About a month into his stay in treatment, T asked for a coloring book and crayons, without explanation. Unsure of his intentions, we sent him a book of color-your-own-sneaker designs and some skinny colored pencils. At home, we wondered aloud whether perhaps he intended to send them to one of his young half siblings, whom he doesn't really know - perhaps he wanted to reach out, for a birthday or something.
A few weeks later, he asked for more coloring books and more crayons. Something about the way he asked made it clear that we shouldn't ask questions. Soon enough, we were hanging out at the treatment house during visiting hours when one of the kids came by to say hello. "Thanks for the coloring books," he said. "T is always telling us coloring reduces stress! He never shuts up about it!" Our mouths hung open with surprise; we'd had no idea.
The next week we brought what we considered a pretty cool coloring book of African mask designs, and one of Egyptian motifs. T looked at them and said, in all seriousness and with an air of great diplomatic dignity, "I guess you didn't know, I only color flowers and animals." Of course! His appetite for coloring books grew; we burned through all of the botanical coloring books at our local Barnes and Noble.
Gobsmacked, we just continued to bring coloring books. T told us that he had organized "coloring crew" - to gain admission, one needed to be "working the program", as they say, and willing to color under his watchful eye. He assembled a group of several teenagers in the program, who joined for the privilege of spending an hour or two each evening with crayons and colored pencils, in silence.
He's been home for a few weeks now. He left his coloring books behind. Last week, he announced, "I need to color." We headed back to Barnes and Noble. For the past several nights, he's spent at least an hour or two coloring intently. Sometimes he says, "You can color with me," and we do. Sometimes, if I'm being bossy or acting stressed, he says "You need to color," and I do. If I talk too much while I'm coloring, he says "Shhhh! Color." Tonight, I said, "Thanks for letting me color, that was very relaxing." He objected. "Coloring relieves stress, but that doesn't mean it's relaxing," he said. I'm unsure of the distinction. But whatever it is, this coloring thing is serious.
Our dining room table is covered with crayons, colored pencils, sharpeners, botanical coloring books, and torn out pages of colorful completed works. His coloring is delicate, thoughtful, neat, and nuanced, rather like his personality. He likes to listen to oldies while he colors. He takes a light hand, and uses the side of the crayon or pencil to get a feathery texture. It is hard to explain how a kid who just spent a week in juvenile hall because he so annoyed the staff at the rehab house can be the same kid who wants to spend most evenings quietly coloring pictures of flowers with his parents. I guess I can't. That's just how it is.