Letters to My Kids 101: Part 3

Here, in further detail than I gave in my top-10 list yesterday, are the first three tips on how to write letters to your kids:

1. Decide To Do It. If you really mean to do it, chances are you will. It’s an all-or-nothing proposition as far as I’m concerned. So you might treat the idea the same as you would getting married or quitting cigarettes. In my opinion, anyone half-hearted should sit this dance out. Here’s a little trick I used long ago when wondering whether I should marry my then girlfriend, Elvira. I asked myself every day, “Should I marry her?” I asked myself the same question for at least 25, 30 days in a row, and every day got the same answer. Day after day my answer came back as a “yes.” That self-survey helped me decide. We’re now married 33 years.

2. Plan It Out. Before I jotted down a single word, I daydreamed for weeks about what I might write. I went onto our terrace and stared at the sky until my memory opened its gates, letting images and fragments of dialogue pour through. Memory is a muscle, and I gave mine a workout. Then I took shorthand – “gleaned my teeming brain,” as John Keats wrote. “Caroline singing for Nanna,” one note said. “Michael going out late at night,” said another. All my recollections struck me as fair game: births, deaths and anything in between. My notes ran longer than expected or needed, pretty much the kitchen sink. But ultimately they served as cues and clues to the stories that came. So please, muse away. Disclaimer: You may prefer simply to cut loose in your journals, going with whatever comes to mind, without planning at all. Hey, it’s still a free country.

3. Vote For Reality. I’m big on facts. Often I like facts better than I do opinions. Facts are presumably verifiable and certainly more believable. My son Michael and I sometimes butt heads. That’s a fact. My daughter Caroline sometimes resists my advice. That’s a fact, too. All of us occasionally feel tempted to rewrite history, to paint the past only with bright, sunny colors. But kids have an inherently keen sense of truth. Whatever you say, they will find you out. So you might as well keep it real.

P.S. – Part 4 will appear tomorrow.

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