Here is a tip for parents. When you pack a lunch for your son or daughter, write a little note on the napkin, to remind your children of how much they mean to you. It is a simple, ephemeral, yet effective form of communication that can create lasting memories.
Nancy in Honolulu raised five daughters, and while the girls were growing up, she worked for a foundation that required travel, sometimes to the mainland, and at other times, to international destinations. Days before each trip, she stayed up late at night, writing and sometimes illustrating notes for each daughter, one for each day that she would be away, to go in their lunch boxes. Whether at home or traveling, she never missed a day.
She created many different types of notes. Some were real letters – not notes. Some were more elaborate than others, with little windows or things to open. Each note conveyed a message, but more importantly, it conveyed love, and that she took the time and effort to do something special for each of them each day.
As busy, working parents, our days are long. Beyond doubt, whatever I wrote on my children’s napkins was repetitive and less than inspiring. The notes did not include clever drawings or artwork. Yet that small effort yielded warm feelings that my adult daughters remember today.
Not everyone writes on a napkin. Ann, in San Francisco, wrote messages for her children on paper, and found different places to hide the notes in their lunch boxes – underneath the sandwich, tucked beside the fruit, lying at the bottom of the box. Every day she created a new treasure hunt.
The more I think about it, the more I am taken with the idea of a message written on paper. Who, after all, wants to wipe their mouth with an inky napkin?
In Just Write: The Art of Personal Correspondence, by Molly O’Shaughnessy, the author notes that the lunchbox letter expresses to a child, “no matter what happens out there, I’m here and I care.”
Mollie, in Brooklyn, was a recipient of lunch box notes when she was growing up. She writes, “The handwriting was very neatly aligned on the square napkins. Sometimes it (the note) would extend to the opposite side and would always end with “xoxo Mom.” I don’t remember what (she) wrote- most likely, best wishes for my day. I wish I had some of those napkins now to reflect on what our correspondence was like back then, to give me a framework for what my conversations might be with my own kids one day. Mostly, I remember feeling loved and that (she was) part of my mid-day even when I was at school. They were just a normal, everyday occurrence.”
Lunch box letters are not limited to a parent and child. In the charming 2013 film The Lunchbox, a young woman in Mumbai prepares special lunches to win back the heart of her inattentive husband. The lunches go astray and are delivered to the wrong person, sparking a life-changing correspondence. Rotten Tomatoes refers to the film as “warm, affectionate, and sweet but not cloying…a clever crowd-pleaser from first-time director Ritesh Batra.”
Lunch box notes are such a good idea that there are businesses out there, ready to provide pre-prepared stickers and messages. Lunch box notes appear on Pinterest in a category of their own. Lunch box notes are downloadable and available to all, sometimes for free.
But purchasing or downloading a lunchbox note surely defeats the purpose, which is to make a personal connection. Lunchbox notes need not be eloquent, elaborate or profound. The very act of writing a personal message in your own printing or handwriting, no matter who the intended recipient might be, is sufficient to say, “I care.”
Just Write: The Art of Personal Correspondence, by Molly O’Shaughnessy (Gibbs Smith, 2008).