I Wish You Like This: Hippo-mo-potomuses and other right mistakes
by Jennifer Paros
Around many of the holidays, historically, my sons have come home bearing gifts made in school and overseen by their teachers. These are often craft projects (some of which I haven’t completely understood) with pre-formulated pieces, which the child constructs and writes on or decorates to personalize. I enjoy receiving these, regardless of what they may be, and due to my sentimental nature, find even the most standard re-cycled phrases pleasing.
My favorite of all these gifts, however, came from my youngest son a few years ago. It was near to Mother’s Day, and each of the children in his class was given a tile to decorate. Upon arriving home, he gave me the one he’d made, signed with “love” and his name, which read:
“I wish you like this.”
I was touched by this sentiment and glad he had chosen to forego the traditional “Happy Mother’s Day,” as his hope to give me something I liked had much greater power to move me. And so his intention became the real present to me, more so than the actual thing he gave.I bring this up because even though he had conceivably done it “wrong,” it was a great gift to me. Often, in my writing and drawing work, I can become concerned with “getting it right”–no matter how ambiguously I define “right”. Making corrections in work, tightening it up, and creating a professional presentation are all clearly appropriate. But striving to get my work “right” can also become an insecurity-driven experience that spins me out. And in the end, I know, I must return to the understanding that there is something much more powerful, much more relevant than the form of what I am creating-- the intention and feeling I am holding.
When I was a child, I once worked on a drawing of a girl’s face. The part I couldn’t seem to get was the nose. And the more I drew the nose, the more I erased. I tried all different noses, but none of them pleased me. Eventually, I gave up, frustrated with my lack of ability to create what I wanted. However, at that time I also used to draw pictures for my own greeting cards. I looked upon the cards as gifts and so went about the process of constructing the pictures in the spirit of wanting to give. And in this context, there was much less frustration and self-criticism as my dominant intention was to make something to give, not prove I could draw, or impress, or get it “right.” This switch in perspective allowed me to use the ability I did have at that time to make something I actually liked.
The times in my life when I’ve been handed a buttercup or a dandelion by another, I’ve never once found myself thinking how much better it would be if it were a full floral bouquet. It’s never occurred to me that the dandelion should be better or more right. Its simplicity matched with the intention of gift led me to my perception that it was perfect just as it was.
Sometimes “wrong,” “quirky,” or “unsophisticated” are more communicative, more feeling, and more alive than “right”. When my oldest son was a very young boy, he used to say hippo-mo-potamus and whenever he would, my husband and I would get very quiet. We didn’t want to correct him, as “hippomopotamus” seemed better than hippopotamus. In its “wrongness” it carried a charm, a sweetness and a personalized connection, which we did not want to disturb. His mistake was our gift.
Trying to “get it right” can become oppressive to the creative process. This pattern of thought is a natural catalyst for worrying that we might mess up. But when we remember we are, in actuality, creating a gift, it changes things. For we might not always know how to “get it right,” but we can always bring the intention of giving to the experience. And if we happen to create a hippo-mo-potamus or two along the way, all the better.
Jennifer Paros is a writer, illustrator, and author of Violet Bing and the Grand House (Viking, 2007). She lives in Seattle.