Our farm is overrun with kids. So much so that I rarely talk to my sister-in-law, even though her home is attached ours and we share a veranda. It’s not what you think. See, before there was e-mail and voicemail there were kids. Need to grab that thing over there? Send a kid. Need to tell Joao over the hill that lunch is ready? Send a kid. Need to borrow cup of sugar? Send a kid. Since she has six kids–ages 2 to 13–she has a surplus of feet and mouths and shortage of free hands. Kids get sent a lot.
This phenomenon happens not just in our family but in most families I see. Through trial and error I’ve developed a few guidelines to kiddie-mail; not surprisingly they’re not that different from e-mail:
- Keep it short & sweet.
- Corollary 1: the younger the kid, the shorter it should be. Luanna–age 4–can handle about a sentence. Francielli–age 5–is less talented at deciphering my Portañol and should be limited to just yes, no, and thank you. The adolescents can handle up to 4 sentences)
- Corollary 2: Don’t trust that the receiver will hear your words the same way that you uttered them. See Corollary 1.
- Don’t use this medium to convey emotion or socially complex messages (I’ve observed other relatives use kiddie-mail to send messages and thus avoid tough conversations. Not fair, and in my opinion falls into the same category as breaking up with someone by email)
- This is not for confidential or private information. The little ones don’t comprehend what should be a secret, and the older ones understand all too well and usually are just bursting to share their new information with someone. You never know who might get your message by mistake.
- For god’s sakes, stop the forwarding. (I’ve gotten kiddie-mails that went like this: “Tía Andrea told me to ask you to ask Tío Etelvino if he’s coming for lunch and if he talked to Tio Roberto?” Answer: I don’t know, and I’m going to have to re-send their message to find out. Wouldn’t that have been much simpler if they had just asked Etelvino directly?)
- This is not a substitute for social interaction. When in doubt, get up and walk down the hall. Do it sometimes even when a message would have sufficed.