Today, I made little birthday packages for my niece and nephew in Illinois, who both share the same birthday week as my younger brother and I. Earlier in the project, I wrote to my nephews in Mexico. I am ashamed to say that though the children on either end are all between the ages of 3 and 9, this is the first year I have remembered them on their birthdays. Self-centered and preoccupied with the ups and downs of young adulthood, I have neglected until recently to nurture relationships with the youngest members of my extended family.
As a child, I often received birthday cards or letters from my aunts and from close friends of my parents. In the steady stream of adult mail that entered our house, the rare occasion of receiving something in the mail hand-addressed to me was tremendously exciting and also something of a spiritual experience. Children are largely ignored by the adult world, with the exception of adults at school or at home. Letters, cards and gifts sent by caring adults to children demonstrate love, but also validate the existence of the child.
So yesterday I painstakingly poured through the children’s literature section at the bookstore, rediscovering my own favorites, written by adult authors who have a special ability to enter a child’s world and to enrich it. I saw Thunder Cake by Patricia Polacco, Corduroy by Don Freeman, Goodnight Moon, and an assortment of wonderful books by Shel Silverstein, Maurice Sendak and Eric Carle. I purchased two that I thought would be right for a 6 year old and a 3 year old, and liberally adorned the wrapping paper with my lady bug and owl stickers. When it came time to sign my name on their little Happy Birthday postcards, I was stumped. The experience of being a caring but distant adult in a child’s life is so new to me, I didn’t know what relationship to assign myself. Am a Aunt Surya? Surya Bua? Surya Aunty?
My own Surya Aunty, a good friend of my mom’s, was my most regular adult pen pal. I remember her sending many cards to my mother, just to say hello, and cards and gifts to my siblings and me. I would right back eagerly, feeling special to share a connection with the only other person I knew with my name. Looking back, I realize what an avid letter-writer she must have been, to have made time in her busy life to communicate with children.
I hope to write a letter to her this summer to thank her for teaching me how to be somebody else’s Surya Aunty.
Today is Day 39 of the Postcard Project. In one sense, I am “behind” in the one postcard or letter per day by at least 7, perhaps 10. In another, I’m right on track in my personal goals for writing and connecting. So long as I don’t fall hopelessly behind, I’ll continue at this pace, thinking carefully, and giving each letter the time it deserves.