Were you forced, as a child, to write thank you letters to relatives? Did you have to tell them which book you had bought with the National Book Token they had kindly sent you for Christmas? Yes? It sucked right? Don’t get me wrong, I loved my book tokens, I’d buy my brother’s from him because he hated reading and I loved the luxury of owning a book rather than borrowing it from the library.
But I hated writing those letters, they felt arbitrary and, weirdly impersonal. I guess it’s because we were forced to spend an evening writing two lines with great care to Aunt Flo lying about the book you had bought (had in fact not got around to buying) to somehow reassure her that she hadn’t spent her money on a voucher for an ungrateful little shit.
Let us skip forward a couple of decades and my own children are grandchildren, children of family friends, nieces and nephews and they’re receiving thoughtful gifts and the standard (and often preferred) Amazon or I-Tunes vouchers. And for a few years, I sat them down and sternly instructed them on how to write a thank you letter. And as a Godparent, aunt and family friend, I would receive thank you letters from various children whose parents had done exactly the same. And then when my children finally rebelled and I fully remembered the irritation of that time set aside to write thank yous, I stopped my maternal demands under the parenting rule #2, subsection #6 which states: Pick your fights.
…. and yet…. I have just spent months designing and producing a truly lovely pack imaginatively entitled ‘How to Write a Letter’. It doesn’t, for a second, advocate the duty eschewing of “thank you letter” writing. But I ain’t no hypocrite – it doesn’t promote it either. What it does do, however, is encourage the great, time honoured tradition of actually putting pen to paper, how to layout a letter like a pro and includes suggestions of what letters can be written.
As with everything I write for 2littleboys, I keep the tone of writing to…. well…. this. I refuse to talk down to children. If you can imagine a middle-aged woman doing a silly face and basically saying stuff to give the impression that she’s the idiot in the conversation, then you get the general idea. Children tend to like that.
Letter writing is a dying art form and I really think we’re going to regret letting it go. That email you received from your tech savvy gran just aint gonna cut it when they’re gone. Those pen-pals we used to have when we were younger? Get your kids to take that up. Have them write to someone experiencing a different culture, a different climate, different circumstances and get a rapport going and then wait for their responses to come with weird stamps on the envelope. It’s a joy. What’s the hurry? They don’t need to email each other because they’re getting a flavour of each other’s lives, not a blow by blow account that needs immediate response.
My father used to write (well, type, because the dude had the writing of a GP without actually being a GP) to my children when they were very young – it was utter nonsense, utter nonsense! But it had his voice (loud) and his sense of humour (bizarre) indelibly printed into every word. And that’s the point – indelible. We all look back at those letters every now and again and my children howl with laughter and I am grateful that they’re old enough to be holding those letters in their hands because I don’t want to ruin the pages with my tears.
I have letters from my great aunt – pedestrian stuff that she wrote from her homeland of Wales. But I’d wait and wait for the sample of her handwriting on an envelope to come through that letterbox with news of my beloved great uncle and various other family members that she liked to gossip about.
And then there’s my husband. We met at 15 (everyone say ahhhh!) and we wrote to each other twice a week until we were old enough to financially and legally move in together. And then the letters and the replies went into the same box. That’ll be an embarrassing couple of hours for our children when they come to clear out the loft.
And I still have a letter written to me 22 years when I was going through a really tough time. My friend wrote to me telling me that I’d get through it, that I was young and indestructible, that I was admired and loved and that she’d treat me to a cup of tea and a biscuit whenever I was ready. And I see that letter in my mind’s eye and I’m still glad that she took the time to write. Texts and emails and comments on Facebook all gratefully received, but ultimately erasable.
In fact, now I’m thinking about it, why on Earth did I not write a letter-writing pack for grown-ups?
Next week, it’s “Thinking of You” week. So think of someone you want to reach out to and write them a letter. In fact, buy the ‘write a letter’ pack from here and beg your child for a piece of the cute letterhead.
If your child is one of those ‘go away, get your own’ variety, then may I suggest you pop over to Julie Bell – she produces the most stunning correspondence cards and letterheads. Then invest in an ink pen from Plooms and you’ll be good to go.
It’s at this point, I need to acknowledge that my niece, at the age of 21 and her parents continue to write thank you notes. And long may they continue with their missives that are just the right side of grateful, witty, personal and informative.
Now grab your child and spend 20 precious, quiet and companionable minutes writing a letter to someone.
Just do it.
P.S. A mate of mine is spending a year reaching out with cards through the mail and I’ve been lucky enough to receive a card from him this year. Do check out his vlog about it all.