After we married and began having babies, I determined I would write the children letters every year on their birthdays telling them about their physical, mental and spiritual growth. It was one of those ideas that sounded great in a moment of quiet, but shook out somewhat different in reality.
I came across the letters recently. It’s been awhile since I’d looked at them. They’re hardly the graceful prose I hoped I had written.
“You turned 3. This year will be the one we remember as the Year of the Tantrum. Normal for a lot of kids, but you took them to a royal degree. You can be showing great affection and then something small sets you off. Socks. Shoes. Heaven forbid there’s a wrinkle in your bedspread.”
The letters are filled with love, but they also contain the candor only a mother could provide.
“This is your first year at preschool. Your teacher says you are very serious and quiet in class. Hard to imagine.”
If any of our children conveniently forget what challenges they were, the letters provide ample reminders.
“A few weeks back, your brother lost his second tooth on top. You were wrestling and the report was that you kicked him and he swallowed it. No witnesses.”
Should I forget my own shortcomings, there are reminders of those as well: “On occasion, after I have apologized to you for losing my temper, you will say, ‘I forgive you.’ Then you bow your head, close your eyes and say, ‘God, you forgive her, too.’”
On the upside, it is nice to have proof that I wasn’t completely derelict in my responsibilities:
“Right now your army camouflage pants and hat are hot stuff. They make for great leverage when I catch you lying. I just put them up for a day and then you toe the mark.”
“Your bike was run over when you left it behind the minivan. You got a new one in February. Bought it with your own money. You’d been looking at it quite awhile and it went on clearance. You could finally afford it. It was quite an event.”
Some of the best parts are the small vignettes prone to fade from memory over time: “The best addition you made to the home this past year is your whistling. You love to whistle when you’re happy. I’ve heard you wake up and start to whistle, or whistle as you simply pass through the kitchen or are outside digging a hole by your tree house.”
“On Sunday nights, you dress up, move the furniture, watch Lawrence Welk reruns on PBS and dance with your sister or your dad.”
The letters reaffirm that many of the seeds were in place the moment they were born. Our job was to nurture those seeds, protect the tender shoots, and point them toward the sun.
I’m passing the letters on to the kids so that they can enjoy them and perhaps have a heads up as to why their own tender shoots grow the way they do.