“Victory or death.” This phrase was penned in a letter by Texas Forces Commander William Barret Travis during the siege of the Alamo by Mexican forces. It is through this historic letter that we get a sense of what took place behind the walls of the Alamo. It tells of the fortitude with which the Texans fought and why. The diary of Anne Frank is another example of a great historical document. By reading Frank’s journal we see what life was like for her family hiding from Jewish persecution during World War II. Both are invaluable historical documents written during times of crisis.
For centuries, we have preserved our history through written records. And we must ensure events continue to be documented for future generations. Our current challenge is getting our children through the crisis of the current pandemic.
I think we can take some lessons from the military here. The pandemic is much like a military deployment. It was forced upon us and isolated us from family and friends. When I was deployed in 2004, we called home from AT&T tents set up for soldiers. Nowadays, video chat is definitely the way to go. It is more interactive, more personal. But these conversations fade over time. I think we should do as generations have done before us — document our current crisis through journals and letters.
I have two prized possessions from my deployment to Iraq. The first is an envelope of printed email correspondence between me and my mother-in-law that year. The second is a letter I wrote but never gave my husband (who served with me). The letter was a “just in case” letter I penned before a risky mission. Both capture deployment events and I how I felt about them in the moment.
The benefits of children writing during the pandemic are endless. Letters and journals detail our children’s lives during this time in a way that other mediums cannot. Their experiences with friends, school and church are so different from what they have known their whole lives. Documenting it is crucial. Keeping a journal can also be therapeutic for children. It allows them to freely express and convey their emotions.
A child can record their feelings in a journal without fear of judgment. Journaling can also give children a sense of control. They decide what to write and how to write it.
The pandemic can be worrisome for children. They need to talk about what is going on to process it. Who better to vent to than grandparents? A letter to grandma is always a good release for my children. Since the spring when the pandemic broke out, my children have written their grandma more than ever. Each time, she faithfully writes them a personal letter in return. It has been such a blessing for us. I save her letters as keepsakes of this peculiar season.
Sometimes children’s feelings are too personal for a letter. In this case, a journal is the perfect solution. A journal allows a child to write about events and privately reflect upon them. I started my children out early (around age five) getting them journals here and there. They can draw, write, scribble whatever they want. No restrictions. Over time, journals have evolved into a personal confidant for them. I know they will treasure them as adults.
In the future, I think digital media will be utilized as a historical framework for communications. However, social media posts and texts are but short ideas and bits of information, lacking the full thought put into a personal letter or journal entry. Also, we cannot discount the possibility of lost or deleted data (Do you know where your My Space content is?).
Can’t get your child interested in writing letters or journaling? Some children record thoughts in an unconventional manner. My eight-year-old daughter loves to write lists. I find them everywhere.
I have archived packing lists, wish lists, friends lists, feelings lists, among others. Her lists capture her current thoughts and reference events. In some ways, it is similar to a journal. Regardless, it is a fun record to look back on.
What about the letters children send to others though? Like Santa. This year, I was able to scan in my children’s letters to Santa and send them via email. That allowed me to save the actual hard copy of their letters for keepsakes, which I absolutely love. A child’s letter to Santa depicts a child’s mindset, motivations and desires that year. Having a copy of their lists is priceless. I think I will start doing this with the letters they mail to grandma as well.
This pandemic has been hard on everyone, especially children. Let us guide them through this crisis with care. Children can find comfort and express themselves through the written word. Writing letters and journaling gives them an outlet, while creating a precious artifact saturated with story and emotion. So, next time you are in the dollar store, grab a few blank journals and surprise your kids with them. Give them a special writing pen just for them. Who knows, you may be planting the seed for a future writer to emerge in your family.
Lastly, write for yourself. Let them see you write. Journal. Write them letters on their birthday. Store them away for the future. Save a slice of their childhood for them, a moment in time to be savored. Until next week, go write, encourage your children to write, and be well. The end is in sight.
Contact Cheyenne Belew at firstname.lastname@example.org.
RAISING YOUR CHILDREN