My Totally Un-Grown-Up Coloring and Tea Party!

My 64th birthday was more than a bit grim, as I awaited surgery for a potentially terminal illness. Oh, the family celebration was enjoyable; a young relative and I have birthdates falling only ten days apart, and we chose to make the whole gathering a lively thing by celebrating together in conjunction with Chinese New Year. But throughout the entire evening there was no way to escape the knowledge, lodged like an evil imp in the corner of my brain, that this might be the last time I gathered with my family to celebrate a birthday in this lifetime.

Circle the world on its axis…  I woke one January night nearly a year later.  Lying there, unable to sleep, I was overwhelmed by a deep gratitude that I would be entering soon upon my 65th year, healed. This year, I suddenly realized, I wanted a birthday party that was truly a celebration. I wanted something simply fun. I lay there pondering the question of just how to achieve that aim, and the answer came easily: I and many of my cronies considered coloring to be fun: just plain good fun. An Inner Child sort of party, I thought. A return to the simple pleasures of childhood. A coloring party would be the perfect way to celebrate my 65th birthday. Still restlessly tossing and not sleeping, I considered the question of what foods should be served at a coloring party, and again the answer rose up easily: another childhood favorite. A tea party.  I might no longer own my beloved childhood Blue Willow tea set (see the post, My Blue Willow Tea Set, 06/26/18), but I still loved a tea party.

Having taken hold, the idea spiraled. IMG_20190228_072333378_HDR (2)A family member suggested that all the pages colored at the party could be gathered into a scrapbook by which to remember my 65th birthday; an old friend arranged the use of a local church hall, so that I could invite as many people as I chose. Family and friends committed to bringing tea party-themed dishes. I searched for and found delightful miniature tea sets—thumbnail-sized plastic teapots with matching fairy-sized cups–to be inserted into organza bags and handed out as “tea bag” party favors.Tea Set I bought crayons and colored pencils and markers and coloring books and door prizes and party goods, and lovingly warned out-of-town friends who could not be present that they were expected to send me a colored page, too. Then, much as I had done for my daughter’s wedding, I petitioned all the saints and powers given charge of the weather for a snow-free February afternoon, and prepared to party.

The saints and powers were kind; the Saturday of the party dawned grey, misty, and perhaps a little ugly, but snow-free and fairly warm for a late February day in the Midwest. Friends and their young children or grandchildren arrived in droves–with late arrivals and early departures, over 40 people were present at some point during the party. They hunkered down to laugh, gossip, win door prizes and sip tea while nibbling a luscious assortment of goodies: rose petal jam cookies and tiny tea sandwiches; canapés and strawberries; nut bread and cupcakes–all the while producing colored pages—beautiful, funny, delightful–for my scrapbook.

At the end of the day, everyone pronounced the party to have been a great success. I was gratified, exhausted, and pleased beyond all measure. All I had really wanted was for my family and friends to have fun as they helped me create the memory of a lovely birthday to expunge the uneasy recollection of the one that had preceded it.

And for that reason alone, the Coloring and Tea Party was more than a success; it was a small miracle. Although nothing will ever completely erase the memory of those  anxious weeks spent awaiting cancer surgery, the support and care of family and friends who saw me through those dreadful days limns that fearful remembrance with a halo of shelter and sanctuary. In the same way, the recollection of that former gloomy birthday pales into insignificance beside my wonderful new memory of loved ones gathered in laughter and  happiness to relive childhood pleasures.

Growing old is inevitable, the saying goes, but growing up is optional. I could not ask for more than that each of us occasionally once more experience the simple joys of childhood, right up until the day we leave this life.

The Adult Coloring Craze

The adult coloring craze took me by surprise, not because I found it silly or unusual, but because I had never stopped coloring in the first place.

In 1980, I’d discovered Dover Publications while browsing a bookstore in Charleston, South Carolina, where I then lived. I felt I’d been transported to Adult Child Heaven.  Paper doll books.  Coloring books with black and white plates of subjects like wildflowers, ancient castles, woodland animals, and reproductions of famous works of art.  It was simply marvelous!  I immediately bought a Victorian era paper doll book (paper dolls also being a passion of mine from childhood) just to enjoy the illustrations of beautiful antique clothes, and then two coloring books and the largest box of crayons I could find.

Just as so many adults are now rediscovering, that resurrected childhood pastime is the most soothing activity one could request. Those of us with almost no artistic ability whatever have the chance to invoke our inner Rembrandt.  Coloring can even, when needed, be the ultimate in recreational multitasking.  One can talk on the phone, gather in a group of friends to chat and gossip, listen to music, or even half-watch TV while coloring (reruns being perfect for this endeavor.)  I suspect that if doctors took brain scans of a person who was coloring, they’d find their brainwaves had gone into the same state as a meditating Buddhist monk, if only from the repetitive, gentle back-and-forth motion of the crayon gliding over paper.

My lifelong hobby of coloring has, over the years, seen me through some painfully difficult moments. Many of those pages of coloring books in Charleston were completed while my husband was on long deployments with the Navy. Trapped in an unfamiliar city, hundreds of miles away from family and friends, I colored to ease my loneliness and depression.  Somewhat ironically, years later, that same husband and I and our young daughter were out one Sunday afternoon at a bookstore where I bought a new set of coloring books; later that same day my husband walked out, ending our marriage.  The following morning I called in sick work (sick at heart counts, right?) and kept our daughter home from school.  She and I spent the day watching mindlessly trite movies and coloring.  I recall that I colored pictures in a book of wildflower illustrations. Not long ago, I found that same coloring book on the Dover website, and, for just a moment, seeing it reinvoked all the distress of that long, sad day.

Years later, when a long-term relationship had wound to its way to an inevitable but depressing end, I found myself once again spending far too much time alone. I developed the habit of taking my coloring books and crayons and colored pencils to various coffee shops, spending hours coloring and sipping coffee, in the company of others if not precisely with anyone. Adult coloring at that time wasn’t a widely-enjoyed pastime; I endured quite a few odd glances and outright stares.  It didn’t bother me, for the activity genuinely helped me make the transition yet one more time from “woman-in-a-relationship” to  “woman unafraid to be alone”.

Coloring in public no longer earns an adult looks of consternation, and my tote bag is filled with all the newest additions to the hobby: gel pens and markers and water paint palettes; colored pencils and the super-giant box of Crayolas. I attend Adult Coloring Hours at the local library, and sit down with a dozen other people who’ve found their artistic passions and need for relaxation satisfied by adding tints to a black and white page. I now own dozens of coloring books, from a size small enough to slip into one’s purse to oversize pages. Recently I found myself adding a birthday-present-to-me selection of coloring books to my wish list on the Dover website. When I toted up the probable price, I realized that getting everything I wanted was going to cost me well over $100.  I sighed and removed all but three of the most favored books.

When the current fad for coloring  ends, as it undoubtedly will, I won’t be finished with it, any more than I have been done with coloring for the past 30 years. I will go on finding pages of pretty pictures to illustrate in my own particular way.  And no doubt my hobby will see me through many more a lonely or difficult hour.