Thursday, October 8, 2009

"Crayola doesn't make a color for your eyes..."

"...spring-green is much too yellow
sea-green is far too pale
cornflower is way too mellow
so i'll try again and fail
there's no way i can capture
the way you make me feel
one look from you is rapture
whether blue or green or teal
no color qualifies
that crayon's telling lies
crayola doesn't make a color
for your eyes...

hey look it's periwinkle
so sure i got it now
But you wink and there's a twinkle
in your eye and still somehow...

crayola doesn't make
a color for your eyes
There is no way that
i could possibly describe you
crayola doesn't make a color
to draw my love..."

- Kristin Andreassen

My friend Susie posted this video of Kristin Adreeassen's "Crayola Doesn't Make a Color for Your Eyes," today, and I immediately knew what I wanted to write about.


Mary Baker Eddy, in her "Glossary" of spiritual terms found in
Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, defines "Eyes" as:  "spiritual discernment, not material but mental."

How then could you choose a color for your eyes?  It would be like choosing a single color for joy, or love, or home.  Can you imagine the sadness that would descend on the world if  the word "home" was defined as "blue", even the most perfect shade of blue.   Every house, in every land, blue...or green, or yellow. 

Can you imagine if there was a crayola with the word "body" on it?  As if there was only one perfect color for a person's skin.  Oh yea, they do have that don't's called "flesh"...hmmm...I wonder, do they still make a crayola with the word "flesh"  printed on that narrow strip of peach paper with black stripes and bold block lettering wrapped around a crayon? Now that I think about it, it's kind of creepy actually...

Which brings me to....well, where it brings me.  The story.

I was teaching Kindergarten in a relatively small Southern California town surrounded by Los Angeles County on three sides, and the ocean on the fourth.  I loved my class of eager students.  We were a diverse group -- five of seven continents represented by 35 students and one teacher.  I loved walking onto the playground in the morning and hearing the buzz and chatter of almost twelve languages blending as parents said "goodbye" and siblings called, "see you later" to one another in the language used at home, but usually left outside the gates at school.

One of my favorite projects each fall was to unroll large sheets of butcher paper onto the floor of our classroom and have each child (and teacher) stretch out on top of their sheet, so that another child could trace the outline of the his/her body.  Then each one would fill in the outline with a "self portrait" of how we saw ourselves.

Pencils, crayons, scraps of fabric and glue, buttons, strips of lace, and shoe laces would contribute to a fully fleshed out version of how each of us thought we looked.

It was a fun beginning-of-the school-year project and did a lot to help classmates get to know one another through the other's eyes.  After we'd finished our large paper doll selves, we'd hang them on the walls...after introducing them to the class in a series of presentations.  "Hi, this is Amy.  She is five years old.  She lives with her Nonie and Pop Pop while her mom goes to school.  Her dad is away on business for a few years...."  And later in October we would dress our paper doll selves in Halloween costumes. 

At the end of the year we would do the same project over again and see how our concept of  "self" had changed.  It was always most apparent  when we'd introduce this new self (who was now graduating from Kindergarten and was ready for first grade) to the same children we hadn't really known in September, but who were now as familiar to us as our siblings.  "Hi, I would like you to meet Arturo, as you know, he loves to read and do math.  His favorite song is "Thriller" and he can moonwalk.  He has new baby brother that he thinks is too noisy, but he is helping his mom by not telling her to take him back to the hospital."

I loved this project.  Sometimes the introductions were sweet and funny, and sometimes they were sad and full of despair.  Either way we were  going to be a class, a family and we would be there for one another.  We were all in it for the long haul.  We would learn and we would grow.  And it would be fun most of the time, and hard some of the time.

This particular year, I had a little girl in my class named Marguerite.  Her family had recently relocated from San Salvador and she was the only one who  spoke any all.  She was a fragile and shy as a small fawn caught in the middle of an urban park and I could feel her heart beating wildly as I gently placed my hand on her shoulder that first morning.  In that moment, I knew that she would be my tracing partner for our whole-man self portraits that afternoon. 

