiful, heartfelt poem about the place she’d always have in her heart. Over the years, I’ve flipped through the photos and re-read the book and poem to her, reminding her about Gloria and her family. And each year at Christmastime, Gloria sends me a photo card featuring her growing boys and I send her one displaying the gap-toothed grade-schooler’s smile and clunky hand-written signature of the baby she once knew.
But a little over a year ago, I got an email from Gloria asking for a favor. She had gone on hiatus from her daycare business and was now hoping to advertise and restart with new clients. She wondered if I would write a letter of recommendation that she could share with prospective families. I was more than happy to do so and dashed off a letter that spoke from my heart. Here are some excerpts:
This letter is to serve as a reference for Gloria ____. I am writing this letter as a past client and also as a friend.
Gloria was the caretaker of my infant daughter from xx through xx …. Though it has been more than four years since our departure, we have remained in close touch with Gloria and still consider her a dear part of our lives.
Throughout the time Gloria cared for our daughter, she consistently proved herself to be absolutely responsible, devoted, and trustworthy. In her treatment of the children in her care as well as in her working relationships with their parents, she was always capable, fair, and full of enthusiasm.
The dedication Gloria gives her chosen profession is remarkable. She absolutely invests her mental and physical energy in providing the highest level of attention and care she can every day, and creates an environment where kids can learn and have fun in the safety of her home.
There is an enormous level of trust involved in placing your child in someone else’s care. My husband and I placed that trust in Gloria, and feel very lucky that our daughter had the opportunity to learn from and love someone like her.
When I emailed it to her, Gloria responded immediately with a description of the tears pouring down her face and the gratitude she felt for our connection and my effort in crafting a detailed, personal recommendation. Most other parents she’d asked, she explained, sent a brief, generic paragraph if anything at all. I replied that I was very happy to do it and meant every word. I also attached a current photo of my daughter and she promised to send me the family portrait she was planning for the holidays.
A few days later, I got another email from Gloria. She thanked me again for the letter and insisted that she wanted to send a gift to properly thank me. She asked me to name a restaurant we liked in our area so she could buy a gift certificate for us all to go out to dinner. The wording of the email was adamant—she didn’t want to be put off with a you-don’t-have-to-do-that response.
I puzzled over this for several days. I really thought it was unnecessary and my immediate response would indeed have been ‘you don’t have to do that!’ which Gloria obviously anticipated. It felt really weird, though, to write back naming a restaurant; it felt like asking for money or pointing to something in a jewelry store window and saying, “I want that one!” After fretting for a while, I finally wrote back with what I meant to be a lighthearted tone, saying it wasn’t necessary but such a nice offer and that if she really wanted to do it (and here I said something jokey like “I know you’ll yell at me if I don’t name a place”), we’d be delighted with a modest certificate for our local creamery to get us each a yummy ice cream cone that we’d enjoy in her honor.
I never heard from her again.
Many months later (nine, to be exact) I decided to email Gloria. It had sunk in sometime after the three-month mark that she hadn’t replied to my email, hadn’t sent her usual Christmas card. I hesitated so long, feeling awkward because I didn’t want to seem like I was asking where my darn gift certificate was. But after such a long time, I couldn’t shake the nagging suspicion that I had insulted her with my response. Did she take my joke badly? Was she offended that I suggested downgrading her gift? I’d be happy to apologize if so. I also started to worry that maybe it had nothing at all to do with me—that perhaps something had happened to her or something else was going on that was much more important.
I sent a short, friendly email with a recent photo of the kids. I made no mention of our last exchange, using the pretense that we had just re-read the Harry Potter series which she and I had always enjoyed talking about and it made me think of her. No reply.
I re-sent the email, forwarding it to a different email address with a note saying I hoped I had her current address. No reply.
I left a voicemail on her home phone. I texted her on her cell phone saying I had tried to email but wasn’t sure I had the current address since I hadn’t heard back. No reply.
Now Christmas has come and gone without a card, again.
So, here I sit. A blank holiday card in front of me, pen poised in confusion. “Happy New Year! Do you hate me?” seems a little curt but I long to know. How did this happen? How could so much goodwill be dismissed so abruptly? Is she okay? I don’t know anyone else who knows her so I can’t find out through other channels. I suppose I’ll have to let it go at some point but I’m still processing the stages of grief on this one and am not ready for acceptance.
I’m heartbroken, both for the loss of the friendship and by the idea that I could have done something foolish (the pitfalls of modern communication, perhaps?) that would cause this kind of rift. And yes, beneath it all, I am upset—insulted, even—that she might have taken offense so easily, after I had just stated so plainly how much I valued her, and turned her back on not just me but on my daughter who she loved so well and had pledged to always care for in her heart.
One last holiday card, then, with a photo of my precious child as currency that I hope will buy me a response and forgiveness, if necessary. What more can I do? What would you do?
This is an original JerseyMomsBlog post. Deanna Q is a freelance writer, editor, and blogger whose discomfort with unresolved conflict can only be soothed with large doses of medicinal chocolate.