Most people think children’s book authors write books for, well, children. My debut book, Let’s Do Everything and Nothing, is about a mother and daughter experiencing glorious and wild adventures together. They climb mountains! Dive into the deep sea! And when the day is over, they find intimacy and contentment in the peaceful moments at home.
But in truth, I wrote this book mostly for myself. I didn’t write this book solely for the representation of people of color in outdoors spaces, although that is a topic dear to my heart. Nor did I create it just to illustrate a Taiwanese American home, as that is simply a reflection of my everyday life. I made this book for slightly more existential reasons.
As an outdoorsy, childless woman approaching my late 30s, I have spent a lot of time living in the wondrous adventure half of my book. But a few years ago, I found a balance to my “let’s do everything” personality and married him.
His name is Albert; he dreams of buffets, cruises, and beach vacations. Personally, I would have preferred to reserve these types of activities for later in life when my body is too broken to move. Since our preferences couldn’t be more different, we decided that compromise might best be achieved in the form of taking turns.
But my insatiable thirst for the outdoors and for adventure overpowered our trip planning time and again. Over the years, Albert has been subjected to many pre-dawn hikes, rock climbing trips, and some steep learning curves. Albert valiantly pushed through all of these type-2 fun trips (miserable in the moment, but fun in retrospect) and straight into type-3 territory (never fun, even in retrospect) when he learned that he was susceptible to altitude sickness. By our fourth time up a 14,000 foot mountain, he was preemptively taking diamox pills to lessen the blinding headaches and nausea. I eventually returned the favor by sitting with him on a beach in Cabo for a week.
These days, our outings are more like a pleasant hike with our dog, followed by a tasty meal. Throughout these years I have found, slowly, that I’d rather do something simple with Albert than something grand without him, and that Vegas buffets are tastier than I expected. In the aftermath of these realizations, I wrote this book and we read it to our friends and family in lieu of wedding vows. I read the “everything” first half and he read the “nothing” last half.
But there is one thing that exacerbates the differences between us, and it’s the idea of parenthood. I took my time deliberating whether or not I would want to be a mother, but that didn’t stop me from feeling terrified when I finally did decide that I would try. There isn’t much else that threatens my identity as a capable and active woman more than the thought of being a mother — and an older one, at that. I’m afraid of transforming into a totally different and unrecognizable person overnight. What if I can’t accept the changes to my body, my career, and my life as I know it? I’ve watched my female friends navigate through heartbreaking miscarriages and developmental challenges, of career shifts and closed doors. I can’t help feeling wary. This is one adventure I don’t know if I’ll ever be ready for.
Albert, on the other hand, is up for the challenge. He envies stay-at-home dads and babies our dog to a degree that is sometimes uncomfortable for me to watch. When he gently stacks her dog bed into another dog bed so that she can have maximum support for her sharp elbows, I scoff. When he carries her over sharp rocks on a trail so as not to hurt her little foot pads, I roll my eyes. But I love it. I am married to someone I will never be, and thankfully that someone is soft, nurturing, and patient. Someone who is great at doing nothing at home except being content with those he loves. And maybe someday, we can do a little bit of everything together, as a family.
Julia Kuo is a Taiwanese-American author-illustrator based out of Seattle. She has taught illustration courses at Columbia College Chicago and at her alma mater, Washington University in St. Louis. Julia was the visual arm of Chicago’s 2017 March for Science and has had the honor of being an artist-in-residence at Banff Centre for the Arts in 2014 and in 2017. She is currently the recipient of a 2019-2021 Gray Center Mellon Collaborative Fellowship at the University of Chicago.