Before Matan’s bar mitzvah, we ordered thank you notes to go along with his bar mitzvah invitations. We explained to Matan that there would be rules surrounding his bar mitzvah gifts.
1. No gift would be used, enjoyed, or spent until a thank you note was written. Period.
2. And he would be writing three thank you notes a day.
There was no arguing or complaining. No bargaining or sneaking out of the commitment. And within a few weeks of his bar mitzvah, all of his gifts were his to enjoy, and all of the thank you notes had been written.
Now, some of you reading this think….um? So what? What’s the big deal? Obviously he wrote thank you notes and obviously they were sent out quickly.
Unfortunately, I have been surprised to find that things aren’t quite so obvious. I’ve actually been shocked by the reaction that Matan has received to his thank you note writing, and it propelled me to write this blog.
Most people who have received a thank you note from Matan have said something to the ring of, “Ah! You’re so American.”
Now, I don’t know if Americans across the country are all being taught to write thank you notes, but if they are, they are getting something right.
I just don’t understand the lack of thank you note writing that I see around me or the missed opportunity to teach such an important lesson.
The recipient of the thank you note doesn’t necessarily need the note. He knows that he sent a nice gift and that the kid probably enjoys it.
For whom, then, are the notes written?
They are written for Matan.
Matan is learning how to graciously acknowledge kindness and how to respond appropriately when someone is thoughtful, generous and gracious with him. He’s learning that he gets to enjoy the gifts he’s been given only after he says thank you for them. He’s learning that tasks can be accomplished methodically and slowly.
Three thank you notes a day really isn’t that much. They’ve taken him a total of 10 minutes a day - let’s go all out and say even 20. But those three add up and allow him to quickly accomplish the task in front of him.
Have his thank you notes been works of art? Are they beautifully, grammatically correct and flowing with superlatives? No.
The notes he’s written in English have been quite brief and have had some cross-outs and spelling mistakes. I’ve sent them exactly as they are and have not asked him to rewrite them or to make them look prettier. The notes he’s written in Hebrew…well…I didn’t actually read them over after he wrote them, so I’m hoping they were appropriate.
The message and the presentation were completely beside the point to me.
It was the process that mattered.
It was the process from which he learned the value of saying thank you and of acknowledging others.
We teach him all the time to say thank you to Hashem. Thank you for allowing me to wake up this morning. Thank you for the rainbow in the sky. Thank you for this delicious meal. Thank you thank you thank you.
Shouldn’t we be teaching him to thank his neighbor? his grandparents? his cousins? his friends?
And it has truly shocked me how shocked people here have been receiving one of his cards. Even many of the Americans have said, “Oh! You’re acting so American. Come on. We don’t do thank you notes here.”
Really? We don’t thank people here for being thoughtful enough to think of a lovely gift and to give it to our son for his bar mitzvah? We don’t thank people who struggle financially, and yet who were sweet enough to find money for our son’s gift?
It’s not about being formal or tight. It’s not about making sure that Aunt Mildred knows that you got the check.
It’s about teaching my kids how to say thank you and how to be gracious, one note at a time.