Friday, April 30, 2010


Last night I wrote a letter to A, my 2 ½-year-old niece. When I started this project and was compiling my list of names, I included my two nephews (ages 13 and 5) and niece, figuring it would be easy enough to write them letters.

It was, and wasn't. Sure I could keep the subjects (this summer's family reunion, her cousin--my son's--favorite toys at daycare) light and skip any deep insights, but I also had to choose short, recognizable words. I was reminded of a job I once had where, to meet the requirements of a government contract, I had to convert a quarterly newsletter completely to a 6th-grade reading level. Harder than it sounds.

As I was writing the letter to A, I kept in mind that it was not she who would be reading it, but her father or mother reading it to her. And, honestly, to A more excitement probably lie in learning that something in the mailbox was addressed to her, than in actually hearing it read.

I also resisted the temptation to make a deeply meaningful tome, along the lines of, "The world is full of beauty and surprises, and I wish them all for you ..." Maybe this will be OK for the 13-year-old, but I doubt that by the time the letter would mean anything to A, that she would still have it. Better to wait until she is older and write her another.

Still, the process of writing to A was a fun one, in that I imagined her excitement in receiving a letter and was excited to share this fading experience with her. I remembered how elated I was to receive mail as a child (a couple pen pal relationships and a several-year correspondence with a cousin served to feed the need) and hoped maybe A would someday find that same thrill:

"Hopefully the art of the handwritten note won't be totally replaced by e-mail when you're old enough to write ..."

In writing to A, I also recalled fond memories of my own childhood with my brother, her father. In mentioning the long winter where A lives, I told her about sledding on the big hill behind our house with her daddy. Telling her to get along with her brother, I told her to ask her daddy someday about the "secret code" he and I had to try not to make our own parents mad. (It involved chickens, I told her.)

Writing the letter served as an unexpected reminder of how my brother and I are now creating for our families the same cherished memories our parents did for us. How is history repeating itself in your life?

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