one thing : by elissa elliott / by ali dejohn

From the moment we wake up, to the time we go to bed, we are barraged with a media onslaught that insists we’re doing life (and mothering) all wrong. There’s a huge abyss between society’s glossed-up version and the actual reality of our lives. On the surface, those ideals and norms seem to celebrate motherhood, but in reality, they propagate impossible standards that will forever remain out of our reach.

I’ve swum through all the emotions: persistent anxiousness, the urge to compare—all those perfectly curated Facebook and Instagram pages!—simmering frustration, and ultimately, depression. Despite what I’ve been told, I cannot do it all.

But I can do something.

Wait. I’m getting ahead of myself. Years ago, when my husband and I were in Houston for a year, we went to hear Jane Goodall (The Chimp Lady) speak. Her work with chimpanzees was remarkable, but what struck me most was what she said at the end of her talk. She said, “Most of you sit there, saying, ‘But what can I do? I’m only one person.’ So, here we sit, all of us, thinking the same thought, and nothing gets done. What if we all thought the exact opposite? ‘I am one person. I will do one thing.’ Imagine how many things we could change in the world!”

It’s true. I can counteract those crazy messages with one action that will single-handedly restore my joy and demonstrate to my daughter that we can ignore messages that don’t ring true in our hearts.

What society says is best for me and my child is not at all what is best for me and my child.

Strange thing: my sweet girl needs what I need. Glorious swaths of time for daydreaming. Small, comfy spaces for her to reenact her plays or her storytelling. Simple art supplies and paper, so she can fill them with her wild imaginings. At Christmas, at birthdays, she’s always more fixated on the box the gift came in than the actual gift. Oh, what she can make with those boxes! And the hours she spends inside those boxes.

She is ten now, and still, I don’t have her scheduled in anything besides school and Kumon Math (which takes an extra ten minutes a day). She comes home from school, dumps her backpack, grabs a snack, and heads outside into the woods, to explore. When she’s in the house, she chatters out loud, standing in for all her characters as she’s playing, and I find great joy in listening. It clues me in to what she’s thinking about, and oftentimes, our bedtime talks center around these very things.

All this to say: at some point, I realized I was providing her with this delicious freedom, but I was too hunkered down in laundry, meals, and chores to allow myself the same thing. And small pieces of me were wilting. My heart was growing dim within me, and I was at a loss to know how to fire it up again. I wanted to change things, but it required energy I didn’t seem to have.

Ta-da. Enter: my one saving thing.

My first Sweet Paul Makerie was a Christmas gift from my husband. In the winter of 2014, I traveled to Brooklyn for two days of art workshops, led by a stellar group of artists, and hosted by the Makerie phenom team of Ali, Krissa, Ali’s mom Linda, Sweet Paul, the “other” Paul, and Bubi. [Truly, they are all amazing people whom, whether they know it or not, I have rolled into my chosen family.]

I felt, I imagine, how Harry Potter must have felt entering Hogwarts for the first time—utterly spellbound. The food was out-of-this-world. The artists were prepared, enthusiastic, and oh so patient. The attendees were exuberant and accepting and kind, and it instantly felt like home away from home, so much so, that often, it wasn’t until I had left their presence that I realized who they were—CEOs, small business owners, craft authors, cookbook writers, bloggers, Etsy sellers, you name it. And none of them had made a point of it. You could have sworn that they, like me, were in a candy shop, enraptured by it all.

I lived on that experience for months. I contemplated how to revamp my life so that I, too, could do art, make something on a regular basis. 

My other job is writing, and although I adore writing, it’s been difficult to steal large enough chunks of time to disappear into the massive alternate worlds of novel making. At least until recently. 

Instead, I’ve had to find projects I can do in small increments, say for example, working on a Alabama Chanin Maggie dress or arm knitting a throw or taking a Lisa Congdon class with Liliana on Creativebug.

Since my venture to that first Makerie, I’ve attended others, even a summertime Land of Nod Makerie with Liliana, which was the experience of a lifetime. This next spring, I’ll attend the Makerie in Boulder, CO, and I cannot tell you how much I’m looking forward to it. I look at it as an investment in me (and my sanity).

There’s an added bonus. You make friends—close friends—and it doesn’t matter if they live way across the country, or in a different country. This summer, Liliana and I drove to Deerfield, IL, so that Liliana could attend fellow attendee Bridget Lamb’s amazing Make Craft Camp for young girls. Just so you know: Liliana didn’t want to leave. Neither did I.

To know that I’m not alone, to know that I have other kindred spirits out there, means the world to me. Daily, I receive happy doses of them through Instagram, and their brilliance and creativity encourage me to continue that search for what makes me happiest, what makes my daughter happiest. It’s our little rebellion, combating the outer voices by listening to our inner ones.

So, if you could do one thing that would change your outlook on life and change the tenor of your world, what would that look like for you?

I encourage you. Don’t delay. The outside world will continue shouting its messages, so we must fight back. 

Be a rebel with me, won’t you? We have lives to save.


*images from left to right

1. One of Liliana's line drawings for Lisa Congdon's class
2. One of Elissa's line drawings for Lisa Congdon's class
3. Spoon Carving with Melanie Abrantes at the 2016 Sweet Paul Makerie
4. Chalkboard Design with Valerie McKeehan at the 2016 Sweet Paul Makerie
5. Paper Cutting with Elsa Mora at the 2016 Sweet Paul Makerie
6. Liliana's bear from the Sewing a Softie class with Michelle Jewell at the Land of Nod Makerie
7. Monoprinting class with Ashley Goldberg at the Land of Nod Makerie
8. Liliana's projects from Bridget Lamb's Make Craft Camp