When I was eleven years old I visited my friend's house one day after school. We were watching the Big Blue Marble when we got the bright idea to send our names into the show, hoping we would be matched up with the perfect pen pal. Months and months later - well after we'd forgotten about our submissions - Suzie and I each received a letter. Mission accomplished. Matches were made and we got our pen pals. Suzie's pen pal was Pat, a 10 year old boy from North Dakota (as it turns out, a little disappointing for an adolescent girl hoping for a new best friend). As for me... the Blue Marble gods were shining down on me. My pen pal was Karen from Hastings, New Zealand. That's right... half way across the world in what seemed like the most exotic place on earth. Therein began my obsession with pen paling.
Last summer, six months after the arrival of my third son - when it was blatantly clear there was no baby girl in my future - I set out in search of two unsuspecting girls, willing to entertain me and to be my venue for all the fun "girly" things (theme parties, crafts, sticker-swapping, secret codes, and friendship bracelets) that I would otherwise never get to do. My niece from New York city and close family friend from Watkinsville, Georgia seemed like the perfect two.
The Pen Pal Challenge started in late August. I matched up the two girls via mail and they've been letter writing ever since. I live vicariously through them, hearing about the exchange of postcards, pictures, stickers, puzzles, and letters to be decoded with special pens. I periodically send them a small package of pen pal paraphernalia to keep them motivated (but really so I have cause to buy all the fun stuff I'd otherwise couldn't justify). Of course I'm not totally selfless. I told them both if they exchanged 12 pieces of mail each over the course of the school year that I would host them for a girl's weekend in Dallas. Are you kidding? Two 10-11 year old girls for five days! I can't wait. The boys will be shipped off to grandmas, so we can do all things GIRL... stay up late, wearing fun pajamas, eating treats and talking about cool stuff; spreading out at the kitchen table with all kinds of crafts projects; and shopping at the local mall with stops along the way for lunch and manicures. Only four more months until the fun begins.
As for me and Karen, our friendship persists to this day. We don't write or talk nearly as frequently as we did when we were younger, but after two visits from Karen and lots of letters between the two of us, we stay in touch enough to know about big life changes in each others lives. I still haven't made it to Hastings, but visiting the apple orchard she grew up on remains on my Bucket List (if you haven't seen the movie, it's definitely worth seeing).
Letter writing is quickly becoming a lost art, so if I can do my small part to promote pen paling and maybe even develop a friendship along the way, then that is good enough for me. How about you? Do you know two young people you could match up as pen pals? Or, forget matching up two young people, grab a paper and pen and find a young person who could benefit from you reaching out. It will feel good to you and will most assuredly bring a smile to his or her face.
Signing off until tomorrow...