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The Thank-You Note From My Kid? I Wrote It

As my oldest son gains confidence writing his name, it's thrilling to witness the amazing process of attaining literacy skills. I'm trying to ease off the pressure, let him take his time and move at his own pace.

But the truth is, I cannot wait for the day when he can eke out a few coherent sentences in barely legible chicken scratch. Why? Because his learning to read and write on his own will relieve me of one of the most awkward, annoying, and embarrassing parenting responsibilities: writing thank-you notes in the voices of my kids.

Dear Tommy: Thanks for the trains! What a perfect present for me! You know what us big boys like. Thanks for coming to my party! Your pal, Mikey

Wait, who wrote that? Um, yeah, that would be me.

I've broken countless "I'll never do that" parenting pledges, but for a while I stuck to signing letters from the entire family to make the exercise feel a little less weird. Then at a certain point it seemed selfish and bizarre for thirtysomething adults to express gratitude for toy airplanes, trains and picture books.

Once that line is crossed, there's no going back. When I put a pen to Target's latest attempt at mass-producing letterpress-style stationery, that little voice in my head speaks. So in one of those twisted and illogical unwritten rules of parenting and family life, it would be wrong for me to switch back from writing thank-yous in the first person. Because let's face it, that LEGO set wasn't given to me, or to my husband. It's for our kid. It's a brand of fraud every parent has to live with, a minor pitfall of eventually teaching them good manners, even if they have nothing to do with the ritual yet. Someday I'll force them to take charge of this duty themselves. (Most likely with non-stop wheedling and imploring that falls just short of bribery.)

This old-school habit happens to be a page taken from my mom's book of parenting rules. Growing up in loosey goosey Southern California during the post-hippie/1970s hangover era, without many firm traditions and strict rules, we had zero idea what Cotillion was. Yet, in our household, we sure wrote our thank-you notes. To this day, a card might even show up in my mailbox a couple days after I so as much buy my mom a cup of coffee.

Sometimes I get lazy and shoot a thank-you email to a friend for that lovely bag of salt they brought back from France. But with my own kids, forget it. The etiquette doesn't count unless it's on paper, with a U.S. Postal Service stamp affixed to the envelope, and routed through snail mail system. (Or sometimes delivered to a cubby. Cubby mail can be exciting, right?) Not that they care or notice yet.

The first time I ever got a thank-you note signed by someone who clearly did not write the note—in fact, she hadn't even been born yet—I was horrified. I couldn't believe what I was reading. Here was my friend, a poised and accomplished woman, about to deliver her first baby, writing messages like, "I hope my mommy doesn't cuddle me too tight in the yummy soft blankie you gave me! Can't wait to meet you!" It was like Look Who's Talking, the in utero version. In other words, even more nauseating than the original concept.

"I blame the hormones," another friend hoped as we talked about what the heck might be going on here.

Fast-forward a few years. In the beginning I could rationalize the notes primarily coming from us, the parents, and not the baby, because our newborn wasn't putting that onesie on himself, or mopping up his own spitup with those handmade burp cloths. Baby gifts, after all, are equally intended for parent and child.

I'm glad that new book brings my son joy, but my name hasn't been on the thank-you card for a couple years. Time to suck it up, think of a few plausibly cutesy and age-appropriate phrases, and get the task done.

And after he's mastered his name, we'll focus on the endless handwriting exercises, particularly centered on learning the letters T, H, A, N, K, Y, O and U.

MORE: Fostering an Attitude of Gratitude

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