When I noticed that our teen-age son had put up a poster in his room that read, ``Is this day really necessary?'' I realized that he was probably discouraged about something. And since adolescents often find it difficult to express their feelings, I fell back on a time-honored conversational icebreaker in our home: I wrote him a note and put it on his pillow. ``Dad and I are here if you want to talk,'' the note said. ``And by the way, we love you.'' A few days later, our son ambled into the kitchen while I was preparing dinner. ``About that problem I've been hav- ing . . .,'' he began. We talked it over comfortably and came to some helpful conclusions. My son never referred to the note, and neither did I. But once again, it had proved a successful tool for communication.
Through the years I've often written notes to my offspring, not only to nudge them into sharing their problems, but simply to congratulate, encourage, or even forgive them. Unlike the spoken word, which can evaporate -- or worse, be misconstrued or shut out by prickly teen-agers -- the printed statement commands attention and respect. It's tangible proof that the recipient is valued and appreciated.
Notes can cover a variety of day-to-day dilemmas. After our high-schooler got a ``C'' in a chemistry exam, despite hours of study, I put a consoling message in his lunch sack: ``You're still A-plus with me!'' He didn't comment on it, but I noticed as the days passed that he was again diligently studying chemistry, without the discouragement that might have resulted. And when our daughter flew upstairs in tears after an argument at the dinner table, her father waited a reasonable length of time, then slipped a note under her door. ``Please take me out for ice cream,'' it read. ``I'm lonely.'' He heard her laugh, and a moment later she opened the door, poise restored.
These simple missives work wonders because they help express what we parents would like to tell our children, but find difficult because of our own reticence or our fear of being misunderstood or rejected. Putting our thoughts in writing creates a bit of distance, thus making it easier to get our point across.
Notes can also be effective when dealing with younger children, for we often overlook their need for recognition. By the time our children have come home from school, I've forgotten about the unexpectedly clean bedroom I discovered that morning, or the compliment a neighbor paid our resident newsboy when I met her at the supermarket. But if I remember to scribble a note about it -- ``Wow, what a great-looking room!'' or ``Mrs. Kaye really appreciates the good job you're doing'' -- the impact can lift a child's spirits for days.
A message of forgiveness also seems to come more easily if it's written rather than spoken. When one of the children was punished recently, I penned ``Everyone makes mistakes'' on a card and taped it to her door. The next morning she came downstairs and hugged me, a long satisfying hug. No words were spoken, and none were really needed.
If children grow up in a household where pencil-and-paper communication is as commonplace as talk, they often pick up the habit. Now that one of our sons is grown and living away from home, we all look forward to the succinct and humorous post cards he often sends. And our youngest is fond of leaving her father a note at night if he is not home in time to tuck her into bed.
The language of love takes many forms, and perhaps nothing is more satisfying than a heart-to-heart talk. But sometimes, no matter how hard we try, the right words just won't come. That's when a brief but special note can save the day -- and let family members know we care.