Last week, on a 8-hour flight from Stockholm to JFK, I took the opportunity to finish a Christmas gift for my nephews: a hand-drawn children’s book featuring Gator Gus, an insatiable, yet lovable, little alligator who learns a lesson about the words “please” and “thank you.” It’s cute – and I know that for a fact because the flight attendants told me so.
It may come as little surprise that I’m not much of a procrastinator. I had started the book back in October and had completed most of the art before I took off in Stockholm. By the time I was done adding all the finishing touches, I found myself with six hours and ten blank pages to fill. So I decided to make “part 2” of the book: Let’s Count with Gator Gus.
Like all the other children’s books, this one covers 1-10 and has corresponding pictures to illustrate each number. Except that I decided to make things interesting and count the numbers down from ten instead of up from one. I also added text for six (seis, six, sechs, viisi, shesh) languages.
That might be a little advanced for my nephew, who is not yet two (dos, deux, zwei, kaksi, shtaim), but he’ll grow into it. Besides, not everything is about him. If I have one complaint about children’s books, it’s that they’re often mind-numbingly boring for adults.
But like anyone who decides to write a book while drinking wine, I made a critical error. I was on page seven and in the process of coloring seven corresponding clock faces, when I flipped the book 180 degrees to get a better angle. Since I was working in the cramped quarters of an airplane, I had also folded the page back on itself. Then, without bothering to open the book back up, I wrote in the numbers and hands on each clock.
Imagine my surprise when I laid the page flat and saw that the corresponding 7 on the right hand side now looked more like a capital L. That’s right: I had drawn all the clocks upside down. Now, not only was the 6 where the twelve should be, but it also looked like a 9. I was like some knock-off version of Salvador Dali.
I’m not going to lie, I was pretty aggravated with myself. The numbers were written in ink so they couldn’t be erased. They were made on colored backgrounds so they couldn’t be whited-out. I couldn’t rip the page out without having to redraw all the subsequent pages. Even if I wanted to do that, I didn’t have enough blank pages to make it to ten (or in my case, one). I also couldn’t leave it as it was. If you’re going to present a child with an educational book about counting and telling time, then it’s pretty important the numbers line up.
I had two options: rip out all the pages… or get creative.
I’m sure you know by now which one I chose.
As far as mistakes go, I think this one turned out beautifully. I like the way the page looks – and the randomness and heaviness of the black. The artistic value of all that might be lost on a toddler, but I’m OK with it. At least the page is no longer incorrect.
Seeing as how I wanted the book to have staying power, I decided to turn my mistake into a teachable moment. At the bottom, I wrote:
Dear Gus: While drawing this page, I made a horrible mistake. But let this be a lesson to you: the show must go on! Embrace mistakes.
I could write an entire book about mistakes – about how they’re as inevitable and unavoidable as they are necessary and valuable. I can share all the age-old wisdom about how they’re learning opportunities and a far better source of personal growth than unearned success. I can give examples about how the course of history was changed when extraordinary minds realized the value of an accident. I can tell several stories about my most hilarious professional mistakes, which bruising as they were, all ended up being totally inconsequential. I could go on for ten (diez, dix, zehn, kymmenen, eser) pages, at least. But this book is for a child, so I had to keep it simple. Embrace mistakes.
If there’s one lesson I hope my nephew takes away from the Gator Gus book it’s that making a mistake doesn’t necessarily create a problem. More often than not, there is ample opportunity for redemption and judgment is made not on the original misstep but on one’s ability to recover from it.
You know what I say to that? Please. And thank you.
An update on calendar: Last week I mentioned an Instagram giveaway for a personalized travel photo calendar. That’s still going on. If you want a chance to win, head over to Instagram, follow me, and like any post marked #giveaway.
If you want to buy a calendar, I’m making them available for sale for $15, which includes shipping in the US. (To see the photos, take a look at my Instagram account – half the months are posted now and others will be added in the next week). If you want one, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will send you a payment request via Paypal and also arrange delivery. Happy holidays!