Today I was talking with a friend. She mentioned that when she was growing up she loved finding little notes to her from her stepmother, J–in her lunch box, in a box of cereal, inside her backpack. J worked full time as a professor and this was one way of connecting with her kids when she couldn’t be there. For my friend, the lasting memory was that moment of glee, in finding something unexpected from someone who so completely loved her and told her so often.
Recently J received a cancer diagnosis, a blow to their family world. My friend has decided (in addition to giving support with rides and visits and food) to sneak into J’s house and leave notes in her cereal box, makeup case, purse. To give her that moment of glee in finding something unexpected from someone who so completely loves her. Full circle, now.
It reminded me of an article I chanced upon in Esopus magazine (via Ali Edwards) about a dad who wrote daily letters to his two children. According to the Esopus 10 website, “exhibition designer Robert Guest has been getting up at dawn every school day for the past 15 years to write a note to each of his two children, Joanna and Theo. Included in Esopus 10 is a sampling of the thousands of letters written by Guest and collected by his wife, Gloria, from lunchboxes and laundry piles.” Here’s the text from one of them (above left):
“The world Joanna–you can’t imagine how beautiful it really is. Think of the different places–tropical islands, snow-capped mountains, deserts of sand, miles and miles of green fields. It’s awesome! Think of the kinds of weather–bitter cold – blinding sun – stormy wind and rain – cool breezes – warm winds. It’s awesome! Think of the people in the world –black & brown, yellow and red, and white – old, young and babies of each. It’s awesome! And just think. You get to be here in the middle of it all. So what do you do? You smile, you say “thanks” and you live! Love, Dad”
Every once in a while, I come across an idea that makes me wish I could go back and start parenting all over again. Looking through a couple of these letters, this is one of those ideas (click on the above photo to get a closer look). What I love about these is that they aren’t just about his love for the children (which of course is important) but it’s also about sharing his thoughts and perspectives about the world and life.
Luckily, it’s not too late to write something, even if it’s not the fantastic, letter-a-day idea. Maybe starting with notes or drawings on napkins. Or a yearly letter. Or a shared notebook to exchange thoughts we might not be able to say face-to-face. Or a post-it.
Here’s what I believe: Writing it down has power and longevity, more than the earnest lectures on responsibility or the new shiny birthday bike. Those tucked messages to our kids eventually nestle in pockets and fists and musty shoeboxes carried from home to apartment and home again to be pulled out and remembered. Or at least that’s what I do with mine.