Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Lost Art of Saying Thank You

Child #1 had her birthday in February; child #2 in April. Last night, the subject of thank you note writing came up and Jim asked both of them if they had written thank you’s for the birthday presents they received. The blank stares that were returned in response gave us our answer.

That would be NO.

So after several minutes of admonishments, we were still no closer to mailing out thank you notes (“I said thank you to all of my friends when they were here” doesn’t cut it but they think it does) but I was closer to a topic for today’s post: The Lost Art of Saying “Thank You.”

Maybe it should be “The Lost Art of Writing the Thank You.” That might be more apt.

Nothing delights me more than getting thank you notes in the mail. It is always nice to get an acknowledgment of your thoughtfulness, isn’t it? I tried to explain this to the kids but I think that the fact that most people don’t think that writing a note is important anymore speaks to the casual nature of our society. We let our children’s friends call us by our first names; jeans are appropriate attire just about everywhere; and people are usually plugged in and shun human contact because they are listening to their IPod, checking their BlackBerry, or chatting on their cell phones in public.

I mentioned my consternation to a friend who said that her children feel the same way about thank you notes. She, on the other hand, orders engraved stationery from a very upscale store in Manhattan so that she has enough notes on hand at any given time. Me? I use my Nancy Drew note cards exclusively. Who doesn’t want a note card with a photo of the cover of “The Secret of the Old Clock” in their possession? It is the rare person, I suspect.

When I was diagnosed with cancer four years ago and had to undergo some pretty grueling chemotherapy, friends rallied around and formed a cooking squad. Everyone had a night to cook, and three times a week, we were the recipients of some fabulous meals. I was embarrassed at first, but then realized that this is something that people wanted to do. They wanted to help. So I put my embarrassment aside and accepted the meals as graciously as I could—when I wasn’t peering under a foil lid to see what we were having for dinner in the presence of the cook. As my surgery date approached, I made it a goal to sit down and write thank you’s to everyone who had shown me kindness over the previous three months, and not just those who had cooked. It was important to me to let them know that their generosity of spirit and thoughtfulness meant more to me than they would ever know. A thank you note was just a small token of my appreciation.

Writing all of those notes made me feel better. They reminded me that I was not alone on the journey…everyone who had said a prayer or treated me like the same old Maggie when I was bald and weak or brought me a meal was special to me.

People would say, “Oh, you didn’t have to write me a thank you; you have cancer.” To which I would reply, “I might have cancer, but I still have manners.”

There’s no explaining this to a teen and pre-teen when you’re exhorting them to take the time to write their friends and extended family a note for birthday gifts bestowed. For the kids, a birthday present are a birthright, and of course “I said ‘thank you’ when they were here!” is their argument. But it is important that we don’t let these customs go by the wayside. Your friends and family are important, and when they give you a gift or show you a kindness—whatever it is—they deserve recognition and thanks.

Maggie Barbieri


  1. Yes, it is a bit maddening. I have so many I send birthday cards with a check in and I never hear anything--unless I happen to forget, that is.

    The people I get thank you notes from are all from another generation. I'd be happy, though, with a quick phone call or email.

    I did get a note once from a granddaughter who didn't think my shower gift for her baby was thoughtful enough. One of her aunties (my daughter) had gone to a lot of trouble to make a cute present out of lots of diapers. I've never done anything like that. I bought a cute outfit that I thought the baby would look adorable in. But that was my 11th great-grandchild--frankly I wasn't nearly as excited about the arrival as she was.

    Yes, I did write her a note back--and I went to see her and baby right after the baby was born. I chalked her note up to hormones going awry. (In the note I told her she was lucky I even remembered to get anything.)

    Oh well, love her lots anyway.

    a.k.a. F. M. Meredith

  2. Couldn't agree more. My 8-year-old is torn at the end of birthday parties and the holidays. "It's great to have all these toys, but MAN this is gonna be a lot of notes..." I remind her it's a nice problem to have.