Curled around my down-feathered pillow, as Chicken Pox created a polka dot motif all over my body, my father stood at the end of my bed with the best pill for relief — ever.
“Honey, I have a gift for you,” he smiled. “I know how much you love to color.” Then, handing me a Shirley Temple coloring book, along with a new box of Crayola crayons, I instantly forgot the feeling that a thousand mosquitoes had just attacked my body.
“Thank you, Daddy!” I squealed, reaching for the gift. But, as quickly as my excitement rose, it plummeted.
“Remember, you must color inside the lines if you want to make it pretty.”
Opening the book, Shirley sat in all her ringlet glory, holding a doll in a frilly dress. Wanting the first man who ever loved me to be proud of my endeavors, I painstakingly struggled to fit the kaleidoscope of red, yellow, green, and purple inside the black lines of her image. Feeling the urge to let loose, it wasn’t long before rainbows, curly Q’s, squiggles, and dots found their way onto the page. Six-year-old hearts instinctively know that art should have no limitations. Unfortunately, the rest of my life didn’t fare as well.
We’re all products of the generation we were born into, and with that also comes conditioning. In the 1950s and ’60s, I was a prisoner, chained to a world of rules, regulations, boundaries, and, especially, expectations: be kind, selfless, and perfect. Any action that dishonored the family name was a big no-no and punishable not with death, but worse. My mother’s silence. And thinking or acting outside the box in school was typically met with a lift to the eyebrow and a call to your parents.
To say my life has been politically correct, doing what was right, and living according to plan, with no erratic doodling in the margins, is like saying, after winter comes spring — predictable. Fortunately, one day, I woke up.
When I first became a mother in 1981and held my daughter Michelle in my arms, I made a conscious decision that her life, and any future children, would follow a different path.
While manners and respect would be a must, and meeting deadlines and punctuality important, I wanted them to be non-conformists when it came to speaking their minds, standing up for themselves, and feeling the beat that drove their dancing soul. Like my parents before, I strove to give them everything I thought I didn’t have. Only this time, it didn’t have to come with a paycheck. The masterpiece of their lives wouldn’t be the result of rigid rule-following, but in the joyful prance down the often crooked path, their experiences would bring.
Not long ago, I found myself telling Jenni (my number 2), “Go for it,” when she decided to leave a ten-year teaching career, a profession she loved with security, and moved back to San Diego. She’d go with no job in sight, no home to move into. All she had was her leap of faith. Waving goodbye, it hit me, “Why don’t I give myself the same permission. I never tell them not to try.” Perhaps it was time I became my child.
I think we’ve all done this – given consent to others while not allowing ourselves the same courtesy. It’s a beautiful expression of our love to be selfless, but we need to treat ourselves with the same reverence.
So, the next time I’m faced with “what’s expected,” I’ll first dive into my box of 100 freshly sharpened crayons and ask, “What would I tell my children to do?” Then, pulling out the brightest crayon I find, I’ll start creating. Our lives should be about exploring color as each new day presents itself, and there’s no better way to explore it than outside the lines.