We’ve all been through a lot in the last month. In fact, maybe that’s the understatement of the century. One things for sure, though: Emotions seem to be at a fever pitch these days. That’s why I’m so glad I met illustrator Meaghan Elderkin a few weeks ago and got to interview her about something near and dear to her heart: Teaching her daughters after the election.
Elderkin, who lives in Rhode Island with her husband and two daughters Holden and Elsa, has made a habit of slipping hand-drawn napkin illustrations in nine-year-old Holden’s lunch — a tradition, she says, started by her own mother. Following the election, she began featuring strong iconic women on these napkins, complete with brave and inspiring words for her daughter. And just like that, a new tradition was born!
I spoke with Elderkin about her life, loves and the legacies she wants to leave behind for both her daughters and, needless to say, I got a hefty dose of inspiration in the process! Read on for a tug at your heartstrings… xoxo
Tell me a bit about yourself — where do you live, what do you do, what are your hobbies, etc.?
I’ve lived in Rhode Island for most of my life and that’s where I live now with my husband and two daughters. I stay at home with my girls and also do some freelance work and pet portraits (they pay roughly about the same, haha). I love to read and go to the beach. I love living so close to the ocean, and I can’t imagine being anywhere else!!
When did you start putting napkin illustrations in your daughter’s lunch bag? Why did you decide to start?
I’ve been drawing on my oldest daughter’s napkins since she was in preschool; my mother used to to do the same for me when I was a kid, so it never really occurred to me not to continue the tradition.
What did she think of these at first? Did she ever give you any requests for illustrations she’d like you to do?
She’s always been used to seeing me draw. We draw all of the time together — on paper placemats at restaurants — and we play a game together where she’ll draw a squiggle and I’ll have to make a picture out of it and vice versa. So I don’t think she ever found it unusual that I’d draw on her lunch napkins. As she got older, sometimes she’d come home and say, “my friend Emma wants to know if you’ll please draw a unicorn for her on tomorrow’s napkin” or, “Mom….no more dinosaur jokes, I’m begging you…”. So I do my best to oblige, although I refuse to stop drawing dinosaur jokes…
With the election, you started featuring notable women in history…what did you hope to teach your daughter?
It’s always been really important to me that my daughters be familiar with as many strong female role models as possible. My youngest daughter can recognize Ruth Bader Ginsburg faster than most Disney princesses, which is a point of pride for me.
After the election, my oldest daughter was genuinely concerned about some of the more marginalized groups in our country. She was so worried about people being “kicked out of the country” or people being punished for their beliefs. I couldn’t bring myself to draw any silly drawings or dinosaur jokes, I just didn’t have it in me. I found myself turning to the words of some of my own female role models and figured that it would probably make my daughter feel better too. So I decided that the napkins that week would be of brave women saying brave things.
What’s been your favorite illustration and why?
My personal favorite napkin drawings are the ones I did of strong women drawn as animals (Amelia Hare-hart, Ruth Beaver Ginsberg, Susan Bee Anthony, etc). Most of my artwork has always been very lighthearted and quirky, and I felt that that particular week’s napkins combined my silliness with my ever-present feminist streak.
How would you like your daughter to look back on these little lunch treats years from now?
I’d love for her to look back at them fondly and hopefully do the same for her children if she decides to have them some day. Other than that, I’m just thrilled when she actually eats the sandwich that I’ve packed that day.
Any plans to market/expand your work?
The response that I’ve received from these napkin drawings has been incredible. I would love to be able to pack every little girl’s lunch with my napkin art! Every artist dreams of this kind of exposure, and if I’m able to keep making meaningful art, even if it’s covered in chocolate pudding at the end of the day, that would be amazing.
Is there anything else you think I should know?
On your blog, I saw that you dealt a lot with disabilities and I myself suffer from a severe case of Crohn’s disease, as well as chronic fatigue and abdominal pain. Some days I’m not able to even get out of bed, much less be “Mother of The Year” like some of the headlines read — although I will, of course, use that title in order to win arguments with my nine year old: “Brush your teeth, The Mother Of The Year says so…”). So it’s been really nice to have received this attention for my artwork and not have had my disease be a part of the discussion. I’ve never mentioned it in any of the other interviews that I’ve done.
What a way to raise the next generation of strong women! Be sure to follow Meaghan on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and her official site — and online shop! — for more inspiration! Thanks so much, Meaghan! xoxo