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Essay: Coloring in the Lines

Standing in the checkout line at the craft store, I am flooded with a sense of pleasure and anticipation—but it’s not about purchasing this bottle of glue. It’s about the display of new coloring books.

Suddenly I’m eight years old again, lying on the living room carpet with a new coloring book. Sometimes my grandfather colored with me at the dining room table.

Once, when he picked up a red crayon to color a mountain, I thought he was making a mistake.

“You need purple, Grampa,” I said gently.

“Watch,” he said and showed me how to softly, softly blend red and blue together to make a different purple—one that gave the mountain texture and depth.

Years later, when I became a mother, someone told me that coloring books weren’t good for children—that coloring inside the lines would inhibit their creativity. I didn’t believe it and spent hours at the dining room table coloring with my daughter—and then, with my granddaughters.

Creativity isn’t just about freedom; it’s about limits, too. It’s not the lines that matter so much as what you do inside them, like blending red and blue to make a mountain jump off the page.