Coloring a Sunny Day


Recently, our youngest son discovered a couple of large coloring books that had been tucked away on some basement shelves, unused since we got them years ago. He has sat with them several times for long stretches, simply coloring, tongue planted in his cheek just the way mine was as a boy when I was deep in concentration.

One afternoon this past weekend, he cleared some space at the kitchen table and asked me to sit with him while he colored. He chose a scene with a cowboy riding a horse, and worked carefully in crayon to make a sun in the corner of the page, complete with rays spreading out from a bright yellow center. I watched as he then colored a large swath of the sky, coloring blue right over the yellow sun. I wondered if he intended it that way, or if he was just caught up in the enjoyment of the blue. The answer came a moment later when I noticed him take a black crayon and make a scribble over and over the sun, and then slump back in his chair, dropping the crayon to the ground.

I thought this would fix it. It was supposed to be yellow, he said staring down at the sun, but I did the blue on it. I thought this would make it back to darker yellow, but it just ruined it.

He exhaled deeply and looked at me, then half-heartedly scraped with his thumbnail at the blue and black that covered his sun. The contentment that I had felt in sitting with him faded into sharing his deep disappointment.

What if we make it a cloud? I asked. It was the only thing I could think of.

Okay, he said.

I picked up the black crayon and traced an outline around the sun. There, now you color it in, and it will be a nice dark cloud.

He took the crayon from me and did just that. The black cloud looked a bit out of place in the otherwise bright blue sky, but he picked up a brown crayon and went back to coloring the cowboy riding his horse. I quietly exhaled in measured relief.

Until he started to cry.

But I wanted it to be a sunny day, Dad.

I was completely and utterly helpless. He had been enjoying our moment as much as I had; I was sure he had been enjoying the idea of his picture too, the image of it he held his mind. Now neither one was the way he wanted it to be, and there was nothing I could do about it.

Remembering his attempt to scrape away at the crayon, I thought of getting my wife’s sharp pair of sewing scissors to do the same, to reduce that paper to white, to give my son the fresh start he wanted.

Perhaps it was the scissors that gave me the idea of drawing a new sun on a separate piece of paper and pasting it on top of the mistake. I wasn’t sure he would like the idea, but he agreed and drew a new sun on a white piece of paper. He asked me to color in the blue so he wouldn’t go over the rays. I worked carefully and then had him finish before we glued it on. He was happy with it, and went back to the cowboy, the grass, and the fence.

Even though it turned out all right in the end, I can still hear him saying to me, through his sobs and tears, But I wanted it to be a sunny day, Dad. He had tried to set aside his disappointment – but he couldn’t. Instead, he surrendered to complete presence in the moment. No pretense, no holding back, no self-judgment. Isn’t that what we all long for?

Most touching as a father is that my son was willing to do this with me, and in this way expressed his complete love and trust. As an adult, experiencing and expressing anger, sadness, or disappointment in the presence of others is difficult for me. I have come to fear doing so.

Yet here was my five year old, showing me exactly how to do it right here, right now.

But I wanted it to be a sunny day, Dad.

Coda: In the days since, I have thought a lot about having fixed the drawing. I know I won’t always be able to give him the sunny day he wants. And I shouldn’t. But this one? I had to.

24 thoughts on “Coloring a Sunny Day

  1. Karin Wiberg

    This is a great story! I don’t have kids but I can relate to your son’s pain–it made me think of the time I had spent hours working to color the Blue Fairy in my Pinocchio coloring book, only to have my red crayon mess up her tiny little lips because it was too fat! I was distraught! Now I have a new strategy for next time I color “wrong.” Well done–and well written.

  2. drshyamalavatsa

    Beautiful post. There was no sun in the original drawing, the child CREATED the sun because he imagined a sunny day, that’s how important the sun was! I agree we can’t (and shouldn’t) fix every project a child has trouble with, but in this case every parent will say it was called for πŸ™‚

  3. Whimsy Mimsy

    As parents, I think that this is what we aspire to, but only achieve on the good days. πŸ™‚ You not only taught him that things happen, but that you keep trying until you get (hopefully) the results you wanted…even if they have to be mutated a little from our original plans. This flexibility and perseverance lesson was fantastic. I wish I could box it up and use it on my (much older) kids!

    1. bussokuseki Post author

      Thank you so much for reading and sharing a bit of your own story. I suppose our plans are always mutated from the original, aren’t they? Be well~

  4. peculiaritiesandreticences

    I had a similar experience with my ten-year-old, who was doing a painting for an art exhibit at school. She was trying to paint a lighthouse, but somehow ended up with a huge black spot in the center of the painting. Ruined, she thought, and was devastated (her other submission, a clay pot, exploded in the kiln. Really. I held her and we got through the tears… then we started talking abstract. She painted over the thing in white, then blended colors wet on wet, then used a palette knife to cut zigzagged streaks through the layers. It was strikingly beautiful, and she couldn’t have done it without giving in to the moment and working with it as it was. The best part- the ugly streaks of black she was crying about became an interesting focus of the work when exposed through the knife streaks under all those layers. The painting was a big hit at the exhibit and she was very proud of herself.

    1. bussokuseki Post author

      Beautiful story, especially the image of your patience in supporting and being with her… I always appreciate you stopping in to read and share your thoughts. Be well on your path~

      1. peculiaritiesandreticences

        I did my best to be patient with her. It was a good lesson for me because I was under a tremendous amount of emotional pressure, and I could easily have lost sight as to what was important if I wasn’t mindful.

        Namaste, boss *gassho*

  5. Be Well And Happy

    can you give us all a sunny day please? Great story – want to know about living in the moment, just spend some time with a child….. thankyou πŸ™‚

    1. bussokuseki Post author

      I can’t believe how fortunate I am to have them in my life to teach me lessons…Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts. Be well this day~

  6. hillbillyzen13

    What a beautiful post, Gassho. Your description of the moment evokes such poignant images, and the knowledge you both gained that day, through this post, will extend far beyond your kitchen table. Thank you for sharing this.


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