The colours of life

Once upon a time (yes, it’s story time, folks!) there lived a small girl with short, fuzzy hair and dreams that were bigger than she was. She wasn’t quite old enough for Kindergarten, and in the mornings she’d watch Sesame Street after her weetbix and then go outside to play for half an hour while the test pattern was on the telly, and her Mum would call her in again when it was time for Play School. She liked to play outside. She liked to swing, and to run, and to find the cat to give it a pat, and to climb up into the lowest branches of the crab apple tree.

What she didn’t like though, was Brown. Brown was a boy’s colour, like blue, and dark bottle green, and tan and boots and corduroy and mustard yellow. Everybody knew that. Everybody knew that girls wore dresses and stockings and shiny party shoes and had hair that swooshed in the wind when you swung.

The little girl swung as high as she could on the swing, kicking her boots up to the boy-blue sky up and over the dark bottle green and brown of the crab apple tree, and down to swoosh the grass and up again. Her hair was fuzzy-short though, and never once swooshed in the wind, no matter how hard it blew, and so, when her Mum called, she’d run in off the swing and wipe her boots on the mat and go inside to watch Play School.

You know, a funny thing happens when we grow up: we somehow keep the little children that we were living inside of us. We pop them in their bedrooms and shut the door and make sure they’re comfortable and have some TV or a good book to read, but they don’t actually GO. And sometimes, whether we like it or not (and most often we do not) we discover that they’ve wadded up the bedclothes with pillows to make it look like they’re sleeping, and then they’ve crept silently out the door and moved into the driving seat of our minds, and it’s THEM, these little children inside us, that’s making decisions for us, feeling our feelings for us and reacting to things around us.

Excuse me, does this suck? Why yes, I think it does! Who, may I ask, gave a four year old girl permission to run the life of an adult woman? Since when was that a good idea?

I don’t remember exactly when I realized it. I remember being newly married in my early twenties and walking on the beach with my husband and ranting as only twenty-somethings can about how much I hated fluorescent pink, how it was the most ridiculous colour in the world and how you’d never find such a stupid colour in nature, and why I always wore colours of nature, like brown and tan and sky blue and dark bottle green. I ranted on that beach for some time, kicking the sand and walking to the dunes and enjoying nothing more than the sound of the waves and my own opinions, until I kicked up some strange sea debris: some fluorescent pink seaweed. I hastily repented to the seaweed’s creator and stood on the hot sand, corrected.

That was the beginning. It took a while though still, to realize that there was still a four-year-old girl directing my colour preferences. A four year old girl who had learned that, even though she was a girl, she would never be a pink dress and party shoe and swooshy-hair kind of girl, not because she didn’t want to be but because she wasn’t allowed to be. Because other people had made choices for her, and those choices were brown and blue and boots and tan and dark bottle green, and trousers.

There were probably reasons, back in the 70s, for those choices and in the minds of the parents who made them, although I suspect that the parents who made those choices were being controlled by their own four-year-olds inside them, and maybe those four-year-olds had once even longed for swooshy hair and party dresses and were never allowed them either.

I remember the day it happened. I was twenty seven years old, and I saw a hot-pink hoodie in a shop and felt sad because I couldn’t have it, because that wasn’t a colour I was ever allowed to wear. All of a sudden it happened though. I realized that I was the grown-up now. I stood there in the shop and found that little four-year-old girl in the driving seat of my mind and took her hand, and together we bought that thing, scared though she was. And then I told her that I was in charge of making the decisions now, because I was an adult, and she skipped back to her bedroom in peace.

I have a cupboard full of dresses now. Some of them are party dresses, and they go well with my swooshy (although still fuzzy) hair. And one of them, the special one that I will never part with even though wearing it with my post-baby body makes me look like a toilet-roll doll (remember those?), is frilly and luridly fluorescent pink.

How about you? Ever noticed that there’s a four-year-old inside making decisions for you? Scary, isn’t it. Have you ever busted out and bought the hot-pink hoodie you never thought you were able to have? If you haven’t, I hope you do it soon. It’s painful – trust me on that one, it’s gonna hurt – but it’s the most freeing thing you can ever do. Enjoy.

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8 thoughts on “The colours of life

  1. Yes, as a matter of fact, I had an identical crisis of color. It wasn’t until I was pregnant at 29 that I started wearing pink (as an assignment from my therapist). I loved it. I’ve determined to be the kind of mom that lets her daughter wear what she likes.

    • Wow Susie, wow. Well…you ARE my “sister”, after all, so I shouldn’t be too surprised. Did it make you cry? It did for me. Funny how such little things can be the most significant.

  2. For me it was a second piece of cake. I was brought up in a house where treats were meted out sparingly – so they lasted longer – which is great in theory. But my hubby was raised in a house where when the treats come out it’s all in or you miss out. So when I discovered that my carefully baked cakes weren’t lasting more than half a day, I quickly learnt that if I didn’t have a second piece ‘before I was allowed to’, I would not ever see it again. Now though, I have gone a step further and stayed with the single piece, because I really don’t need any more than that anyway, and if I don’t have another, it doesn’t matter. 😉

    • That’s an interesting observation Amanda. I’ve learned the same lesson that cakes last about half a day 😦 But hey, that’s what they’re there for.
      It reminded me of a friend of mine who was always really bad at asking for things – her family’s thing was “it’s rude to ask”, and her daughter would hang around the kitchen eyeing off the cake plate saying things like “That looks really yummy, did you make it?” and “I wish my Mum made cakes like that, and the really brave “One day I wish I could taste a piece”. When her mum came back we talked it over, and her mum realised for the first time that she’d grown up with the (completely un-Biblical) attitude that asking was wrong.
      And yes, the kid’s hinting ticked me off, but I gave her cake 🙂

  3. For me it was always having to do everything right. I don’t know if it came from me or my parents, I don’t remember, truly. But I never wanted to take the risks if I didn’t know how it would turn out, and that I could excel at it. So… now you see today, that I started a Blog…. OH MY! I have no idea what I’m doing and I just might fail… but I’m learning that failure is ok, and that stepping out, though scary, is where life is…. How gracious is God that we get to go back and be that person we never thought we could be … or go forward…

    • Kathi you are so right. I love the freedom to step out and try new things now too. Like you, I never tried anything much if I thought I wouldn’t be good at it. The funniest thing i’ve learned though is that it’s actually easier to learn when you’ve failed. Once something is a success you’ve got to keep replicating it, and sometimes figuring out what actually makes it successful takes a while. Who knew?
      Good luck with that blog. I’m looking forward to reading more!

  4. For me, it’s holding yourself back. Maybe you can sing, but you’d better not sing at top volume and for goodness sakes, don’t open your mouth like a frog. Maybe you can write. That’s fine, there are worse hobbies, but don’t you go spreading your “stuff” around where other people can see it. Like Kathi, I don’t know exactly where That Voice came from but it’s a deflating and strident one.

    When I finally realized that I was letting That Voice squelch part of me, I started letting myself leap up when the Sunday school superintendent asked for a volunteer for the preschool class. I started to share my writing now and then, to help out at a local nursing home. I still hear that squelching voice just before and after I let loose but while I’m in the midst of it, even That Voice isn’t as loud as my crackly alto or my best Bingo shout.

    I felt sure this was going to be a good post when I read the first sentence. I wasn’t disappointed. My favorites are when you talk about your childhood and nudge me to remember mine.

    • I’m glad you’ve learned to recognise that voice Wanderer, and I’m so glad you’ve learned that you are stronger. It’s such a big thing.
      And I’m so tickled that you like my childhood stories too! I’ll have to think of some more, just for you 🙂

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