Creative Collaboration with My Child

February 26, 2024

When I tell people that my daughter and I created a book together, I’m usually met with lots of “Awwwwws,” and then, from other mothers of adult daughters, that look and question, “So, how did that go?” Meaning, whew, that must have been some baggage to work through!

The absurd thing about being a mother is that we know that giving birth will be painful, but we don’t realize just how painful until that baby decides that it’s time for the two of you to meet. I view adolescence the same way. I heard the stories and knew that this gorgeous little one who never wanted to leave my side now, will at some point in time prefer to be with just about anyone on the planet, but me. But when that day came, I was as shocked as I was when I went into labor. How can this be so gut-wrenching? Like any other parent of adult children, my daughter and I have our harrowing stories of how we didn’t always get along. The good news is that she grew up, despite my best efforts to prevent her from doing so, and she turned into an amazingly beautiful adult. Wow, wow, wow.

I’ll be the first to admit that being a mom has always been my greatest joy and the hardest work I’ve ever done. For each little life that you raise, there are no manuals, there are no certainties, there are no guarantees that life will turn out the way you want it to, even if you follow all the rules and do all of the right living, stuff happens.

Sofia has always been a creative person who can make the ordinary look extraordinary. She’s able to take something and make it look better, more inviting, and more functional. That is not my strong suit and she knows that, so she graciously helps me out. Sofia is not a native English speaker, so when she was learning to write in English, that was a challenging time and I tried to gently guide her. I think at times we both envied the other a little bit for what we lacked.

Along with everyone else, our lives are separated by before and after Covid. We began working on The Northland Beckons pre-Covid, but didn’t have a super sense of urgency surrounding it and months would go by before we had something pulled together or a clear idea of what we wanted to do with what we were creating. Then Covid hit and the isolation and sense of despair and purposelessness was overwhelming. Sofia was living in Los Angeles and I in Minneapolis, and again, that universal experience of the distance and sadness felt insurmountable at times.

Over many Zoom and FaceTime calls, we talked about our hopes and dreams for this book. I gave her feedback on her illustrations, she gave me feedback on the writing and organization of the text. The thought of creating a book that shares the love we have for being outdoors and the wildlife that inhabits those places is what kept us going. We reminded each other that it’s the process of working together on a thing of beauty that we both love is what is important. One aspect of our relationship that helped us the most is that we each were able to stay in our lane. Sofia is an artist and I am a writer. We can give each other suggestions, but in the end, we know who does which better.

There was a time when she had to rattle my cage. As a first time author, trying to get your work published is incredibly overwhelming. The publishing world is a Byzantine maze and Covid has only made it more complex. I was doing the research and the “right ’’ next steps, but constantly running into roadblocks. Sofia would call and ask what our status was and I would hedge and say that I was working on it without sharing any evidence that I really was making any headway on publication.

Finally, she’d had enough and called my bluff. “Mom, I have a full-time job here and I’m spending a lot of time on this, but if you’re not going to take this seriously, I feel like I’m wasting my time with you.” Ouch, that truth hurt. The last thing in the world that I wanted for our relationship was for her to feel that she was wasting her time with me. That comment spurred me on to get us where we needed to be.

When we start feeling stressed and unsure of ourselves, we remind each other, “Hey, this is our fun project that we do together, remember?” And it has been fun! As any parent of a newborn knows, all you can do is wonder who this tiny person you are holding will turn out to be. Now I know! She’s an intelligent, beautiful, competent, talented illustrator who has agreed to work with me. Lucky, lucky me!

If you have a story of collaborating with your child, I would love to hear it!