Become a Grandchild's Pen Pal

Letter writing is a lost art. Grandparents should revive it.

By Stu Feinstein

There is something truly special about receiving a letter from someone you love, particularly a grandchild. There's an anticipation and an excitement about what might be shared as new windows of understanding are opened.

We should never underestimate the honesty and warmth of the written word. A letter is a very personal gift, and in our roller-coaster world, it's a beautiful means of communication — one with great power. Depending on the age of your grandchild, of course, the topics and the depth of exploration may vary, but the process is the same.

A Joyful Journey

I am in the second year of such a personal adventure with my 9-year-old grandson, Brandon, and it has been a joyful journey. In an age of BlackBerrys and tweets, we have taken a different path to becoming closer. Our letters are just between us, and that's what makes them so special.

Our letter writing is a game with no boundaries or rules to keep us from asking questions we may have never explored. There is no predetermined agenda — we can discuss anything that's meaningful to us. We create our own road map and always take the scenic route. And it's fun!

Once in a while, when Brandon reveals a fear or doubt about some aspect of life, my responsibility as a grandfather kicks in and I seize the chance to offer some insights. Recently, he asked me what was the best lesson I have learned about life. I told him there was no quick or easy answer — I could write a book about the lessons I've learned. I decided to list for him 10 very important lessons from my life, and invited him to tell me what he thought about them and to list some of the lessons that  have been important to him. I can't wait for his response, because I love to see his perception of life. When he writes about love or being a good son or brother, it is a clear glimpse into what makes him tick, a snapshot of his soul.

A few months ago I enclosed one of my favorite books, Ferdinand The Bull, with a letter. This is a book that I treasure and that I used to share with my third-graders when I was a teacher. It's a very simple story, but the lessons to be learned are huge. Brandon's response was quite perceptive and led to a great phone conversation about Ferdinand's take on life.

What Makes Them Tick

You will never know what is going on inside a child's mind until you take the time to unlock the doors. Once you do, almost anything can be shared. Our letters are mostly about everyday things or simple questions he or I have about each other or stuff happening in the world. Every letter doesn't need to address weighty issues, and there's no crusade to imprint specific beliefs. It's innocent and, for lack of a better description, childlike. The keys are honesty and showing genuine concern for each other.

At the start, I told Brandon that I was going to write him a letter and that I hoped he would answer me. It was that simple. Once we began, the letters became a natural extension of our relationship. It's not about quantity, nor should writing the letters ever feel obligatory. Sometimes a few weeks will go by without one, and then one day an envelope appears and all is right in the world.

I urge you to begin writing letters to your own grandchildren. It doesn't matter if you live on the same block or in the same house. It's just an old-fashioned way of achieving mutual understanding.

A letter cannot replace a hug, a kiss, or the supreme tenderness of looking into the eyes of your grandchild, but it does nurture the spirit. Each letter is a small treasure to be tucked away, a magical reflection of a moment in time.

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