If you’re a Facebook user, you’ve no doubt seen ads for Mail Order Mysterypop up in your feed. The concept is simple but unique — your child receives a series of letters in the mail (how retro!) encouraging them to help solve a mystery. This fresh take on storytelling is the brainchild of Suzanne Matczuck, mom of two, who runs her business — and manages eight employees — out of her Toronto dining room, .
What’s especially cool about Mail Order Mystery is one of the three mysteries that you can solve has an environmental theme, prompting kids to think about eco-issues organically. Creating stories with purpose is one way Matczuk adds meaning to her cool, and successful business, and her passion shows. We talked to her about the concept, how it resonates with kids, and how she strives for balance while embracing success.
I think we should start with my asking about that story…
Okay, so the stories are not told conventionally, they’re told through a series of letters from the characters. In the Enchanted Slumber we have a princess who’s been sleeping for 699 years, and if she gets to 700 she is going to turn to dust. The knight who has been given the mission to wake up that’s been passed down for generations is bored with the whole thing and can’t be bothered to do it, so the kid gets a letter with the mission to help wake up the princess. Then the child becomes the hero of the story, working with the other characters to work on the clues that will solve the puzzle and result in the princess waking up.
When the princess wakes up, she looks around her and sees that the earth is such a mess, and goes back to bed and doesn’t want to get up again. All of her friends come around and say that we need to start caring about the frogs and the bees and do everything that we can to care about the earth. At the end of the mystery they get a hardback book that tells the whole story, and an envelope pasted into the back cover with a wax sealed mission on parchment that says I promise to take care of my friends and the earth.
Why was it important for you to tell this story?
I, like a lot people, feel quite despairing about the environment and there’s a sense of feeling paralyzed about it. I always assumed that my kids would grow up so pro environment but they are kind of shutdown over it. My kid throws recycling in the garbage all the time, and I thought kids would be born caring. So, the fact that I distilled that mystery into that little bit of hope that we all need, I felt really good about that. We call it our boutique mystery, and the others outsell it two to one but I really love that story. It’s a twist on traditional fairy tales, because you have to work for the happy ending, the knight is useless, and the princess has to get involved in her own rescue.
Why did you start doing what you do?
I’m a writer and a reader, and I felt like although our kids liked books they really take them for granted. For example, if a friend who is an author signs a book for them, it’s not that big a deal. So I was thinking about ways to tell a story that would engage them in a different way and really get their attention.
Then, my husband was between jobs and we talked about doing this together. The more we talked about it, the more excited we got, and there was no overhead to the business. I think we started it with $3000 to buy the printer. We didn’t have anything to lose. The business took off, and my biggest problem in the last year and a half has been how to control the growth. I know that’s a good problem to have, but last Christmas we came close to it being more than we can handle because the mysteries are very labour intensive, and they all have hand-fabricated items like wax seals. Everything is personalized, so there are certain steps that have to be done. We pulled all the ads for three months to try to get it under control. That part of it is exciting but also scary.
What does this work bring to your life?
I feel very proud of myself, and what I’ve done. Sometimes I wish I wasn’t so busy and exhausted all the time so that I could just step back and appreciate it more, but as I make good hires and get better people in place, as I see it develop and work I get a good sense of satisfaction. Of course being a penniless writer forever, and a mom struggling with little kids, it’s so great to be making my own money. The parts of it that are hard I wouldn’t trade away. I’ve surprised myself a lot, I’m in unknown territory and am getting a lot more confident and constantly learning how to do things the best way. It is very satisfying, and seeing it work out takes some of the terror out of the whole thing.
Why is this work important?
These days kids don’t get mail. Most of my employees who are millennials don’t even really get how mail works, and it’s so archaic now that it is exciting. I felt it was a challenge that I wanted to take on, to get kids engaged enough in a story that they would wait for the next piece. My kids are constantly on screens, so I felt like if I could create something engaging enough to pull them off screens not just for long enough to build a Lego set and forget about it, but to engage enough that they voluntary want to come away and think about this and put the clues together. Some of the pictures that we get from kids, they have whiteboards and notebooks where they write the clues down. For the most part our feedback and reviews are great, so what I’m doing must be working.
What do your kids think about what you do?
I had them in mind when I first started writing these stories, and they were my first testers. I bounced stuff by them and they read stuff, but they are so involved with it and frustrated with it by the end of the mystery that sometimes they don’t even finish them. They do think it’s very cool though, and talk about them with their friends. They think that it is exciting to see me running a business, and they love a lot of things about it, but it’s a double-edged sword. There are months at a time where I order way more pizzas than I should be!
What’s one piece of advice you’d give to other parents about working/living with purpose?
This might sound corny, but I think it’s all about the message I’m spreading in the Enchanted Slumber mystery, that is moving forward with hope and compassion and love. I think about parenting a lot, and feel like there are times I’m a terrible mom and I’m reaction parenting, or I’m not on top of it, or that I’m yelling too much. To have the purpose to understand what I want to be working towards matters, and everyone can have that — whether it is as a parent or in your work life, or just getting through your day. It’s more than just turn that smile upside down, it’s finding that mindful way of appreciating what you have, and being connected to yourself and your world. When you complete the Enchanted Slumber mystery you put three pieces of a necklace together and the message appears, “The answer is always love” so I guess that’s the answer to living with purpose, though it is hard sometimes.
What do you think you have in common with other moms?
That I’m exhausted, and the older my kids get, the more complicated their problems seem to get! My oldest is never asleep until 10:30, and that’s with lots of coming downstairs. I feel like I’ll never get to watch a TV show again. It’s like a moving target, you’re done with diapers and strollers and then you’re on to the next thing.
What’s been hardest about what you do?
Managing people. I spent a long time as a freelance writer working at home in my pajamas, and now there are eight people working for me in my house, although I’m looking for space now for the business. There’s always a roll of bubble-wrap in my living room, stacks of cardboard boxes in my dining room, it looks like we’re living in a warehouse. So between having people in my house all day and kids who never go to bed, there’s not a lot of me time.
One great thing we did this year though was to buy a couple of acres in the country where we go on weekends and in the summer, and that’s saving my sanity. It’s so quiet and the kids can run around outside, I get there and my gears just shift completely.
What other moms do you admire?
Can I give you a very honest upsetting answer? My own mother. She killed herself when I was 27, and ultimately people would say that she failed at life, that she was in too much pain, but I don’t see it that way. I admired my mom so much for the fact that she tried. It is so easy to see suicide as failure, but I admire her for everything that she taught us and gave us, and she did not have a lot of resources to care for us sometimes. She was deeply flawed, and in enormous amounts of pain, but she loved us a constantly.
The Whole Family Happiness Project is a group of moms exploring our connection to our individual purpose, our family happiness, and the happiness of the world around us. Come join us on Facebook.