Do you remember the days of Family Newsletters?
Historically two pages long - folded into holiday cards or New Year well wishes, often printed in a font that leaned towards illegible. Such updates were aimed at filling in loved ones on family ongoings - from recitals and lacrosse games to lost teeth and new additions to the family, mainly pets. Family Newsletters were my odd pleasure - Comic Sans induced headache and all.
It should come as no surprise that this year of all years, I’ve finally found - and fallen in love with - the modern version: Keepster books.
Made of the hundreds - and I mean hundreds - of texts, chats, photos, emojis, and WhatsApp messages, Keepster helped me commemorate and share what 2020 has been for us.
As a teenager, I adored Family Newsletter season. My brother would make fun of them, insisting that no one needed all that information. But even in my teens, I knew it had to be for the sender, maybe more so than for the recipient, a way to document and celebrate everything that had happened that year.
I can remember longing to have such a full life, a family, so busy and dynamic that you needed to print pages to update loved ones. Even my parents would tease that I was the only one who read the newsletters so closely but I didn’t care: I loved them and couldn’t wait to make my own, one day. Comics Sans and all.
I didn’t quite get the chance. the age of social media: Facebook. Chats. Texting. Smartphones. Screens.
By the time I started my own family, Newsletters had fallen to the wayside: replaced by private Family Facebook Groups or never-ending group chats peppered with pictures and videos.
Modern life had moved forward at a pace that called for more modern updates - rapid-fire and in real-time.
Enter 2020. I think I can humbly speak for everyone, parents in particular, when I say nothing could have prepared me or us for this.
It’s an entirely different existence and world that I’m scrambling to navigate, not only for myself personally and professionally - but for my family, and my children, especially. Still, if you’re lucky enough to have your primary bases covered: health, sustenance, and shelter, you get to step back once in a while and wrack yourself with the “Am I doing this right?”- ness of it all. That’s the gig with a global pandemic, right?
So, here I’ll share a recent reflection: we’re learning an entirely new world - real-time - and no one has hit the pause button. Life is still coming at us all. Teeth are still lost, toddler pajamas tossed - too small, now. Summer has come and gone. Seasons change. Leaves change. Children change.
Life has trudged - and sometimes lurched - onward.
My family has, too.
Seven months into the pandemic, my children - now fourteen, twelve, and ten - are taller, older, hopefully smarter, and possibly wiser too.
Six lost teeth. We’re fully bread-baking obsessed. A love - and certain skill - of driveway basketball has been discovered. One new pandemic puppy. Three new grades. Despite all the “Am I doing this right” anxieties, I want to remember this time.
Maybe this is just me being me - the lover of Family Newsletters.
Or maybe because this is such an historic time - but my hunch is that with the kids growing, changing, shape-shifting right in front of me, I never want to forget any bit of it.
But what exactly was I going to do about it? Bust out the Comic Sans?
The idea of a Family Newsletter banged around my head for a bit, tucked behind a thousand other things. Until...
Back-to-sort-of-school-season came, full force.
I planned to have the kids pose in front of a hand-hung banner I found during late-night Etsy browsing - the wording scrawled out: HAPPY 1ST DAY!
I sent the picture of the sign when it arrived to my family group chat: both of my parents, husband, brother, and someday brother-in-law,
“Ready or not...back to school season in 2020 is here. Jeez. Here we go!”
My brother responded in rapid time:
“Dun dun dun... Don’t envy all you parents having to figure out the virtual stuff again. Glad Mols feels okay about going in-person for now! Tell the kids to stop growing up!.”
Our daughter Molly was our only child whose school had decided to start the year with in-person, but heavily modified learning. She was thrilled at the prospect of seeing her friends again. I was terrified at the prospect of...absolutely everything: talk about an “Am I doing it right?” moment.
My mother jumped in with the surprising text-ability that never failed to surprise. She often called about not being able to turn her laptop on...but texting? Piece of cake.
“Did Hannah and Molly like the masks I sent? Sparkle masks, who knew! Is Chase still loving his Superman mask? Sending off a happy first-day care package this afternoon. FaceTime this weekend? XX”
As if on cue, my phone buzzed with a text from our oldest - Molly, who was out walking the puppy with her younger brother.
The simple message accompanied a snapshot she’d taken of Chase and our dog - and Hank, the tank-sized puppy, jumping in the air at the local park.
My heart swelled. I zoomed in on my son: even with the Superman mask hiding half of his face I was struck by how grown up he looked. When did that happen, I wondered. His hair - once baby fine, like mine - had grown to resemble my husband’s, almost seemingly overnight. His outfit - horribly mismatched - suddenly made him seem even more grown-up.
My baby wasn’t such a baby anymore.
I saved the snapshot, responded with,
“My sweet boys! Love you all. Masks on!”
and, with tremendous conscious effort, resisted the urge to remind them to be careful and be home soon.
I sent Molly’s new picture to the family group chat and my brother’s boyfriend responded first:
“When did Chase AND Hank get so big? Seriously, Adam is right, stop growing guys!”