Over the next few days I got to know Maggie (as she asked to be called) and we laughed about how much more tracing she had to do than anyone else (since I was the biggest kid in class), how funny her braids looked after being traced, and the odd shape of our feet.  

Soon it was time to fill in the blanks.  We drew in fingers, eyes, nose, mouth...and for some freckles, long (mostly just wished for) fingernails, and pierced ears.  It was a fun, noisy time of day...and we thoroughly enjoyed watching one another come to life as our flatter selves took on personalities.

When it was time to color in our selves, however, the mood changed (as it usually would each year).  Choosing the right color for hair, skin, hands, lips made everyone a bit tense.  I watched as Hispanic children wrestled with the right shade of brown, tan, or beige.  African-American children struggled with why they were called "black" and what did it mean that they wanted to use the same shade of brown as their Hispanic classmates.  Asian children wondered why someone had suggested yellow as a skin color and no one wanted to be "white"...except those who just didn't want to do any coloring at all.  We spent hours talking about colors and how they didn't define us accurately.  I remember "Maggie" being the last to choose her skin color.  She chose "rose,"  a soft strong pink, because she thought it was the most beautiful...and she wanted to be seen as beautiful and sweet like a flower. 

But it was the shift that came with the choosing of eye colors that astounded me that year.  Our joy returned.  Everyone felt that they could mix and match colors for their eyes.  We spent one afternoon moving from person to person, just looking deeply into eachother's eyes, trying to describe the colors we saw, to one another.  There were stripey blue-green eyes with spots of gray, deep brown eyes that sparkled with golden glitter, and gray eyes streaked with purple.  There were eyes like shards of pottery, and eyes that looked like the ocean on a summer's day, eyes as dark as a midnight sky and eyes as pale as the blue snow of the arctic. 

I will never forget, however, the color of Maggie's eyes. Once we'd finished our describing exercise, and were sent off to color in our own eyes..supplementing those one-on-one shared descriptions with visits to the long mirror in the back of the room...we were alone with our flatter selves.  I came up behind Maggie kneeling tenderly over her paper doll self in the far corner, and almost gasped.  She had painted rainbows in each of her eyes and sprinkled the paint with glitter.  Then she had drawn a big eye on her chest where her heart would have been and painted it in with a glowing, glittering sun...again, spirinkled with glitter. 

I kneeled down next to her and watched her work, her forehead crinkled in concentration until she sat back on her bottom and heaved a big sigh.  I asked her if she would tell me about her eyes...especially the one in her chest.  She said that the eye in her heart was the one that was like the sun.  It made everything she saw turn into rainbows even when it was gray and cloudy in her mind. 

I've never forgotten it.   I ask you, "who was
really the teacher that day?"

What color would your eyes be?

Thanks Maggie...who introduced her end-of the-year self portrait to us as Marguerite with confidence and joy...I love the color of your eyes...

Kate Robertson, CS


  1. Anonymous3:40 PM

    this is breathtaking. thank you

  2. Anonymous3:19 AM

    through the eyes of a child..thank you Kate

  3. Anonymous11:00 AM

    "For beautiful eyes, look for the good in others; for beautiful lips, speak only words of kindness; and for poise, walk with the knowledge that you are never alone. ---Audrey Hepburn (as shared by Deborah Geffner)

  4. Deborah11:29 AM

    I love this Kate! It gave me shivers to hear Maggie describe the eye in her heart. Thank you for all your beautiful stories.

  5. Donna in VA9:08 AM

    Fortunately Crayola no longer calls a crayon "flesh" - it's peach now and all us teachers appreciate that.

  6. Warren4:12 PM

    What a beautiful story. I love your description of little Maggie, "her forehead crinkled in concentration until she sat back on her bottom and heaved a big sigh." That visual of an innocent child giving her creative all is so powerful. Its unfortunate that we let ourselves forget about that incredible creativity within.