IN hindsight, one could say my seven-year-old was a bit too young to undertake a seven-month-long writing project.
When I asked Kalinaw if he wanted us to apply for the online book-making workshop offered by Vivita Philippines (a creativity accelerator for children 9-14 years old), he immediately said yes. He had thoroughly enjoyed his experience with the previous Vivita event, for which he had created a five-minute film for a Halloween film fest. So, why not do it again?
And this is where we see my lack of knowledge about seven- to eight-year-olds becomes glaringly obvious.
The program itself is beautifully thought out. There were free monthly workshops about all aspects of creating a book (from fleshing out characters to book design). My son was assigned a mentor, a Baguio-based artist who also writes and illustrates books. But I totally overestimated a child’s ability to remain interested in a project for that length of time. And so it was up to me to encourage him and help bring the story to life.
Kalinaw has the bourgeoning confidence and clarity of vision only a seven-year-old can have. For him, the character and story were clear, and from start to finish we really did just minimal tweaking. I admired his decision to stick to a story that had zero conflict in it, a simple story of a capybara who loves taekwondo and lives in a forest by a river with his family and friends. For me, this was a bit of golden-tongued wisdom: we don’t always need conflict to learn beautiful life lessons! Love and joy and fun are enough reasons to be.
It was also interesting for me to observe my own reactions and tendencies during this project. I encouraged him to use watercolor or gouache paint to smoothen out the colors, but he resisted and stuck to his colored markers. I learned to release my need for perfectionism, for things to look “pulido.” After all, I did not want to end up like some parents who do their children’s homework for them. I wanted him to do the project himself and be proud of his efforts. I wanted it to be clear that a child made this book.
With each workshop, we both learned something new and tried to apply what was relevant in making his book. But as the deadline for submission drew near, he began to tire of my reminders to finish coloring his pencil drawings, or to create new ones. I tried to give him as much time and space as he wanted to create, but sometimes it was the deadline, the looming check-in with his mentor that spurred some activity.
I sometimes wondered if, in this year of pandemic, distance learning, and the deluge of zoom meetings and webinars, it had been a mistake to add one more thing to our lives. My reminders (okay, nagging) met with whining were starting to weigh me down.
Last night, his illustrations were finally finished and scanned. I decided to take it upon myself to do one step for him—create the mock-up of his book. As I traced his drawings on numbered pages and wrote out the text by hand, I found myself falling in love with his story all over again. I felt tenderness for the story that came straight from my son’s heart and mind. I was in awe of the journey we had both gone through to get to this point. “Your dream book is bound to happen,” the emails from Vivita would say. It was amazing to realize that we were approaching the finish line, but not only that—we had a story worth sharing.
Suddenly, I realized that the occasional friction, the push and pull between us, was totally worth it. We are growing together, my son and I, like two trees whose roots are forever intertwined.
Wenn etwas mir vom Fenster fällt
How surely gravity’s law,
strong as an ocean current,
takes hold of even the smallest thing
and pulls it toward the heart of the world.
each stone, blossom, child—
is held in place.
Only we, in our arrogance,
push out beyond what we each belong to
for some empty freedom.
If we surrendered
to Earth’s intelligence
we could rise up rooted, like trees.
Instead we entangle ourselves
in knots of our own making
and struggle, lonely and confused.
So, like children, we begin again
to learn from the things,
because they are in God’s heart;
they have never left him.
This is what the things can teach us:
patiently to trust our heaviness.
Even a bird has to do that
before he can fly.
–Rainer Maria Rilke, The Book of Hours: Love Poems to God