In 2006, when my oldest daughter was 8 years old, I bought a small notebook at Walmart and wrote this note to her on the first page,
“This will be a little notebook for us to write notes to each other all year. You can write about anything you want. Don’t worry about spelling – just do your best. I can’t wait to get a note from you every few days!”
I was hopeful that the notebook would serve a couple of purposes. First of all, a practical one; we were homeschooling at the time, and I wanted Elizabeth to get some more practice in writing and spelling.
More importantly, though, I wanted it to be a chance for us to connect. This oldest daughter was just like me; quiet, holding feelings close, not sharing emotions easily. For people like us, it’s immensely easier to be vulnerable with the written word than the spoken one. We need time to process thoughts and feelings internally before ever speaking them. I hoped that writing notes would strengthen our relationship with one another and give us a safe space to be honest.
And so we began to pass the notebook back and forth. I put it on her pillow that first night, and I found it on my pillow the next. Sometimes we wrote faithfully, sometimes sporadically. We talked a lot about books, about her friends, her classes, difficult decisions, what she loved and didn’t love. In all, we passed that notebook between our bedrooms for over four years. The last entry is an invitation to go away with me for a special mom/daughter weekend because she was “growing up (almost a teenager).”
Although writing notes to me may not have improved my daughter’s spelling, it did yield a couple of real, practical benefits for us.
• That notebook sent a message to my daughter that I cared about communicating with her. She has four younger siblings who often clamor for attention and words. Although the notebook certainly did not replace physical, face-to-face connection with her, it allowed me to spend time focusing just on her. I took the time to notice and remark on her strengths and gifts, to offer praise and encouragement, to communicate the great hope and joy she brought to our family.
• I was also able to share things about myself with her. On February 1, 2007, I wrote a list of eight things that made me really happy (dark chocolate, the ocean, good books). Almost a year later, my grandmother suffered a stroke, and I wrote about specific ways that I was praying. Over the years, I tried to deliberately share small pieces of myself with her through my words, to invite her gently into my world.
That same daughter will be 18 this year. She’ll graduate from high school and move to college. We’ll send lots of text messages, but probably not many handwritten notes. I’ll always treasure that notebook as a tangible piece of her as a child; who she was and was becoming. Today, the notebook is a reminder to me of how quickly our young ones become adults and of our great responsibility to guide them, lead them, and love them deeply. Whether through face-to-face conversations, written notes, or even text messages, I urge you to make the most of your time and your words.