Seeing as I made a bar mitzvah a couple of months ago, some of you have probably been wondering when I’m going to get around to writing about thank-you cards.
“When are you going to write about thank-you cards?” you kept bothering me. Every day.
We bother our son, too. We bought him a whole box of thank-you cards, on top of making his bar mitzvah. We also bought a bunch of clear address labels to go on them. And he hasn’t even said thank you.
“Dear Mommy and Totty,
Thank you for the thank-you cards. I think about you every time I use them.
Nothing says “thank you” like a personalized, messy, handwritten note on a card with the name of the person thanking you in a really nice fancy font on the front.
So here’s the question: What is a reasonable amount of time for a kid to send a thank-you card? I don’t really pay attention to how long it takes to get them from other people. I read them once and throw them out. I do remember occasionally thinking, “When did we go to this thing? I can’t believe this kid isn’t married by now.”
Maybe he is. Maybe his wife made him write the cards.
It’s a chore to write them. It happens to be that it’s hard to be excited about something after the fact.
The party is over and I have the present. Why am I still thinking about this? Everybody knows that I spent ten seconds on this because I have 85 cards to write. What’s the point?
On the other hand, if someone sent you a present, the least you can do is write a thank-you card. If someone sent you a $50 present and each card costs a dollar, you should probably send him 50 thank-you cards. That’ll show him.
Anyway, you’d think that if this is a kid who can memorize an entire parashah by heart (and then be told that he’d better not read it by heart because it’s Torah She’bichsav), he can write a few thank-you notes.
My daughter, who is a couple of years older, didn’t have to learn a parashah, obviously, so we couldn’t use that logic. But with her, we told her that if she doesn’t write thank-you cards, she doesn’t get to keep the presents. We’ll write the thank-you notes and keep everything. So she asked if she could just have us write the ones she doesn’t want.
Well, we don’t want those either. What am I going to do with a makeup case?
Everyone tries to get away with something. My son wanted to know, if 14 people got together on a gift, can he send one thank-you card to all 14 people? It seems fair. But I told him he probably shouldn’t.
“No? So why does a couple get to share?”
There are other reasons to send thank-you cards, anyway. For example, if someone doesn’t come to your simcha but mails the present, you need to send a card so they know you got it. Even the people who bring actual gifts to the party — they bring it in and set it on a pile. They don’t know if the person is getting it. Someone else could be walking in and going, “Ooh, they have a grab bag!”
So you need to write something. And you can’t just write a note like,
I got your gift. It wasn’t stolen or anything.
And this is why I needed to help our son, start to finish. Our son is not a writer. He wanted to write:
Thank you for the _________.”
And that’s it. I’m like, “No, you have to come up with at least a second sentence for each. Something specific to the gift.”
He also felt awkward writing “Love.”
So I wrote him some templates, because I didn’t want him writing things like, “Thank you for the ____. I exchanged it for store credit.”
So I have to write him a script that, as it turns out, doesn’t even help with two people’s cards. No template — for bar mitzvah or wedding — works for all presents:
“Thank you for the lovely blender. I think of you every time I use it.”
That template also doesn’t work for knives, pincushions, garbage cans, and sefarim on lashon ha’ra.
And after he writes them, I have to sit down with him and edit each one. It takes having your kid write thank-you cards to realize how embarrassing his handwriting is. They don’t teach handwriting in school anymore. When I was in school, we learned handwriting by writing the same thing several times until it was legible. Kids these days learn it by writing hard-to-read thank-you cards.
We had a lot of these writing assignments as punishments. We had to write “I will not throw things in class” a thousand times until our hand fell off, and then we would throw that in class. With our other hand. And that was a punishment. Is writing thank-you cards a punishment for getting a gift?
My son didn’t know how to address the envelope either. I don’t know that the schools teach about snail mail anymore. I told him, “Just write the name of the person on the envelope, so we know who it’s for, and we’ll look up the address.” So he put their names in the top left corner, where he figured they’d be out of the way. Now what are we supposed to do? It looks like they’re the ones who sent it.
“So cover it with an address label,” you say.
Yeah, our address labels are clear.
I didn’t fight him about most of these things. It’s a big enough victory that I got him to stop writing “Love, Schmutter.”
Plus there were other mistakes that I caught. For example, he was leaving out the comma after “love,” so it sounded like a command. (“Love Schmutter.”) He also accidentally thanked some people for coming who didn’t come. And he wrote about half of the notes on the wrong side of the card.
You could say it’s just my kids who write like this, but I’m a high school teacher. I know how it is. I read the essays. When did they stop teaching kids to put spaces between their words? And we’re making him do this on unlined paper? He’s flying solo here! Every line is crooked!
“Your line is going down!”
And then the rest of his line goes up. His paragraphs look like they need a support beam in the middle.
And he’s mixing and matching the templates incorrectly:
“Thank you for the lovely esrog box. It looks great on my wall.”
“Thank you for the lovely savings bond. It was exactly what I wanted.”
“Thank you for the lovely challah knife. I’m looking forward to using it on Pesach.”
“Thank you for the lovely check. I can tell you spent a lot of time picking it out.”
Especially since he’s calling the check lovely. But checks are the one thing I can write a separate template for. (Though he did ask if he should write, “Thank you for the lovely check for $18.”) Everyone who gives a check gets the same letter, even if it’s for a lot of money. It’s not like the check is original. Though occasionally someone does give an original number.
“52? What’s that? Let’s write him an original card.”
“It’s two times Hashem’s name.”
“Two times Hashem? I’m very uncomfortable with that.”
It also happens to be that I’ve gotten plenty of thank-you cards from people who clearly wrote the cards with no idea what we got them. Like they took all the cards off the presents and have no idea which was which. Or maybe they wrote them before the simcha.
We should have done that too. We could have saved on postage and given them out during the party. But if we were doing that, we’d also have to know beforehand what they’re giving us. Maybe we should phrase the reply cards that way: “_______ will ______ be attending and bringing a ________.”
There are also gift registries, which help, but not everyone gives what’s on the registry, because they want the gift to be a surprise when the couple is making their home and they might have this already, and they have a tiny apartment. New couples love big surprises — something to live at their parents’ house until their basement floods.
The main point of thank-you cards, though, is about teaching your kid to thank people. It’s not like your guests are stuck without a thank-you card. (“I bought all these you’re-welcome cards. What am I going to do with them?”) People aren’t hung up on whether you’ve thanked them yet.
Well, some people are. There are people out there who are insulted when they haven’t received a thank-you card when the gift they gave cost less than the meal you gave them. I’m not keeping score, but where’s your thank-you card?
Thanks for having me at your wedding. It was awesome! Especially the grab bag!
P.S. I got a Roomba.”
Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of five books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to MSchmutter@gmail.com.