Yesterday I babysat a 6 year old named Hannah who is obsessed with the movie “Frozen.” We wandered around Barnes and Noble, she wanted me to buy her a book. I’m all about kids reading, but I’m not going to start paying to babysit. So I told her that a great afternoon project would be to go home and draw the characters and write our own book. Not really what she wanted to hear.
Later it hit her- Draw the characters, sell the pictures, go buy the book with that money.
“Uh-huh, sure,” I mumbled as I unloaded the dishwasher while she flitted around the room collecting stickers and markers.
We spent about an hour drawing pictures while she planned out the afternoon. She was stoked beyond all reason. I was ambivalent. Were we going to go through with it? Nahhh.
All of a sudden we had about 10 pretty decent pieces of work. Next thing I know, we’re on the stoop with a gallery of construction paper and a plastic cash register. See:
I didn’t think we’d get this far.
“Hannah, this isn’t going to work.”
“Because… I don’t know.”
Truth: I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want to bother the pedestrians, I didn’t know if her mom would be okay with us soliciting art in front of their apartment, I didn’t want to talk to strangers, and I felt stupid and very uncomfortable.
Also, I felt weird about making money off of artwork. We should just be handing it out, right? (No, God no, Flack. This is why you’re broke).
I prodded her to go back in. As people passed, I rearranged the pictures so that I could pretend I didn’t see them coming. I told her I needed some water, that I had to go potty. All the while she said quietly, “Good afternoon would you like a picture?” to every passing person. But nobody listened to her.
It wasn’t working, so she put me to task:
“TORY. It’s your turn to ask. Now, stop fiddling with those papers, I know what you’re trying to do.”
“TORY. You’re not thirsty! You just want to go back inside.”
And finally: “Tory, why is this so hard for you? This is important.”
So I told her- “I’m nervous. I don’t like talking to people I don’t know. Besides, I’m just the artist, I’m not a business person.”
“Well, I’m the artist too, and I’m trying.”
The frustrating this was, I knew I was wrong on all accounts. I KNEW I was being a naysayer, a coward, and an asshole. But I was seriously uncomfortable.
I live in New York, I make $0.00/hour doing what I want to do, I don’t have a routine or much guidance in my career, sometimes I get up on stage in front of lots of people and pretend to be disgusting, bizarre creatures and I look like a crazy person, sometimes I get on stage in front of lots of people and I absolutely FAIL. All uncomfortable things.
But, I am a small town girl. I was raised to adhere to a modest belief system and socially acceptable (female) behavior. My grandfather used to make me stand on the stairs and play my viola when he had friends over to play cards. One of my aunts sends me messages when I swear too much on Facebook.
It’s not a bad thing. It’s just one take on what being “good” is, really. I wouldn’t be where I am right now if it weren’t for the society that raised me. But I spend a lot of time feeling guilty about every decision I make, I’m terrified people aren’t going to like me, I spend more time and energy making sure everyone is happier than I am, and I waste so much time deciding on what is “right.”
They say life begins at the end of your comfort zone:
A man passed and I blurted, “Hello! Would you like a picture?”
He stopped. “Wow!” He said. “This is great!!”
To Hannah: “Are you the artist?”
All her pictures were signed, “To: _____ By, Elsa.”
“Elsa, is that your name?”
“Yep!” She was ecstatic.
“One dollar. But if you don’t have a dollar, we can talk about a lower price.”
He bought the picture of Olaf, which was taped together from where she colored too hard on his carrot nose. Hannah rolled her dollar up like a joint (yes, it’s the only reference I could think of) and stuck it in the cash register.
“Okay, Tory, do it again!”
A woman walked by. I started to say something, chickened out. I turned to Hannah and said, “Sometimes you can just tell when people don’t want-”
“Excuse me, are you selling your drawings?” Said the lady whom I was currently justifying my fear of.
“Yes! One dollar.” Said Hannah.
“Wowwww. This is so great. Oh my gosh! I think I just have to have the princess one.”
And so on. Hannah’s business was an instant hit once we both started to believe in it. At one point I tried to sell a woman two pictures for the price of one, as a series. Hannah said, “NO. One dollar each.”
But she did decide she would give her art to fellow kids for free. A little girl passed with her mother. Hannah gave her a picture of a cat.
“My kitty at home is sick!! I’ll give her this picture to make her feel better,” said the girl as her very pregnant mother struggled to find a dollar in her purse- even though Hannah insisted it was free.
So when a young woman walked by with no money, Hannah gave her a picture of Rapunzel’s tower. The woman was overjoyed. She didn’t take her eyes off of it as she walked away. I bet it’s on her fridge right now.
“Oh, I just LOVE that people get to enjoy my pictures after I enjoyed them!” Hannah hollered.
Every interaction became easier. I began to feel less guilt. Hannah got so brave she practically chased people down.
She made $6.00.
We went to Barnes and Noble. She picked out a book. It was more than $6.00, but I covered it. I disguised it as a birthday present, but really, I was glad she pushed me.
“Hannah, are you proud of yourself?” I asked.
When her mom came home, she said, “Hannah did you have a good day?”
Was Mom weirded out? Mad? I don’t know. I don’t know why she would be. But I convinced myself she was for awhile, and then I got over it.
So- stop telling kids “no,” just because they’re doing something that makes YOU uncomfortable. Chances are, you are both missing valuable opportunities for growth.
You know what Hannah helped me work on? Know your worth. And then believe it.
I try to do something scary everyday. Because the more I desensitize myself to feeling scared, the happier I get. Isn’t that why little girls love Elsa so much?