Thursday, March 18, 2010

With Love, From Me, To You

As a little girl, I always wrote letters to my mother. Sometimes, it'd be an apology. Perhaps a sample of a verse that I had cobbled together and considered brilliant. A line or two about what had happened at school. At times, I would color a picture about a day's event. Afterwards, I'd decorate the envelope with my best handwriting, a dozen puffy Smurf stickers or scratch-n-sniff strawberries, then send it to her.

My mother's replies varied in length and content. I'd receive letters correcting me for naughty behavior and a hope for my betterment, or a sketch of myself done in my mother's girlish drawing style. She'd write me notes that I've kept all this time: a letter of encouragement when I was twelve and feeling unloved and unwelcomed in my triad of friends; one to declare my mother's emancipation from having to goad me into cleaning my room (I was thirteen); a heartfelt tome of compassion from her when my heart was ripped into shreds by a dashing yet cruel charmer. The letters were almost always on pretty paper --- except for ones that she wrote in an upset hand because my behavior was horrible. Even those, however, ended with kisses and hugs and a deep-rooted belief in my becoming a better person.

All these letters --- of correction, sympathy, love, encouragement --- were only sent from one side of the house to the other. My mother and I often wrote letters, even though we lived under the same roof.

Perhaps it might seem strange, but it seemed natural for us to do. In the midst of my deeply emotional, black-cloud teen years, I could express myself far better in letters than in conversation. Though we always talked, I felt like I had more time to ponder the words, ruminate and then share the thought. I was less likely that way to hastily launch into a high-strung crying jag that characterized those bleak years. And my mother, knowing her audience, would take the time to make me feel special by writing letters on floral paper.

Receiving a letter felt so important. Moms talk all the time. However, to receive an actual letter from my mother was a tremendous event for me. It meant that my mother took time from her job, her ministries and her housekeeping to sit down and think just about ME for a while. It meant that she had her mind full of me. Not my father, not my brother, not the assortment of curious characters that occupied the fringes of our lives. No, a letter was something I received greedily and far more happily than I would have confessed then. I admit it freely now, and my mother still writes me beautiful notes for special occasions.

All these memories came to me the other day when I helped my daughter organize her desk. She had a pink wire in-basket that reminded me of the one I had as a child. And I decided to write her a note that evening and to sneak it in her in-box.

I chose bright, retro-designed paper and wrote in my neatest handwriting. It felt odd to be the parent in the parent-child correspondence, but I wrote about how much I enjoyed spending time, just us girls, reading two chapters of a Nancy Drew mystery silently snuggled in her room, and how I looked forward to the next time.

And I've been dropping little notes in their now and then.

This evening, she surprised me with a letter. She's always written me little notes here and there, but this was far longer, far neater and far more thoughtful than her scribbled hearts and I LOVE YOUs (though those are also treasured).

As I read the letter, I felt us moving into the sweet, familiar cycle of letter-writing beneath the same roof. It made me so grateful for the mother I had, who always took time to pen some lines for me at the end of her day. And it had inspired me to do the same for my all little ones.

This little growing habit of ours today may be a very good outlet for sharing her feelings and thoughts in the future as well.

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