A recent life cycle event left me feeling a little blue. After I took my children to do their back-to-school shopping, I realized that for the first time in over 15 years, I didn’t have to buy crayons for anyone. Crayons have a special place in my heart. Having used them as a child and then being reunited with them as a parent, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of sorrow. You see, crayons, which are not as unassuming as they seem, have taught me some of life’s greatest lessons. Peering up at us with their colorful pointy faces, they stand soldier-like in their box, lined up next to their nearest relative in the color spectrum, waiting anxiously to see what the world has to offer. As often is the case, it is only after they’re gone that we realize the impact they had on our lives.
Believe it or not, crayons are one of the first forms of social pressure a child might experience. You see, sitting at home with a box of 16 or 24 crayons is fine when you’re three years old. It’s not until you join the ranks of your peers that your crayon satisfaction level begins to drop. Looking around on your first day of preschool, you begin to notice that some children not only have larger boxes of crayons but some of them even come with a sharpener. Now, although experienced crayon users understand that the sharpener is not all it’s cracked up to be, that doesn’t stop a person from wanting one. As many of you remember, the box of 64 crayons included the sharpener. It also raised one’s status in the eyes of fellow colorers.
When crayon awareness hit my family, I was asked by one of my aspiring artists if she could get the “big” box of crayons. Instead of following my moral compass and refusing to capitulate to peer pressure, my own dormant awareness of crayon status got the better of me and I happily gave permission. (The thrill of having once been the proud owner of a box of 64 crayons, including the aforementioned sharpener, still lived deep in my heart.) My mistake was in not realizing that over the years (decades if we are being honest here) the “big” box of crayons had increased to a shocking 152 crayons. This monstrosity is called “The Ultimate Crayon Collection.” (I’m not making this up). Of course, having already committed, I couldn’t go back on my word, although I did try very hard. But let’s face it, to whom are crayons more important? To a parent who is trying not to break her budget or to a hysterical disappointed five-year-old? (I’m confident you can figure that out yourself.)
But moving on to the more pleasant of life’s lessons, it is clear that crayons have played an extraordinary role in expanding our knowledge of colors. Not only do they put primary colors to shame; they also tax the imagination of those of us who are color-challenged. I mean, how many ways does a person need to say “yellow?” Well, as a parent of the owner of The Ultimate Crayon Collection (UCC), I can tell you. The answer is, “a lot.” Yellow can be, but is not limited, to the following variations: maize, sunflower, lemon yellow, dandelion, golden rod, macaroni and cheese, green yellow, middle yellow, maximum yellow, banana-mania, and canary. Before you start calling me for all your crayon needs, please realize that I am not the crayon aficionado that you think I am. I simply googled all the crayon colors for yellow, cross-referenced them with the UCC and reported my findings.
Now, having 10 or more shades of the same color can be fun, but it does present a problem when it comes to coloring camaraderie. Although we all know that “sharing is caring,” it also causes the crayons to get mixed up. So, if you’ve colored the sun “lemon yellow” but you don’t actually know how to read the label, you’re in trouble. When you later on in the coloring process want to use ‘lemon yellow” again for, say, the flowers, you have to figure out which yellow you used. One way to effectuate this is to gather all the yellows together and make a small scribble of each color on the side of your paper until you find the right one. Another way to troubleshoot the situation is to color with an older, wiser friend or sibling who can read the colors to you and help you find them again in your time of need.
This leads us to another benefit of coloring with others. You see, coloring is not merely a fun, social activity. Coloring takes precision, concentration, and care. One of the goals of an amateur colorer is to be able to color in the lines. Coloring with an older sibling who is also a helpful older sibling can help this dream become a reality. Many a youngster has looked longingly at his or her older sibling’s coloring book and dreamed about the day that they, too, would be able to create such a masterpiece. With help and guidance, this rite of passage can be realized. This achievement not only results in an increase in confidence but also forges a stronger bond between siblings, at least for the moment.
Coloring in the lines is not the only aspiration of the committed colorer. There is also the overlooked but necessary technical challenge of getting the crayons back in the box. Having new, as yet unbroken crayons helps but does not completely solve the problem. You see, if you hold the box in its upright-and-locked position, the crayons will lean to the side as you place them in the box. If you attempt to compensate for this by trying to shove more than one crayon in at a time, you run the risk of breaking a crayon or having one of them slide to the bottom. This latter disaster results in you having to dump the crayons out of the box and start all over.
Occasionally, a child gets frustrated and instead of mastering this event, simply places the handful of crayons in his or her pocket. Unmentionable things can then happen. Let me explain. The pocketed crayons that were forgotten by the crayon-pocketer are eventually discovered by the crayon-washer. Of course, this happens only after the crayons have melted and are stuck to all the clothing in the dryer. The resulting display of modern art has yet to line the halls of any museum.
Melting mishaps are not limited to the safety of one’s abode. They can also be accomplished when traveling. Being portable and inexpensive, crayons are often the activity of choice for long trips. Unfortunately, many of the crayons eventually find themselves out of the box. While the phrase “out of the box” is often a good thing, this is not so true when it comes to summertime crayon fun. Unlike the Wicked Witch of the West, who was at least able to verbalize her predicament, the crayons remain quietly hidden under the seats as they metamorphize into an altered state. Woe to the parent who erroneously figured they would just “find the crayons later.”
All in all, crayons have served me well, both in my youth and, well, you know. Although there are no crayons listed on this year’s school supply lists, I can’t help but feel the emotional need to buy a box for myself. It’s not like we’re talking about the Ultimate Crayon Collection here. On the other hand, seeing as how I’ve managed to do the shopping early this year, maybe I should reward myself with the box of 64. After all, it does come with a sharpener and you just never know when you might have to impress someone.