When the texted poured in, I began to notice a pattern. The first was from my son, Austin, regarding his identical twin, Kyle.

“Kyle has always been the less smart, attractive, and funny twin. We love him, even though I’m far superior.”

My husband, Ron, texted next.

“Mary is like a Christmas tree. She gives gifts, she drinks water daily, she lights up the room, she has an angel on her head, and people flock to her.”

Despite myself, I laughed. My daughter, Ciara delivered a humdinger about her little brother.

“Cooper is a demon child with the spirit and attitude of a morose old man.”

This was the first draft of the Billiter-Gullberg newsletter when I asked the kids (yes, my husband falls in that category because he’s the one who compared me to a tree) to write a few sentences about each other. I thought the letter would have more power if they all wrote about each other instead of my doing the heavy lifting. I write all year long, they could do this much.

Or so I thought.

My dreams of this letter that perfectly summed up the way our blended family could work together blew up in my face and I sat down, resigned to write the letter myself.

That’s when the real responses started coming in, each one filling my heart with pride.

Austin’s arrived first.

“Kyle is a junior at the University of Wyoming. He has kept up with his academics while also balancing his position with Pi Kappa Alpha (PIKE) fraternity as new member educator. No one could be prouder of Kyle’s accomplishments than me. Kyle has continued to surprise me and this year he has undertaken the challenge of studying the Arabic language, which I know he will do amazing.”

Ciara’s paragraph about her little brother was also markedly different and heartfelt.

“Cooper is the most inquisitive and curious 11-year-old I’ve ever met. He has the heart of a true, little explorer and the mind of a much smarter than I am mathematician, but I won’t tell him that.”

Cooper wrote his note in colored pencil, alternating between blue and red.


Adult Charlie Brown.

Loving and kind and nice.

Supportful of others.


I won’t change Cooper’s grammar or spelling because that would change the essence of his message. And Ron is supportful of others.

I think, though, Kyle’s write up about his twin brother made me realize that sometimes my ideas aren’t half-baked.

“When I heard Austin was going to be attending a new college I was very happy as well as sad. My brother has always been my rock, motivating and driving me to do well with school and throughout life. I was nervous to see him go but also excited for all the great things he will do at Baldwin Wallace. Austin has always exceeded above and beyond with school as well as with his social life making friends everywhere he goes. He is my best friend and I can’t imagine a life without him.”

They got it.

Well, everyone except Ron, who thought I was going to let that tree thing go. I’m a lot of things…a mother, a step-mother, an educator, a writer, a friend, a wife…not a tree.

Then my phone chimed with his text. Ron wrote more than the required three to four sentences. He highlighted the four books I wrote this year, teaching and my column, noting that in 2017 I came back swinging after breast cancer and various health issues. But what got me was his reference to a fish-shaped coin he bought me when we first began dating.

“Mary also found her giggle and sense of adventure.”

The coin that’s stamped “Giggle” is in my wallet. When he gave it to me he wrote, “Never lose your giggle.” And, over time, I had.

My beautiful blue-eyed man, who I met on Christmas Day in 2010 concluded his piece by writing,

“Mary is more than my wife. She is my best friend.”

As I started weaving everyone’s words together, it hit me that this might be the best Christmas letter yet.

Mary Billiter can be reached at marybilliter@ymail.com