Cara’s post yesterday about why she hates writing thank you cards angered quite a few of you. Tamara shot back that it’s a “mitzvah” to write the notes and another commenter said it was “hakarat hatov,” recognizing the good that another has done you. Where do you stand?
I am the mother of a 6 week old, as well as two boys, 6 and 7. I am a very busy freelance writer for various publications and websites. I am writing a novel. I am intellectually neat, but physically messy. I keep lists of all the things I have to do, and then lose the lists. If I had a motto, it would be “Small but mighty. Seldom tidy.” I’m not the person who you would think would be a poster child for thank you notes.
But I love to write thank you notes. I am not kidding. I really do. I got engaged in June, married last October and just had a baby, so I’ve had no shortage of opportunities lately. Shortly after getting engaged, I told my husband that I would be happy to be the person completely and totally in charge of writing all marital thank you notes. He didn’t fight me too hard on that one.
I realize that confessing to liking writing thank you notes is tantamount to admitting to a predilection for sniffing glue. You thought no one liked to write thank you notes. As Cara notes, correctly, thank yous are time consuming. They also come dragging chains of guilt behind them. On any occasion when you may get numerous gifts, the number you have to write piles up. If you haven’t done them, you might as well be wearing a scarlet T (maybe “NT,” for “no thanks”?).
But even before the era of e-mail, I’ve had an affection for the written word. I have always loved getting mail and love sending it. Everything about the process has been fun to me since I was a little girl who used to stare in the windows of stationery stores longingly. I love the tactile sensation of thick card stock, and don’t get me started on my thrill at using just the right UniBall Vision Elite blue pen (because I was once told by my typing teacher in sixth grade, “Black ink is only appropriate for handwritten notes for condolences.” Really.). I am a word geek and a paper geek who still gets excited when she checks the mail in the hope that there will be a real letter in there for me. It rarely happens. (Hint!)
Thank yous are an act of grace in a graceless world. There are those who will see my love for thank you notes as inherently bitchy – a thinly-veiled act of one-upmanship with a stamp. “You ALREADY are writing your thank yous?” my sister spat out, looking at my hall table’s pile of small cards. “Are you trying to make me look bad?”
No, I’m not. I want people who took the time to get me, or my as-yet-illiterate baby, a gift to know that it was extremely kind of them to go to an effort on my behalf. And even if you open the gift and it’s the fourth time you got the same thing, and you’re going to have to schlep back to the baby store AGAIN and return it, that sentiment still holds, and those people should be appreciated for it.
Of course, it’s better if you do a good job at the thank you – making it personal rather than generic. I remember getting a thank you note from my son’s 3-year-old “friend” for a gift from his birthday party. I received it a full three months after the party – and when I opened the envelope, it wasn’t handwritten, but was a photo card of the brat – make that, “lovely child.” The photo card had the following words printed on it: “Thank you all for my toys, books, clothes, bike, tool chest, Xbox and hat! Love, Michael.” I found this quite gross and put it on the same plane as not sending a thank you at all, because there was no sign that the kid or parent involved had any appreciation for their individual guests and their gifts. And that is the point of such a note. Don’t phone it in, Michael. That kid is just 30 years away from having his secretary send his wife flowers for her birthday.
A good, few-sentence thank you takes under five minutes to write. Between waiting for my coffee, my kids to come down from upstairs, the baby to wake up from a nap to eat, etc. etc., you can find a few of those minutes in a day to make someone else feel appreciated – the way they tried to make you feel with their gift.
Lately, I’ve been getting a lot of baby gifts. One came from a friend of mine, a lovely little dress (my daughter now has much nicer clothes than I do, bringing new meaning to “all dressed up and nowhere to go.”). My friend being a mother herself, she wrote something in the card along the lines of “This is your first present. The second = no thank you note necessary!”
I took out the stationery anyway.