This week I've been doing what feels like banging my head against a wall, trying to complete a new design series. Does this ever happen to you? I know this is just part of the creative process, but it really is just how Julia Cameron describes it in The Artist's Way. I have this horrible little voice in my head that's constantly asking me: "And? You think that's special?" "Is this whole pursuit even worthwhile?" "This is what you take time away from your kids for!?"

When I'm in a state like this, I don't know whether to dig in and just keep forging ahead, or take a break. But so far I've just been stubbornly digging in, hoping for that breakthrough, that epiphany, that will restore my hope and faith - in myself, in this path I've chosen ... you know? I'm really hoping that will happen tonight or tomorrow. Please God. If not, I guess I'll be forced to take a break this weekend.

One of the feelings I've really been struggling with this week is one that I think is familiar to all mothers: guilt. Am I right? I feel bad about sending my kids to daycare 2 days a week so that I can work.

I just feel such a strong sense of responsibility towards them, and if they express an iota of displeasure about being in daycare, a (crazy) part of me has the urge to yank them out and keep them home with me ALL the time, barricade the door, home school them and never release them back into the real world ... But they are 4.5 and 2.5 (old enough to enjoy and benefit from playing with other kids). My husband, who actually picks them up from daycare, says that when he does, they are usually so blissfully transported by whatever they're doing that they ignore him and play on.

Ruby LOVES her school but sometimes complains about Friday's after school program. Juliette always expresses reluctance about daycare (since we returned from summer holidays in August) and repeatedly tells me stories about a classmate who pushes and grabs things from her. These stories are, granted, largely unintelligible, and what I don't understand I probably fill in with my guilty conscience. When we mentioned Juliette's alleged victimization to one of her teachers, who is gold, gold, GOLD (!) she kind of politely said (in so many words) that if Juliette can dish it out, she can certainly take it. I'm sure she's dishing out her fair share, as she is rather feisty, even for a 2-year old.

 

Juliette_innocent

 

(Looks pretty sweet there though, doesn't she?)

You see, when both of my daughters were born, it was immediately clear to me that they trumped anything else I ever have or ever will create - a gajillion (sp?) times over.

So, for me to take time away from them, it has to be for a worthwhile pursuit. On the other hand, I am a whole person, not just a mother. Just because I am a mother, I don't have to let the rest of me slowly atrophy and die, do I? I need to be creating; I know this about myself. Plus, I know I am a better mother when I'm not a mother ALL the time. There are just so many things like this, where I guess you have to trust your internal feelings about what is right for you, because it's different than what's right for the next person. And even when you trust those feelings, there will be days, weeks - hopefully not much longer than that - when you doubt them.

 

Ellie Cashman Illustration
Illustration I did of Ruby and Juliette reading (er, playing on the iPad) together.

 

I wanted to write about a children's book this week, because last week a friend asked me for a recommendation and I totally blanked. But when I thought about it more and my brain finally booted up, I remembered a book I had as a child and that I just translated (unofficially, and with the kind help of my mother-in-law) into Dutch a few months ago, so that I could give it as a gift at Ruby's school.

Do you have any favorite children's books to recommend?

Well, this book I want to write about today kind of ties in with the idea I briefly mentioned above, of releasing your kids into the world - a world in which they might not be happy, a world in which they might not feel safe, all the time. It's actually two books in a series: If You're Afraid of the Dark, Remember the Night Rainbow, and If You're Afraid of the Dark, Add One More Star to the Night, by Seattle-based Cooper Edens.

I had the first book as a kid and I remember being scared of it. Maybe there should be a subtitle or an instruction manual that says: If You're Afraid of This Book, Read It When You're 30. It's kind of a children's book for adults. But with a few more years and (some painful) experiences under my belt, I can really appreciate its poetic beauty, its heartbreaking/heartwarming faith and optimism in the human spirit and its ability to find a silver lining in any situation.

Here are some excerpts (in no particular order) and some of the magical illustrations that accompany them:

"If you're afraid of the dark ... add one more star to the night."

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© Cooper Edens, If You're Afraid of the Dark, Add One More Star to the Night

 

"If tomorrow morning the sky falls ... have clouds for breakfast."

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© Cooper Edens, If You're Afraid of the Dark, Remember the Night Rainbow

 

"If you have butterflies in your stomach ... ask them into your heart."

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© Cooper Edens, If You're Afraid of the Dark, Remember the Night Rainbow

 

"If you become lost ... make wherever you are look like home."

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© Cooper Edens, If You're Afraid of the Dark, Add One More Star to the Night

 

"If you're afraid of the dark ... remember the night rainbow."

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© Cooper Edens, If You're Afraid of the Dark, Remember the Night Rainbow

 

"If one day you must leave home ... draw stars on the bottom of your shoes to light your way back."

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© Cooper Edens, If You're Afraid of the Dark, Add One More Star to the Night

 

"If you're at the end of your rope ... untie the knot in your heart."

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© Cooper Edens, If You're Afraid of the Dark, Add One More Star to the Night

 

"If your world has come undone ... fasten it securely to the horizon."

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© Cooper Edens, If You're Afraid of the Dark, Add One More Star to the Night

 

"If you must cry ... plant your tears as seeds."

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© Cooper Edens, If You're Afraid of the Dark, Add One More Star to the Night

 

So ... it's maybe not hard to imagine that all this talk of pain and loss and suffering kind of put me off as a child (and I have to admit that Ruby and Juliette never request this book either). But reading it as an adult, I really appreciate its unconventionality. I appreciate the message that although we cannot always control what happens to us, we can control how we deal with what happens to us, how we fashion it into our lives, our personal histories, dreams and so on. Because it really is just on the other side of those fears/tears, that the most beautiful things can happen.

I feel this way about my kids, as I (sometimes guiltily) release them into the world. As a mother, of course you want to protect them from even the slightest twinge of discomfort. (As if you could). But on the other hand, you know if they never squared off against this inherent part of being human - pain - they would be the most boring, most unaccomplished human beings to walk the Earth! The question is not if they will experience pain (because you know they will) - at the hands of the pushing/grabbing classmate, or worse - but how they will experience it. As a mother, you cannot influence the if. But the how, yes, that's where you come in. That's where we all come in.

And I guess it's the same with the creative process. We should remind ourselves, when we are in these snake pits of doubt, that it is in fact these low points that signal new, more magnificent vistas ahead. We just have to show up every day, as Elizabeth Gilbert says in her amazing TEDTalk about her creative process and philosophy.

And as the Great Julia Cameron reminds us on page 7 of The Artist's Way:

"We must allow the bolt of pain to strike us. Remember, this is useful pain; lightning illuminates."

 

Ellie Cashman Lightning

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