Do you still get a shiver of happiness when you open a box of crayons? Do you sometimes linger a little longer than usual when helping your child with an art project? My daughter is 3 and has recently discovered her own creativity. The bonus effect is that it has also jump-started mine. As we grow up, we abandon things like finger painting (that's for babies), pencil drawing (I'm not good at it) and paper dolls (how juvenile), but doing those things as an adult — without a grade coming or competition enforced — can bring such an immense amount of joy.

When I was little, my babysitter taught me how to cross-stitch. The tedious, repetitive, stitches calmed my anxious and introverted heart and I went on to cross-stitch for years. I made bookmarks for friends and learned how to make names in different fonts. No design was too complicated, although even then I tended toward the more modern and less cheesy.

I abandoned the art in my teen years, but never stopped peeking in the hand sewing aisle each time I was in a craft store. As the decades flew by, I was dismayed that the patterns and tutorials dwindled from two full aisles in the stores to just a few feet of space in the back. For a little while, handmade fell out of favor.

When the handmade movement came back in full force several years ago, I started to see cross-stitch projects spring up on sites like Etsy. They were kitsch, mostly, sometimes even a repurposed project from days gone by. But one weekend, on a whim, I bought new cross-stitch supplies. They sat in the plastic sack from the stores for weeks. It seemed daunting to pull out all that string and remember how to count squares and read patterns. It was easier to zone out over a different hobby, an immediately gratifying one. Like the internet.


In the meantime, my young daughter became a crayon fiend. Quickly she went from trying to eat them to trying to create with them. The box of 64 sharpened colors called to me and I started with something easy like a rainbow. I was giddy. It was silly — a rainbow! Possibly I even included a fluffy cloud at the bottom. But this simple act reminded me of the things I loved about coloring: staying meticulously in the lines, discovering a chosen shade wasn’t exactly what I expected. These things were a pleasant surprise instead of frustrating.

After this first experience, I started joining my daughter more often for her crafts. We punched holes in colored paper to make confetti. We cut and paste nonsensical shapes onto construction paper, mainly just as an excuse to play with the glue. I realized that I had given up on a lot of aspects of art as I grew older because I wasn’t good at them, and this had made me feel defeated. But re-framed in the context of adulthood, those petty irritations didn’t matter. It was just fun. That was enough.

I finally dug out the cross-stitch supplies I bought a while ago. I had in mind a little gift for a friend. I practiced my stitches, played with the different colors. I never completed (or even really started) the actual project. But the few hours I spent playing around with this old art made me feel nostalgic and happy. That was enough.

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