I was in the kitchen when I heard my toddler daughter say, “Look, Mommy. Look. Come see what I did.”
Of course, with an introduction like that, I wasn’t sure what to expect.
I had just left her alone in her room for five minutes — five full minutes — and “what I did” could mean any number of things, but since my hands were still deep in our overflowing sink and whatever it was surely couldn’t get any worse, I yelled back: “Be right there, sweetheart. I’m just finishing up the dishes.”
“OK,” she said, but before I could pick up another glass I heard her little feet stomping down the hallway. My hands were still soapy and wet when she reached my side.
“Mommy, Mommy, Mommy!”
I could hear the excitement in her voice — it was palpable — so I quickly rinsed up and shut off the water.
I turned around to give her my full and complete attention.
“What is it baby?”
She looked up at me and smiled. “I have a surprise for you.”
“You do? Is it behind your back?”
“Noooooooo.” Of course, the position of her hands and the sway in her step told me otherwise, but I decided to play along. “Put out your hands and close your eyes.”
“OK,” I complied. I could hear my daughter shuffling about and giggling, and then she did it: she placed my surprise — a sheet of paper — in my warm, and still damp, hands.
“You can open them now.
In my hands lay not a mess or an art project gone wrong, but a carefully colored pictured. A bright and beautiful picture.
“You made this all by yourself?” I asked. “It’s fantastic! And look how well you colored in the lines.”
“Yup! See her necklace?” My daughter pointed out Sofia’s pink amulet and yellow dress. She beamed with pride as she showed me Amber’s black arms and her baby-blue legs, and I just smiled and nodded because her picture was beautiful.
Her work was beautiful.
Yet while she was proud of this picture — extremely proud of this picture — to her it was just another picture. It was yet another creative and colorful masterpiece. I, however, saw it as something more. Much, much more.
You see, to me this picture was a sign of growth, it was a mark of progress, and it was the beginning of the proverbial end because this was the first time my daughter had colored unprompted and on her own. This was the first time my daughter had colored in the lines, and something about this was unsettling.
Truth be told, it was even upsetting.
Make no mistake, I was proud — and am proud — as my daughter’s work was not only impressive, it showed maturity and focus. She was learning and growing up, but that was part of the problem because, in my gut, I knew (I continue to know) that with each development she not only gets bigger and wiser, she changes. The core of who she is changes, and she becomes more “adult-like,” which saddens me.
Truthfully, it breaks my heart.
So as my daughter bounded back to her bedroom, I cried— not thick crocodile tears, but silent ones that remained firmly in the corners of my eye, out of her sight but impeding mine… because I love her carelessness, her innocence, and her free spirit. I love her imagination, and I am not yet ready to taint that innocence, even though she is.
Unconsciously, she is.
By seeing those lines, she is beginning to fall in line. Her drawings are proof that she now views the world as one that has borders and “rules,” and before long the sky will always have to be blue, trees will always be brown and green, and the sun will beat orange and yellow and not indigo.
Fuschia stars will be wiped from her existence.
Of course, I know this is a Catch-22. She needs to grow up, and I want her to grow up, but not quite yet. So, after a minute long pity party, I decided to follow her. I decided to change the course of today — of this day — and I sat down beside her. I grabbed a brand-spanking new piece of paper and doodled “silly faces” alongside colorful cats and orange oceans. I told her elephants lived in evergreen trees, because her imagination is breaking more quickly than Crayola crayons, but I won’t let it break today.