Several years ago when my brother left on his mission, my family decided that we would send a weekly e-mail to him (as well as the rest of our extended family) so that we could all keep up-to-date with each other. My letters started out as more of a “log” or report of our small family’s weekly schedule, rather than a letter. Consequently, they were not always entertaining to read, although they did fulfill the purpose of keeping the extended family up-to-date on our lives. As the months went by, I found that the duty of writing this weekly letter was always in the back of my mind and I started to view our family life a little differently than I had before. I began to really notice the little things, the small moments in our week that I knew I wanted to share with my family and even more importantly, be able to remember later.
As a result, my letters evolved from a “log” of our activities to a record of the things I didn’t want to forget. During the week, I jot down a few words to remind me of any incidents I want to include in the weekly letter. I find I often do this right after the incident happens because, let’s face it, moms aren’t known for having a great memory! (We have too many important things going on in our brains at once!) Then on Sunday evening, I sit down and spend 15 to 20 minutes writing out the incidents in more detail. To be honest, the letter doesn’t go out EVERY week, but I do try to be consistent.
As a homeschooling mother, I find my children provide me with an endless supply of material to write about. I don’t just get to see the common children’s milestones like their first steps, riding a bike on their own or losing their first tooth. I get to experience their whole life: when they learn to read, science experiments gone wrong, learning a new language and reading aloud a book that changes all of your lives. Writing these little things down in my family letter has ensured that not only will my extended family get to know my children better, but I won’t forget the little things that make each day so special.
Over the years, our family’s letter has covered many highs and lows: providing great snapshots of our lives. Like the time my two-year-old daughter spread strawberry yogurt all over her body, logically deducing “This looks like lotion and it smells like lotion, so it must be lotion.” Or the time my three-year-old daughter served us “tea” with water from the toilet because it was the only water source she could reach. Or when my eight-year-old wanted to figure out what would happen if you put regular dish soap into the dishwasher. (Not a good idea, and here is a picture to prove it!) Then there was the conversation when we discovered that for years, one of our girls thought that hot dogs really did come from little dogs. The family letters have documented my children developing such a passionate love for reading that the threat of “losing their reading privileges” is the worst punishment possible. Superior ratings at a piano competition, sewing projects completed under Grandma’s tutelage, entire afternoons playing pioneers, sibling relationships growing stronger—all of these memories have been preserved in the family letters.
Now for the best part, the part that keeps me motivated to write all year long: my own kids don’t get to read the letters on a weekly basis. They have to wait until Christmas! On the night of December 23rd, our children traditionally exchange gifts with each other. The last gift of the evening is given by me. Even though everyone knows what’s coming, it is still highly anticipated. Everyone opens his or her own copy of the year’s family letters at the same time. All of the other gifts are pushed aside so that everyone can savor these special memories. The kids love to see what was written about them and remember their own small accomplishments that otherwise would have been forgotten.
I know that once our kids leave home our family letters will never be the same. I don’t think my husband and I will have quite as hilarious times to report once the girls are grown! I will no longer get to enjoy the great blessing of watching my children learn and grow right under my nose. I know that these letters will become one of our greatest Christmas memories. Maybe in your life, Christmas is too busy a time to think about doing something like this, so do it for Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day or Father’s Day. Really though, think about doing it. You’ll never look at an overflowing dishwasher or strawberry yogurt the same way again.
Melissa Orton is the mother of three beautiful girls and has been homeschooling for eight years. She is currently serving as the Vice President of LDSEHE and will be speaking at the 2010 LDSEHE Home Education Conference at Southern Virginia University on May 27-28. For more information on Melissa, please visitwww.ldsehe.org.