I have a little something I started to do with my niece I’d like to share with you. When she started to learn to read a little and write, I asked her if she wanted to share a journal with me. I explained the idea behind it to her and she loved it.
It works like those notebooks you probably used to pass back and forth with your friends in middle school. We picked a journal we both liked and now call it our “Special journal.” Then, we spent a few days looking through magazines and catalogs (American Girl, of course) and we each cut out words and images of things we liked or that represented us and our relationship. I also encouraged her to use some stickers. We decorated the first two pages in the notebook together—a collage of words and images that represent us. She had fun collecting the words and images in a ziplock for days, and then learning how to make a collage and put it all together.
Next, I started by writing her a little note, and gave her the notebook. The goal is for her to write back and keep it going. She was eight when we started this journal, so she would forget many times. But other times, she’ll call and tell me she wrote me a note if she can read it to me. I usually say, “no, that’s our special notebook, we have to read and write in it, not read it out loud.”
Today she turns 10, and though we might not write in the journal weekly, or even monthly, it’s still something we try to keep up. Mostly she writes for special occasions, or when something happened in school she wants to share. At the start of this summer we made a “summer wish list” with things we wanted to do together and decorated the page in a fun way using lots of stickers.
My first idea behind this was to help her with her writing and reading. My other goal behind it was to give her a way to express herself and share things she might not feel comfortable talking about. Right now it’s filled with stories about what she did on the weekend, fights with her brother, or just asking me how my day was. I write to her about weekends we spend together and add small photos of things we do together. She loves to see what I write and if I decorate the page. Sometimes I go all out with stickers and washi tape. I always try to use colorful pens so it’s attractive for her to read. She adds color too, she draws photos, and she shares. When it’s my turn to write, I always try to end it with a question for her to answer. She doesn’t always answer them, but it gives her something to think about. I do this because she tells me she doesn’t always know what to write. Again, she was eight when we started, there wasn’t that much going on for her. Sometimes weeks, and months go by and I don’t get the notebook back. But, I remind her every now and then when she says she’s bored or has nothing to do, to write me a note and give it to me on the weekend so I can write back.
I know if we are lucky to continue this as she gets older, one day she’ll tell me about a guy who broke her heart, or something she might be thinking that she’s afraid to share or talk about. I want her to know she has another adult nearby who she can go to for anything.
Though I didn’t have notebooks I shared back and forth, I did have great role models in my aunt and uncle. They were both always there to take my side when I fought with my parents. Those teenage years and early 20s were filled with lots of this. Even if they sided with my parents, they never let me know. I always thought they were on my side cheering me on and supporting my side of the fight. I knew they would talk to my parents about it. Many times I would ask them to because I knew my parents weren’t listening to me how I wanted them to. And always, my parents came back with a more middle ground solution. We all needed these extra adults in our lives growing up, and I hope to be that for my niece and nephew, goddaughters, and godson; or any of my friend’s kids who need an “extra adult,” even if there isn’t a notebook that we have going back and forth.
When my nephew gets old enough to read and write, I want to see how I can incorporate something similar with him. This isn’t just something aunts can do. It can be a great tool for moms and dads, and step-parents, too. It opens the lines of communication in a way that feels safe and not so “in your face”.