Thursday, January 22, 2009

Writing Letters

Sarah is writing letters.

For weeks she has been reading voraciously - the kind of "do we have to eat now?" reading. She reads in bed with her knees drawn up, her nose literally stuck down in the book. Apparently she got the idea of a pen pal from one of her books.

One evening (right at bedtime, of course) she told me she wanted a pen pal - and now. She had a vision - no cousins or existing friends. She wanted to find a new friend and learn about her completely from the letters. After some head scratching, I mentioned an 8-year old daughter of a high school friend of mine. Sarah decided S. was a good fit - only after learning she also has braces and reviewing her photos on Facebook. I put Sarah in bed and smiled to myself as I shut off her light. I understood her desire as I had had a childhood pen pal or two.

Apparently Sarah's light didn't stay off because the next day at breakfast Sarah bolted into the kitchen flashing a good-sized letter. I couldn't get mad - she bounced keen with purpose. She was on a Mission. We tucked the letter in an envelope and west it traveled, to Missouri. A return letter is rumored to be  coming this way and let's hope it comes soon - she asks every day.

The second letter happened after she and I read a book one evening about a girl in the 1800s. The girl in the book had  demands foreign to Sarah. "Abbie" couldn't attend the same school as her brothers and was expected to marry and not pursue her own career. This information was not as interesting to Sarah as the fact that girls had to wear dresses all the time. She decided to write Great-Grandmother right then and there so she could learn what Great-Grandmother wore when she was a little girl on the farm. "Did you ever get to wear pants?" a concerned Sarah began. Sarah wrote a similar (but shorter) letter to Great-Granddad "so he wouldn't feel left out." On both letters she drew pictures of them, holding onto their walkers, and her at their side. We don't get to see my grandparents every year so I'm sure my grandparents will treasure the notes.

The inauguration spawned the third letter of the week. This girl inherited her father's obsession to know everything about politics. She was absolutely thrilled to have seen the inaugural ceremonies at school and wanted me to play her made-up presidential trivia game (no, I really don't care that Obama used to own pet crocodiles...). Like I'm sure many girls right now Sarah has fallen in love with the First Family. After the evening news (with more about the First Family), she sat down to write Sasha. "How is your new bedroom?" she began. She identifies with the girls in the same way I'm sure many Americans identify with Barack. Sarah wasn't swayed in the least when I said casually, "you know, Sasha might not be able to write you back." That was okay, she said. It was her own way of well-wishing and welcoming her to the White House. Of being part of that very grand and historical moment.

What I find interesting about Sarah's letter writing is her intention. She has a ritual - at the desk, with certain pens, her favorite paper. It is evening. She is reflective. Her words are true - she asks what she really wants to know. Her words show that she is thinking about the other person reading and answering, and how they feel doing so. The process is not something she has to do (like how I feel when I write thank you's and perhaps the occasional blog entry!). Sarah is relishing the moment as she considers her words and attempts to spell them with her 2nd grade vocabulary. She is hopeful about the person and not just the letter. With the pictures she draws in the margins, she is picturing the person, seeing them.

What she tells me is that it is (still) important that we write people. That our words matter. That taking time to write is not "taking" time, that letters are a treat on both ends of the mail route. That letters can connect all ages and connect us to family and new friends.

What I like most is that she is loving the person as much as the activity. I wonder what it would be like if we all wrote something each day, to someone.


amyand said...

Hope the reply from S arrives today:) What a wonderful post! Sarah may have political interests like her Daddy, but this writing thing. . . reminds me of a certain friend.

amywb said...

I love this. Makes me want to write a letter - by hand! Go Sarah.

Stacy said...

I had a few penpals growing up - loved it! I think I still have the old letters stashed away somewhere in my chilhood box of stuff. Our school somehow set up the system of finding a penpal.

Robin/Indy said...

A wonderful, charming story... it warms my heart when I learn of children that want to read and write thoughts. Something that I didn't do enough of as a child and wish that my grandchildren, all children, could discover such rewarding adventures.
Always, Robin

Wendy said...

I started writing letters very close to when I was your daughter's age and have been doing it ever since. (I even have a letter writing web site!)

If you haven't seen the Valentine issue of Family Fun magazine you should check it out. There is a neat article in there about how to make a cool letter writing kit with your kids. It would be a great project for you and Sarah to do together!