Outside the Lines

I’m learning an important lesson from my two-year-old twins.

It started with a few boxes of half-broken Dollar Store crayons, the chunky kind with images of Mickey Mouse and Cars characters plastered on the wrappers. The ones that usually don’t make it past a week of use or get hopelessly and eternally lost in couch cushions and toy boxes.

My boys always ask to “cowor” (color). They have an ever-growing stack of coloring books, ranging in subject from farm animals to Disney characters to vehicles. But like most carefree toddlers, they don’t discriminate on material — meaning, their artistry isn’t limited to paper. They’ve decorated couch cushions, cabinets, toys, the bathtub, even highchairs with their masterpieces of color.

But when they’re ready to take colored wax to actual paper, they make aggressive streaks of red, green, blue, orange, and yellow, on black, outlined images of cows and monster trucks. Sprawled out, stomach to the carpet, clutching the chubby crayons in opposing fists, they draw as if by force willing the color to transfer to the paper. They are completely absorbed in their task of creation.

Mostly I just watch, amazed at their concentration and focus. But occasionally I join them, sharing the space next to them, taking a broken half of crayon and coloring in one of the Paw Patrol dogs or a picture of Goofy.

The boys’ thick lines of color scratch across the page, in and out of lines, while I carefully color around the border of Goofy’s shoe, then proceed to shade in the middle. But an unsteady hand, the unfamiliar thickness of the kid-friendly crayon makes me weave out of the dark outline. An unsightly mark. Noticeable. Ugly. The brown mark glares at me from outside the line. I feel myself getting frustrated. As the adult, I should be modeling to my children how to color inside the lines. Yet, at this activity designed for those their size, their age, I fail.

But while I continue to color, impeded by annoyance at my imperfect marks, my boys continue on, unfazed by their colors smearing aggressively outside of their own outlines. It doesn’t bother them. They color a thick red line, then move on the next page, not worried about finishing one picture before moving on to the next, or perfectly staying within those black guidelines. They’re perfectly content in the pleasure of making, reveling in an abundance of chaotic color and their own unique processes of creation.

To be two. To allow myself the complete, absolute freedom to make mistakes. To, without guilt, color outside of the lines. To simply enjoy my own choice, to enjoy the presence of color. To dictate the image I want to see. To make it uniquely mine. To respect my own process of creation. Could I let myself color outside of the lines? Could I ignore perfection and perception? Then…could I let that freedom translate into other areas of my life? Making mistakes, dictating my own process, creating simply out of pleasure, not expectation.

It’s a process. I expect perfection from myself. I think we all do. But, I’m learning. Life still goes on if a puppy has a green face instead of a brown one, or Donald Duck has purple feet instead of yellow ones. It’s about the colors. It’s about the freedom. The guidelines are simply that — guidelines. They don’t dictate my choice of color. In fact, they encourage my creativity. Stimulate it. The lines don’t punish me for my mistakes, or demand a certain process. Coloring, creating: it’s about reveling in choice and enjoying guilt-free expression in our way. Don’t we all desperately need that? I think so. We need to remember being two, sprawled out on the carpet, coloring outside of the lines.

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