Those of you that have been following for awhile know that each year on their birthdays, I write each of my kids a letter. I have posted some of them on here. I have done this each year (although not on here), beginning with Makenna's first birthday 5 years ago (!). This was completely my own idea, I didn't take it from anyone else. It actually began as an ending. I had diligently scrapbooked Makenna's entire first year and by the time of her first birthday, the scrapbook would barely close. I couldn't think of a more fitting way to end the book then to write her a letter reflecting on that past year; her first year, my year of so many firsts, the year that completely changed my life. It was my own idea to do it, although I'm sure lots of other people do it too.
Have you ever written your child a letter?
Each year on their birthdays I dedicate one page to the various accomplishments and obstacles of the past year. I document the stuff they were into (We've evolved from Dora to Care Bears to Princesses to Littlest Pet Shop...From Tad to Elmo to Backyardigans), the places we've been and the special everyday moments and things that were said in the past year that I don't want to forget. I write about some of the milestones they've achieved (Potty Training, to First Day of School to First lost tooth...Sleeping though the night to First words to obsessive reciting of the alphabet to the spelling of one's name) and I spend time wondering aloud on paper what the year ahead will hold for us.
I write things down that I don't say enough in the day to day busy-ness of life, things that I want them to know but sometimes don't know how to say to them in person, and I express my gratitude and wonder at how lucky I am to be their mother.
This is the one birthday tradition that is written in stone for me: handwritten letters to my children. On the day of their birthday, I make sure a picture is taken of me with that child, and I include it with the letter. Year after year, each letter is filed away in a scrapbook dedicated soley to this purpose. Each child has their own book. One of my favourite things about this is that the letter is handwritten (well, hand printed thus far). I know that looking back years from now, my kids will love seeing my handwriting, the occasional spelling mistake, the words scratched out...the everyday normalcy of these letters.
How would you have reacted to receiving a book at some point in your life, of handwritten letters to you, year after year on your birthday, from your parents? Letters documenting the little details like the nickname your sibling made up for you because he couldn't pronounce your name properly? Or the time you thought that your Aunt being a French teacher meant that she knew how to make french fries? Letters celebrating everyday achievements that are so important, so special or so funny at the time, but without being written down and preserved, would otherwise be forgotten as the years passed by? I think my kids will love to read about the toys and "fads" they were into as children, the activities they were in, the funny things they said, etc etc etc.
The best part of this, for my kids, is that Jeff does it too. Right from Makenna's first birthday, he has written birthday letters for both kids every year and there is a picture of him with the birthday girl or boy attached to each one. His letters are on one side of the page, my letters are on the other side, year after year. I provide absolutely no input or advice as to what he should write, and he does it, every time. These letters from Daddy are a treasure to read, even for me...because really, how rare is that for a child? To recieve a thought out, dedicated letter from their father each year?
Now yes, my letters are usually longer (and much easier to make out) than Jeff's are, but still...they are a treasure for our kids. They show a completely different perspective then mine do, document a completely different relationship, one that I could never properly document or capture the essence of.
We have another letter to write in just a couple days, and for the first time, this one is giving us pause. For the first time this letter will take more thought, more planning, and we will need to choose our words a bit more carefully. And we both know this is just the beginning of the process of choosing our words and treading lightly with our daughter. We are just approaching the tip of the iceberg known as the tumultuous time ahead with our daughter and I believe that we are approaching the time when these letters we write will be most important and take on deeper meaning. Because in these letters, as they get older, we can say things to them that may be hard to say to them in person...we can express our worries, our take on the changing relationship we both will experience with them, and our hopes for their futures. Knowing they won't read these letters for years yet makes it easier to write some things that may be hard to say at the time. But years from now, when they do read them, they will read about our thoughts and feelings about our relationships with them at the time, their relationships with eachother, the events of the time, and their growing up through the years...they will read about it from our perspective, when they are old enough and mature enough, to do so. And they will learn things about us they never knew.
Thankfully, we aren't there yet. We're still in the phase where we celebrate peeing on the potty, visits from the Tooth Fairy and the first jump off the diving board. Letters from these years remind them of how important their home day care provider in is their life, who their best friends are right now, the music they listen to (from Mother Goose to Taylor Swift...and the phase Jack went through where all he was interested in was Run DMC) and what kinds of foods they do and don't like.
But one day, we will write about them getting their drivers licences, going out on dates, breaking the rules, and who knows what else. And one day they will read all of those letters, from both of us, and I believe (hope) they will cherish them.
Makenna hasn't seen her book or read these letters yet and I'm not sure when she will...when she's 16? Something tells me we will still feel the need to write her letters at that point in her life. When she's 18? Maybe. When she moves out or gets married? I don't know. I don't know when we'll stop and give them to her.
I guess too, deep down, another reason for writing these letters, is for them to have an insight into us, to gain an understanding of who we are, or were. Why we made the decisions we did, what guided us as their parents, and how we felt through the years. it may sound a bit morbid, but I believe that once we are gone, they will cherish these letters on a whole different level.
Maybe you've never written your child a letter before and can't imagine how to begin...what you would say. I believe this is the best gift we will give our children over the years, one they will treaure for the rest of their lives. I don't think it matters as much WHAT you write...just as long as you do...just consider the gift you will be giving them someday. I also don't believe it's ever too late to start. Even if your kids are teens, it's not too late...in fact, maybe it's the perfect time to begin. Your kids won't care that you missed a few years, when you give them those letters, years from now when they are mature enough, they will be blown away at the gift that they are and will keep them forever.
Those of you that are parents now, and especially those whose parents have passed on, wouldn't it have been something to have letters like that from your childhood? Maybe they would have helped to explain some things, maybe they would have given you a different perspective, maybe they would have shown that your parents really did care...really did do their best...even if it didn't seem like it at the time.
I know it would have been pretty special to me.
Mom: That is not directed at you... :) It is a general statement. I didn't know how else to end this post. :)
Jodi: Thank you for the idea of this post.
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