I believe in writing thank-you notes.
After we were married, my husband and I set out to write thank you’s for our wedding gifts, a significant task as we’d had nine showers and sent more than 300 invitations. Writing the notes took a long time, some seemed perfunctory (what do you say, “Of all the crock pots we received, yours was our favorite”?), and yes, we thanked Aunt DeEtte for green camp chairs when it turns out she actually sent crystal goblets.
But something more than completing the notes happened when I sat down to write. Scanning our modest student apartment, I realized everything in it—from the desk where I sat to the lamp lighting my work—had been a gift. I felt grateful to my parents’ cousins and my husband’s neighbors, and not just for items dutifully purchased from our Target registry. I appreciated the support rallied around my marriage and realized each gift represented a small investment in its success.
My father-in-law teased that about the time we finished wedding thank-you’s we’d be moving on to baby gifts. Although two-and-a-half years passed before baby Scotty came along, Grandpa’s prediction felt true. I confess, in those hazy home-from-the-hospital days between lactation consultations and poopy diaper tallies it seemed an added strain to record who brought which Onesie.
But when the fog cleared enough that I could write some thank-you notes, I was glad I remembered. It seemed important to tell Grandma Jean her blue romper matched Scotty’s eyes, to tell the neighbors their dinner of roast beef and potatoes made me feel as though I were eating love. And for the first time in weeks, I could process what had happened. I’d had a baby. There was so much I wanted to teach him, to be for him. The gifts I acknowledged reminded me that the responsibility of meeting his needs was not mine alone, nor was the joy at his coming.
Thank-you notes also teach me when I receive them. It’s no good to be a thank-you note accountant, keeping mental ledgers of which kindnesses have been acknowledged, but I do anticipate one note each year. In early January, when snowflakes settle on the holiday runaround, I receive a note from my dad, thanking my family for whatever $25 Christmas present we gave him and the time we spent together. A paper shredder actually becomes a thoughtful gift when I picture my dad cross-cutting away at those noxious credit-card offers. I hope when he does this he’ll think of me and remember I love him. Because my dad says he is thankful, my giving feels more generous.
These thank-you note convictions seem murkier when I try to persuade Scotty, now four, to color notes for his recent birthday gifts. He refuses anything but a red crayon and complains, “Coloring is not one of my talents.” But we will keep trying, because I want him to experience the realizations of gratitude and generosity thank-you notes have given me.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.