I grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina, land of magnolias, bankers, and debutants. When I was six, I was dropped off every Saturday morning at an Everyday Etiquette class, where we learned how to answer the phone, use a knife, apologize for breaking our friend’s mother’s favorite vase, and write thank you notes. When I was ten, I was dropped off every Tuesday night at Promenade, where we learned to shake hands, dance the waltz, drink punch without spilling, and write thank you notes. When I was thirteen I was dropped off every Thursday night at Cotillion where we learned to make small talk with boys, allow our seat to be pushed in with us miraculously IN THE CHAIR, dance the Foxtrot, and write thank you notes.
You’d think with all that remediation, the one thing I should ROCK is writing a freaking thank you note. But, well, um…
Lately, I’ve been given the opportunity to write a lot of thank yous. This is an awesome problem to have. Especially since, this go around, no one has died and I’m relieved to report I have no new baby at my house. In the month since my husband became unemployed, we’ve received a humbling amount of love and support. Tears of gratitude are a breakfast staple around here. There literally has not been an hour in the last few weeks that I haven’t been brought to my knees remembering a kindness. My heart is bursting. So what’s with the empty mailbox?
Ok. Here’s the problem. Scratch that. Here are the problems…
- I was taught to write a thank you note like a three paragraph essay. Paragraph one: thank you for the whatchamacallit. Paragraph two: Here’s what I like about the whatchamacallit. Paragraph three: We should have tea soon. This might work for an eight year old’s birthday party, but it’s woefully lacking for anything more emotionally fraught. Every time I sit down to write a note I’m confronted with all the BIG BIG feelings I want to include (Juliette gets it from somewhere), the very limited time, and the teeny-tiny card. It’s a perfectionist’s nightmare. A twelve line note becomes a two hour project.
- The White Pages no longer exist. I actually have a large stack of thank you notes written. They’ve been sitting here staring at me for two weeks. Unfortunately, without an address they are destined to live on my desk forever. And I have a phone phobia, so you can forget me actually dialing someone to ask for their mailing address. In my relatively raw state, the person on the other end would be calling the crisis line in 30 seconds flat.
- My kids think stamps are stickers. I buy stamps, I really do. I know you get them from the post office. I haul all five kids in there, pick a pretty package, and by the end of nap they’ve been pilfered from my purse and used to decorate the underside of bunk beds. I’m actually not sure whether this is a postage problem, or a parenting problem.
I have friends who are excellent thank you note writers. Two days after an event you’ll receive a lovely handwritten card on personalized stationary. I try not to view this as an overtly aggressive move. I know they are not trying to rub my nose in their good manners and excellent penmanship. Mostly.
I do still think etiquette is important. I know letter writing is a dying art, and I’m trying to preserve it for the next generation. I encourage my children to write thank you notes. On paper. With their hand. Of course, with five little kids, I can’t always stand over their shoulder and supervise. Sometimes I have to swoop in later and provide a final edit. That is exactly what I did earlier this week after Grey finished the notes for his birthday party.
Here’s what I found:
He wasn’t sure how to spell “Thank” so he “spell checked it,” you know, by underlining.
I’m adding this to the list of things we need to work on. Oh, small extras like a GREETING, and a description, and what he enjoys about the gift, and SPELLING, and….
Well, on the other hand, maybe Grey could teach me something about thank you notes. After all, at least he has “finished” his.