Photo Source: Smithsonian Institution

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:

  1. Keep it short & sweet.
    1. 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)
    2. Corollary 2: Don’t trust that the receiver will hear your words the same way that you uttered themSee Corollary 1.
  2. 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)
  3. 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.
  4. 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?)
  5. 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.

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