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.