It’s heart-wrenching to be invalidated by someone you love. I was around ten years old when I showed my father a picture I had drawn and colored. Sitting at the dining room table, I was pleased with what I had done.
As I remember it, he grabbed the drawing, shook it, and yelled “You colored outside the lines!”
Well, this tendency of drawing outside the lines has become a quality of character that I adore. It is a Christmas gift of immense proportions! I did not know in that moment that his criticism would become a mantra of sorts, kind of like my personal 11th commandment.
“Thou shalt always color outside the lines because that’s where learning, character growth, and love are placed.”
Ironically, the same man who was pushed to anger about my straying outside the lines was also the person who taught me about taking chances. In a booming voice Daddy would stride into the kitchen with vague ingredients in his large, deep brown hands and look into the boiling pots on the stove.
“Improvise!” he’d shout, and we’d watch with doubtful, although hopeful, faces as a splash of this or that was thrown into our evening meal. Sometimes, his improvising didn’t work, but most times, I was astonished to see, it worked out just right. So, yell as much as he might, my first lessons in straying outside the lines came from him.
I was sitting behind my desk and chewing. The rules in my third grade class were clear: no gum chewing; no eating. It wasn’t that I was being openly rebellious. It’s just that as I quietly watched my teacher chewing, I had decided that a rule was a rule. Didn’t everybody—even teachers—have to follow the rules?
So, as she chomped away, bold as you please, and drew math examples on the board, I put the gum in my mouth and began to chew.
“Take the gum out of your mouth. You know the rules.” she said.
So I said (my sister tells me that I always had to have something to say), “But you’re chewing gum, Mrs. H.”
Okay. If you’re old-school you may have some belief about child-adult relationship values, and how the adult has the final word. But I color outside the lines.
Mrs. H. glared at me.
“Why are you chewing gum?” I insisted as my classmates laughed, went silent, or coughed with surprise.
“It’s medicine!” she snapped. “On the black board, 100 times, I will not chew gum in class.”
I hate the sound of chalk on blackboard, but although I’d lost the battle, in the end I won the war. I don’t remember seeing her chew gum in class any more.
I found out later that it was a chewing gum laxative. But knowing myself as I do now, I’m pretty sure I would have asked “why?” anyway. That’s the mold from which this cookie is cut.
Drawing outside the lines—or in my adult persona, challenging the status quo— requires at least a dot of courage in order to ask the questions. I may not get the answers, but I will ask the questions. Asking puts me in the driver’s seat.
Drawing outside the lines is what compelled me to (politely) explain to a manager that she was abusive—knowing full well the consequences. I am healthier and happier for it.
Even when we try to stay inside the lines, twisting and shifting our personalities and behaviors to be liked, life’s pictures shift and change, and we find ourselves grabbing new colors, different inks, or sharper pencils to keep up. Sometimes we just have to go over those little lines to make life beautiful and–dare I say it ? –filled with dignity, love, and respect.
The cynical (you know how I feel about cynical…) might ask, “How’s that workin’ for ya?”
Happy Holidays, everybody. May the New Year continue to bring you peace, joy, prosperity, and courage!