Broken Crayons

By Peggy Wuenstel — One of the most important days of my life taught me that it is often what you do not see at first that is the greatest lesson of all.  I realized that I was a grown up when I learned to listen to children.

My two sons were three and five years old when I bought them their first Big Box of 64 Crayola crayons. They were entranced with the variety and sheer number of possibilities that the gift offered. We pulled each color out of the box, sorting, ordering, selecting our favorites. I’m a purple girl, where my boys lined up on the opposite sides of the red/blue debate. Just then, the telephone rang, and I left them with their new chest of colored treasure.

When I returned, only a few moments later, they had succeeded in breaking each and every one of the crayons in half. My first reaction was a hot flush of anger because they had destroyed what I had given them. To this day, I remember what happened next as a physical presence. I felt someone tugging at the back of my shirt, urging me to see what had just happened with new eyes. My faith tells me that it was a heavenly guide, urging me to listen to my better self. I took a deep breath, swallowed deeply, and sat down next to them on the playroom carpet.

I asked them why they had snapped the 64 sticks of color in half. Ryan, my five-year old, looked up into my face with shining eyes and the generous expression he has continued to show me in the succeeding quarter century.

He said with no fear of punishment, sense of guilt, or concern about my response, “Mom, you only bought one box and we wanted Nathan to have one of every color, too.”

My heart swelled with many emotions on that sunny afternoon. I felt pride in the giving hearts of my young sons, humility in the realization of how I almost reacted, and most of all, gratitude in the reminder that I received that day about the importance of listening.

In the years that have followed, in my roles as a mother, speech/language pathologist, conference presenter, and college instructor, I have told this story many times. It is a powerful reminder that we cannot assume that we know the meaning of words or actions unless we take the time to ask. It is an invitation to understand more deeply, participate more fully, and appreciate the joy that comes from taking the time to know each other beyond the surface. It is the revelation that the greatest lessons in life often come from the simplest sources.

I keep a can of broken crayons in both my classroom and in my home to remind me everyday that sometimes it is the broken things that help us feel the most complete, and the way we color our own world that makes it truly beautiful.

2 Responses to “Broken Crayons”

  1. 1 Berni Xiong (sh-UNG) (@BerniXiong) October 18, 2011 at 7:53 pm

    Wow, absolutely beautiful. I couldn’t help but smile every few lines. Thank you for the inspiration. Something I really needed right now. I am grateful for your story and the fact that you posted it. 🙂


  2. 2 pwuenstel October 20, 2011 at 2:57 pm

    Thanx for taking the time to comment. I hope you can tell that I really enjoy the listening! Hope that things are looking up for you.


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