I just found this post from a year ago. It never got published and so I’m sending it out today. A little intuitive color theory from a personal place:
I have always thought it was that grown-ups were afraid of color…that we lose our way over the course of life and end up in the mire of putty, taupe, grey and beige because we become afraid of expressing ourselves and our feelings through color. I owned a business for over 15 years in which I helped people choose shades of taupe, raw sienna and murky purple for their walls and I painted them to look old and soft. I also painted murals. And have since lectured on color theory many times and even cited this putty-taupe-grey business as a sad affair that afflicts grown-ups but never children. Children know exactly which colors they love and they are almost always bright. But tonight, I have absolutely changed my thoughts on this in a shocking realization:
The last time we painted our son’s bedroom he was nearly four. His baby sister was about to be born and we needed to shift rooms. He was ready for his Big Boy room. We chose a clear, light blue. If I am not mistaken it was Dunn Edwards drenched rain. But it is hardly a rainy color–sunny actually. When we painted his room, we were very into reading him the Mercy Watson series by Kate DiCamillo about a goofy pig who likes to eat toast with a “great deal of butter on it” and her wonderful parents and kooky community. Because there were four of these chapter books, they seemed very grown up. And I loved reading him the character voices. When he was four, my son’s favorite color was still hot pink.
My Big Boy was big in name only. He hadn’t yet seen Star Wars or Harry Potter. He didn’t know scary yet. He was just getting into his body as Rudolph Steiner explains–it takes children the first seven years to descend into their bodies. But it wasn’t as if he hadn’t seen worse things than you or I have, because he had. I have never been in an MRI machine. He has. Twenty-two times under general anesthesia. At age four, though, he had only been in about twelve times. And then there was that year of chemotherapy when he was two for that tumor caused by a rare illness, LCH. He has seen scary–each time they held the mask on his face before the MRI–each time they stuck that weird tack into the port in his chest to give him chemo. But he was so young–only two. And so don’t think I didn’t think twice about a color called drenched rain. No more rain, please dear god, no more rain.
And so here we are and my sweet boy will be nine this week. This week he has plowed through the first hundred pages of the 5th Harry Potter. I know. I know what you are thinking, but he just got to the fourth this year. How do you stop your child (who normally picks book report books based on their thickness) from willingly reading an 870 page book? Exactly.
But just a month ago I had to use Voldemort in an explanation I wasn’t ready for. I picked up the kids from school and after we made our first left, my son asked from the backseat, “Mom, what happened in this country on September 11, 2001?” I froze. Surely, I thought he’d ask about the veracity of Santa before this. And thank god he didn’t. So that is good. I asked how he knew that date and he said a friend at school had mentioned it in his report presentation that day. I said, slowly, that we could talk about it at home and I glanced at his little sister in the rear view mirror so he would understand that I couldn’t speak about it in the car in front of her.
When we got home, I asked him if he really wanted to know. He did. I explained it to him however briefly. I didn’t want to. We work so hard to shield and protect them from the horrible things. They simply don’t need to know and they will have a whole lifetime to understand or to not-understand violence, hatred and war. It’s sort of like knowing that Santa isn’t real except in reverse–knowing that bad things happen. I used Voldemort as a metaphor and explained that there are a few people on this earth who, for whatever reason, want to do bad things and hurt people and cause suffering and fear. I explained that the buildings fell and exactly how many people lost their lives. My son, who wasn’t really at all ready for anything I had to say, got flushed and his pupils widened and he said I could stop. My heart broke a tiny bit for that little sad ceremony we had in the driveway–while his little sister sang her singsongy songs from inside the house. My heart broke for seeing him understand that awful new thing.
And now it is time to paint his room again. I have been considering a slightly darker blue than drenched rain–a blueish grey with a hint of green in it. It isn’t as clear nor as sunny as drenched rain but it feels older to me–an even bigger Big Boy room. And I pondered this tonight and I realize that it isn’t that we become afraid of color as we age, but that as we grow up, the Jungian shadows sneak in–the colors become harder to define. We add a drop of black to what once was clear. But what makes it worse, is that I am adding the drop of black to the blue because it would look so good with that chevron rug.
Nonetheless, the shadows do come–through unwelcome driveway chats and the news and MRIs and all of the complexities of this existence–this exquisite existence. And colors become harder to define–more complicated–murkier at times and much brighter at others. And sometimes it is perfectly clear that we are in a turmeric-milk-saffron-gold phase and others–swamp or vapor.
But still, we should wrap ourselves in colors we love. Color is one of the many talismans we have to navigate the world–to change our emotions and feelings–and sometimes to reflect the dawning complexities we feel.