Archived Opinion

If I had a purple crayon…

If I had a purple crayon…

Last night I read Harold and the Purple Crayon to my 5-year-old. He sat wide-eyed with an expression of intrigue as we learned about Harold drawing an imaginative world with his crayon.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a crayon or a pen or a pencil and create a world that’s easier or happier? It certainly would. But that’s not the way real life works.

After reading to my child, I checked my phone. I responded to a couple text messages then jumped on Instagram and Facebook. I casually scrolled through social media, sucking breath out of the evening.

Ten minutes I could have sat with my little boy and talked more about Harold. I could have asked my son, “What type of world would you create if you had a purple crayon?”

But, I missed my chance.

When the thought passed through my mind, I got that familiar mom guilt pang in my gut. There’s an intimate, fleeting span of time after finishing a book with a child where conversation and engagement about the story feel real and organic. It already passed and I missed it.

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I picked up the book and looked down at it for a moment before signing my child’s reading log. I put everything in his backpack and hung it on the chair, ready for his little hands to grab it the next morning.

The situation made me frustrated at myself, annoyed at my phone and anxious over the pace of life these days. I recently learned the human attention span has decreased four entire seconds since the age of technology. We have an attention span of eight seconds, which is shorter than that of a goldfish.

The situation also made me realize I’ve become detached from books. It was only a little book, but it had big meaning and made me think. I love how books do that, and I miss feeling that way during and after reading a great book.

When I was very young, I adored the Berenstain Bears. I probably owned every book in the series. My favorite was The Berenstain Bears and the Messy Room. My room was always a mess, so I felt I had a connection with Brother Bear and Sister Bear. I loved how the story unfolded and by the end, everyone worked together to label and organize boxes, build shelving and use a peg board to hang hats and toys. I really wanted a peg board like that in my childhood bedroom.

From third through fifth grade, I read A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett at least six times. I was obsessed with that book. The library had one copy and I remember hiding it on the shelf so no one else could check it out. It was a hardback copy with a plastic, protective book cover peeling off. After reading it each time, I would watch the original film version with Shirley Temple.

My mom worked at a school only miles from our home in downtown Weaverville. Sometimes I would stay home by myself when I was sick and she couldn’t find a substitute. My mom would run to check on me periodically. On those days, I recall stacking all my Little House on the Prairie books beside my bed and hunkering down, excited to fall into a word with Laura, Mary and the rest of the Ingalls family.

Despite the lure and addiction of technology, it will never compare to a book. Books are timeless and moving. They inspire and enrich each soul in a different way.

Harold and his purple crayon taught me several lessons the other night. One, I can’t lose any more of those special storytime moments with my boys. Two, I’ve got to reignite my love of books and make reading a priority in my life again. If a young Susanna could do it so well, I think her adult counterpart can follow suit.

Last and perhaps most importantly, I will never be able to draw a perfect picture of my life with a purple crayon. I will never be able to draw a perfect house with a perfect family inside a perfect world.

But then again, what even is “perfect”?

The more I mature and witness, I realize the messy parts and the imperfections are what make life beautiful and mysterious.

If I did have a magic purple crayon, I would not draw a white picket fence or a four-person family or a manicured yard or a dog lounging on the stoop. I would draw smiles and bright eyes and children laughing. I would draw books and boats and airplanes and castles. I would draw villages and dancers and musicians.

I should’ve asked my little boy, but I missed my chance. Instead, I’ll ask you: what type of world would you create if you had a purple crayon?

(Susanna Barbee can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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