Let's face it all of you moms who'd rather be practicing your impossible golf swings and you Sweet Sixteens who'd rather be texting while watching True Blood: Writing thank-you notes, especially in bulk, is drudgery. It's something I consider as fun as routinely emptying the Miele dishwasher, a Zen exercise I force myself to do now that I'm finally separated and allowed free reign of my kitchen. He liked to cook. Let's just leave it at that.
Anyway, getting back to those thank you notes. Hand written on good paper, there is a Vanderbilt etiquette and a rich and noble history of sending these off to gift givers, first and foremost to rest them assured, you did indeed receive the curious sterling, Civil War cigarette box for your Bat Mitzvah. "I got it Grandpa, thanks soooo much, and I don't know what it is but mom has it on the kitchen counter with other cast-away oddities. Love, Lola."
The second reason, the one after letting them know it arrived? Well, according to proper formatting, one should describe the gift sent rather than alluding to it vaguely to quell any suspicions you don't know what they gave you. Then set about explaining why you love it and possibly cannot live without it. "Mom! Thanks!!!! An angora sweater vest with a big bunny on it for my 21st? Seriously? You're so cute. I'm in college now. Seriously."
My mother did not teach me to write thank you notes, as my mother doesn't believe in writing them, but is delighted to receive them. She had excellent, scratch that, exemplary cursive in her day, and showed it off with shopping lists and Hallmark cards. But she just didn't want to take the time to dash off the notes. If someone brought you a gift, you showed appreciation then and there and got it out of the way. Why do you have to go another step and mail them a letter, sit down and write it all down when you have four kids in carpools and lessons and Little League?
I learned some other way, perhaps from my surrogate aunts in Atlanta during my days at CNN, members of the Piedmont Driving Club - products of jovial and sometimes cunning Southern hospitality; and I learned from friends like Kristen Caspers from Newport Beach and Ellen Rothmann here is San Francisco, contemporaries of mine who arrive with hostess gifts (remember the pre-wrapped soap sets in the Sixties?) and who follow up any occasion in which they were entertained royally or not, with a lovely note. Their mothers wrote thank you notes and imparted the importance of this tradition. "Just do it!" they probably uttered, politely, with Beehive buns and manicured nails.
Just as I uttered the same words to my girls, exhausted and defeated, leading stubborn mules to filtered water. "Drink up from this honored cup of tradition," I instruct. "You only have 85 to go. JUST DO IT!!"
It's hard. It shouldn't be, but it is. So here are five helpful tips to make the process more palpable. Yes, they are the same tricks I employ when re-organizing the closets and paying monthly bills except I can't blast my downloaded iTunes when composing notes or I end up thanking Susanne for help with school tuition and Dad for the cool BoHo beaded collar from Anthropologie. That is unless I'm listening to something conducive like Michael Buble or Jack Jones.
Here goes. Are you writing this down?
1. Invest in pretty cards: If it's for kids have them made with their names for big events and designs they are attracted to for everyday drudgery; if for you, follow the same path. Our foremothers with their rubber stamps and fountain pens understood the engineering of the letter is everything, so accoutrements add to the pleasure. I think it's creative to send a photo from an event as a thank you postcard. But I'm easily entertained.
2. Produce a template for kids: They can't be expected to just know how to compose one of these things and you think they should know than you are a Race to Nowhere parent. Give them a prototype, format a note of your own exemplifying the letter style - basically a condensed essay with standards for correct spelling and grammar and stuff:
Dear Uncle Dave and Aunt Dorothy:
Thank you so much for the hand-knit tunic Aunt Dorothy took the time to make for me. The color is very pretty and I know I will it will get tons of use during the frigid summers here in San Francisco.
By the way, did Aunt Dorothy cut a hole for the head? I may need some kind of blue print for locating the top of the tunic.
I'm so glad you could make my party and help me celebrate this wonderful rite of passage. Again, thank you for your generous gift.
3. Better late than never: Other bloggers have addressed this- when is it too late according to Emily Post or the Knot? Most say six months after something is the limit, and a year is rude. I like a one month rule. We all know everyone is overwhelmed and overbooked - cutting slack to kids with busy schedules. Urge your kids to write a few a day; and you can carve out an hour to sit down with a cup of coffee and eke them out - even if that cup of coffee is on location at Pete's or better yet, some place with atmosphere.
4. The hand writing counts: Sorry, I'm a visual person from the world of communication. If you are going to bother to send a hand written note rather than emailing it or succumbing to a Facebook message, then make it as pretty as possible, which in my case, must be re-invented at every turn since I think I had a nervous breakdown somewhere along the line and forgot how to write in cursive. Try your best to take time with each one rather than racing through which ultimately sends the message, why bother?
5. The Stamp Counts: Force yourself to stand in line at the dreaded post office where workers with life tenure move as slow as molasses. Select some interesting seasonal stamps. My daughter insists it is not okay to use up my menorah stamps throughout the year, and this is why she is an enemy of the eco movement. Doesn't a menorah say something? Yes, it does; It says you were too lazy to buy new stamps or too eco in a bad way.
And there you have it from a social butterfly who does happen to be lazy and overwhelmed. In fact, I just realized something: I wrote this blog instead of carving out time to write my own ten birthday thank you's. I'm a quintessential procrastinator and that is why urge you: do as I say, not as I do.
I say don't lose the art of the written thank you note, as demanding as the social propriety and art form might be. Most importantly, try to go beyond the motions of executing and actually feel what you are writing; feel the gratitude. It is more lost than the notes themselves, most likely because we all have too much and receiving can be numbing in a world filled with hunger and kids without shoes.
"No gifts" is now an accepted feature of a politically correct invite. Just ask Larry David. And for a growing number of us, receiving nothing at all from a friend who came to celebrate us, or being gifted with a donation in our names, is the kindest gift of all.