Leaving letters

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.


5 responses to “Leaving letters

  1. Thank you Annie– I’m going to try this. I think it would make a world of difference to my teenagers.

  2. What a brilliant idea. I am totally going to start this.

  3. I need this reminder as I feel my teenager falling away from me on the communication front. Certainly you’re right, “Writing it down has power and longevity.” While I used to do this in a limited way, I think it is time to start, again.

  4. I think letters are especially helpful to teenage sons. They usually won’t stick around for the kind of express your feelings, fears, and future plan discussions, and yet there’s so much a parent wants to say.

    I received letters from my mom when we needed to communicate but the timing was never right to sit down and talk it through. I still remember what some of the letters said, and I kept many of them. I wrote some myself as a mother. It helped me focus on what I wanted to say. I always led off with compliments and the joy they brought me. That put me in a positive, calm, loving mood to phrase the “but we have a few problems…” part of the message.

    I’m much better expressing myself when I have time to think it through, and remind myself of what my goals are. Even the negative letters become an expression of love, support and encouragement.

  5. My Mom used to leave me notes. Now, when I visit them I leave notes all over there house for my parents to find.

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