I was asked in May to illustrate a children’s book telling the story of the first three generations of one of my mother’s ancestral lines who arrived in America in 1753. Though our team of author, graphic designer, cartographer, printer, and genealogists is VERY talented and each professional in their fields, this was an amateur endeavor; I don’t want to lead anyone to believe that I’m a legit illustrator for a big-time publisher. Amateur though it was, I knew it would be a huge undertaking. I’ll never forget reading that first email and nodding to the words “you have many reasons to say no…” I didn’t even know at the beginning that unforeseen circumstances and shifting deadlines would require of me 32 watercolor paintings in three and a half months.
Now a word about saying “no.” This, a reasonable person may say, is exactly what a busy mother of three young children should say “no” to. And if I hadn’t had some very specific personal, spiritual reasons compelling me, I would have. The least of which is the fascinating reading I’ve been doing, including these findings on the predictors of stable, confident children. This study done by Drs. Duke and Fivush at Emory University in 2001 and then again after 9/11 concluded: “the more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believed their families functioned…[This] turned out to be the best single predictor of children’s emotional health and happiness…The children who have the most self-confidence,” the research also said, “have what they call a strong ‘intergenerational self.’ They know they belong to something bigger than themselves.” I’ll repeat: knowledge of family history is THE BEST SINGLE PREDICTOR OF CHILDREN’S EMOTIONAL HEALTH AND HAPPINESS.
So while I’ve become very protective of my and my children’s time, and this project would require either taking it from them or me, I said “yes”…for them. Realistically I had to cut something out of my existing schedule because overextending myself and a mental breakdown is the opposite of benefiting my children. Seriously friends, stop glorifying busy. And since my blogger half Lee is as fabulous as they come and we’re both (I’d like to think) mature communicators, we had a very honest chat in which she graciously supported me in temporarily cutting out the blogging. As cool as she was about it though, like many of you I really hate letting my friends down, so this was a very difficult “no” for me! I consider that decision an accomplishment on par with my neck-breaking painting speed.
So to keep this short, I said “no” to a whole lot this summer, I rearranged my life, I gave up Netflix, I binge painted, I continued to work through vacations and my husband working out of town for a month, I tried real hard not to be grouchy when I was tired, and I mailed off the last of the paintings last week.
There’s a very good chance no one but my parents and a handful of relatives will care about this book. But I have much to be proud of, including my intact sanity. The painting process alone already opened up a narrative with my children, which is a victory.
It’s nice to be here again and next time I’ll share some of the little tricks that carried me through my overwhelming summer. Silver lining, BTW: I’m heading into the holidays footloose and fancy-free because none of it could be as busy as the last few months!