Make Something: Crayons


I have always loved to color. Show me a brand new Crayola box, all green and gold and sharp-cornered and tidy, and my fingers will twitch at the possibility of getting lost in the meditative, back-and-forth motion of coloring.

I love crayons even more now, as a grown-up, than I did as a child. I’m far more playful with crayons now than I remember being as a kid. Back then, crayons came with so many rules and responsibilities:

  • Don’t lose them.
  • Don’t break them.
  • Don’t peel them.
  • Don’t press too hard.
  • Don’t jam the sharpener.
  • Sort them by color so you can find what you need.

And for God’s sake:

  • Stay between the lines!

I’ve resented these rules for a long time. And somehow I held my mother responsible for these constraints. Until tonight.

As I tackled this make something assignment, to “work with crayons,” while my arm moved loosely around the page, making strokes of Crayola colors on a white piece of paper, I realized Mom’s crayon-related advice was not to constrain my artistry, but to prolong it.

Sure, maybe Mom did tell me not to lose my crayons (because our budget was tight, and she would have struggled to replace them). Maybe she also told me not to jam the sharpener (because she liked to use it, too). She may have even suggested sorting the crayons by color (not out of rigid discipline, but because the result would be interesting, and the process might have kept me quiet and busy for a time).

Those other rules—particularly to stay between the lines—came not from my mother, but from an education system that was constrained, itself. Limited budgets. Limited hours. Limited staff members. Limited resources. Limited freedom. I accepted those circumstances, but resented the resulting limits on my creativity.

And shame on me: I assigned all those limits to my mom.

In retrospect, I’m pretty sure my mom was frustrated by those constraints as well. For all I know, on those nights when Mom left me with a babysitter—who would spend the evening teaching me to stay between the lines in my Winnie the Pooh coloring book—Mom was doing her part to support creativity and the arts in our schools.

Mom is gone now, so I’ll never know for sure what she did at those PTA meetings. But I like my theory. And whenever I see a crayon, I’ll renew my commitment to support the very same.

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