And then, my dad:
“big boy, big dog! Wish I could hug them both 🐶”
I missed my family: my parents, who’d moved to Oregon in early retirement, were now a good road trip away from us. We hadn’t gotten to see my brother either - he’s an EMT and the first seven or so months of the pandemic kept him running nonstop.
Thank goodness we were all able to stay close and in somewhat constant communication via texting.
I couldn’t believe we’d gone almost an entire year without seeing my brother, or hugging my parents. I couldn’t believe we were already here - at back to school time - and would have to document it all through our phones. In normal times they would have all been around - we’re the kind of family that never misses a thing.
On the morning of the first day of school, I woke up to texts from my best friend, updating me on her son’s shambolic virtual experience. Another text from my mom came in, this time in a group text with my girls: wishing them both happy 1st days. In minutes they’d be texting her back an endless string of emojis, most likely with a favorite TikTok video too.
My brother and mom texted demanding pictures, so we huddled our three together in front of the Etsy sign - my attempt at making things feel...somewhat closer to normal. The kids - smiled co-operatively in their ‘first day of school’ outfits while Hank squirmed excitedly at their feet.
A feeling of equal parts deja vu and total panic gripped me in that moment: When did Hank’s paws grow to dinner-plate size? When did my kids go from rolly, polly, mini Michelin-man babies to...little adults? When did all of this happen?
We raised our iPhones simultaneously, teased out another smile or two, and snapped away.
My husband had reached down and took my hand, giving it a squeeze: it was hard to believe we were here. September!
How did we get here? Where did the time go? We’d all been lost in a hazy daydream - rather, nightmare - of Lysoled groceries, rounds of layoffs, long nights spent tossing over the state of our world, our country, our families, our futures...
While I’d been panicking alongside thousands of other parents, the puppy and the kids had been busy, too. They’d been growing up.
So that’s how I found myself making a modern-day Family Newsletter.
One morning while my boys were at their laptops and my oldest was masked in school, I sat down to go through my iPhone photos. I scrolled through hundreds...scrolling so fast it became almost a Kaleidoscope - watching my kids transform before my eyes.
The last six or seven months - even though spent at home - had been filled with so much activity.
How could I have not seen it? My family newsletter was right there, in my pictures!
Better yet, it was in my texts.
2020 was not the year any of us asked for - but here we were, alive, well, and sane. So much had happened, so much had changed. One job lost, another job gained, three new grades, and a whole lot of - forced - family time. There was plenty to share, update, commemorate, and keep. Even if just for myself, one day.
Enter Keepster: the service that lets you create a chat book out of your texts, chats, photos, emojis and more. It was all pretty seamless and simple once I realized that I could actually create a modern-day family newsletter, but rather than on folded sheets this one would be even better, in the form of a printed book. All it took was for me to pick out and gather together the texts from my family group chat, my husband, our kids and friends...together with pictures too.
I decided to create a series of three books: Quarantine Crew 2020, Our Summer Staying Home (And Safe), and Back-To-Sorta-School Season, 2020. Each one was filled to the brim with photos and texts that told the unique (to put it lightly) the story of these ‘seasons’.
It was incredible to put each one together - it made certain moments feel so palpable as I re-lived them again, some painful, some laugh-until-you-cry ones. Some of the texts had stayed close to memory. The text I sent my husband in the early days - he was at work, struggling to adjust to the role of an ‘essential worker’ with equal parts gratitude and fear:
“Are you ok? I love you. Thinking of you!!! The kids are okay!”
It was accompanied by a crazy-eyed selfie of the four of us. Other texts, like ones from my brother, parents, or even close friends, caught me by surprise to review.
“Hey, love you, guess what? Finally mastered sourdough. Next stop? World domination.”
That one was accompanied by plenty of photographic evidence: flour-covered hands, a wonky loaf or two, and plenty of smiles.
The day we adopted our dog - our family group chat was a deluge of goo-goo eyed emojis and way too many pictures. There was the one the day my father reassured me when my husband was furloughed, the day I sent my husband a snapshot of a beloved quote on a tea bag I’d found...knowing it would put a smile on his face when he needed it. The texts from my oldest daughter - while she was a mere flight of stairs away - which evolved from a string of emojis to her capturing sweet moments horsing around with her siblings. So much life - jam-packed in those texts, those photos, and now, in Keepster books.
I’ll send a copy to my mom and dad, my brother and his boyfriend, my best friend, and keep a copy for each of my kids. Maybe someday they’ll look at it, flipping through the pages like their own Kaleidoscope, too. They’ll be able to look back - not only on the things we as a family did during this time, but how hard we loved each other through this incredibly challenging chapter. That’s worth updating everyone on, I’d say.
My brother can still tease me about my love of family newsletters… but I know that when his books arrive he’ll have to admit that Keepster offers a pretty cool, modern spin. Even without Comic Sans.
As a mom, when you bring a human into the world, and sign up to spend forever with your heart walking outside of your own body...you’ll never really know if you’re doing any of it right...You’ll just know that’s the deal, that it’s all happening so fast… And you won’t want to miss a moment.
Thanks Keepster, for helping me bring this season of our lives to life.
I’m grateful to be able to keep the crazy brew of 2020’s memories close, forever.
Verified Keepster User