Disclaimer: The following is a bit of a “Momastry” style piece. Indulge me. I don’t know if it’s the onset of Autumn, my worry about the future of the country in the aftermath of this horrible political season, all the pumpkin spice, or merely the sentimentality that accompanies your kids no longer wanting Halloween costumes, but I’m stashing Kleenex travel packs everywhere lately. If you’re on that train with me, perhaps you’ll enjoy the ride.

When I went to first grade I carried with me a 48 pack of crayons. A massive upgrade from the bucket full of broken coloring nubs that was at home and I shared with my brother. I had forty-eight pointy crayons in my school box. Six neat rows of eight crayons, all mine. My family didn’t go for the 64 pack with the built in sharpener. We weren’t show ponies. A solid 48 was just right for us.

Several of the color names I’d never heard of. I loved learning new words so it was exciting to add ‘cerulean’ and ‘periwinkle’ to my vocabulary. I was instantly obsessed with magenta. Every dress for every magical princess fairy I drew in first grade was sporting magenta with silver accessories. What a time to be alive and drawing fairies!

Among my precious 48 crayons that grew stubby and round from my artistic endeavors, one color remained sharp. It was Bittersweet. A weird orangey brown, it was not my jam. I’d take it out occasionally, thinking it was time to color with it, lured by the attraction of using a pointy crayon again, but I never committed and followed through with putting it to paper.

“Oh,” I’d think, “Mahogany can handle this job.” And I’d tuck Bittersweet back into the rear of the Crayon stadium and go about the business of creation. Bittersweet remained pointy.

When my coloring career peaked in the early elementary years, my family’s household income had increased and I moved up to the 64 pack. We were now show ponies. Bittersweet remained a resident of the back of the box. Always staying sharp, Bittersweet was kept company by Maize, Burnt Sienna, Copper and Yellow-Green, other colors that didn’t speak to me.

As I grew up, somewhere along the line I learned that bittersweet was actually an emotion. And a type of chocolate. I didn’t care for the taste of either one. I associated the emotion with good-byes. I associated with chocolate with the nasty baking chocolate in the cupboard that wasn’t even edible when you’re desperate.

My context for understanding the emotion was listening in when my mom’s friends were over. Eavesdropping has always been a passion of mine and I’d listen in constantly when they got together to drink coffee and smoke. And gossip.

“It was bittersweet,” they’d sigh, plumes of cigarette smoke mixing with the steam from the coffee, a catch in their voice. They’d be talking about the end of something. Like leaving a job or a marriage or the end of an affair. Suddenly it seemed weird to name a crayon after such an odd emotion. A mixture of happy and sad, an emotion that looked over its shoulder at you to see what effect it was having.

I was not about the concept of feeling happy and sad at the same time. It sounded painful, like your heart would be stretched in uncomfortable ways. I didn’t like feeling any painful feelings and our family crest likely includes repressed emotions right in a featured location.

My game became to not feel anything. Life touched me so deeply it made the people around me uncomfortable. I yearned for numbness, so I could fit in. As I lurched toward adulthood, I was all about numb. My favorite emotion was numb. And I was good at it. I found I could move in this world and be successful but not let anything touch me too much.

Then I had kids.

Numb was shattered into a million cornflower shards. Oh, I tried to keep it together with baling wire, duct tape and overwork. But the love that was created as I cooked those people inside me kept pouring out. All those years of bottling up and compartmentalizing my emotions was swept away by the never-ending onslaught of crushing love I feel for my people. And so it is.

Anymore, Bittersweet defines my days. My kids are growing up and they’re such interesting, insightful, beautiful, frustrating, challenging people. Just like their dad and I. We’re four people that live together and learn from each other and drive each other crazy and I love it, and it makes me so sad.

I don’t think it’s right that the Bittersweet crayon should be relegated to some weak echo of a color that’s neither orange nor brown. But I’m not sure what color it should be.

Is Bittersweet the color of the blush on my cheek when my tween daughter observes, quite appropriately, that a few of her teachers could benefit from learning about the difference between introverts and extraverts and my heart aches because of her wisdom and the challenges she’ll face in the world?

Could it be the color of my tear that escapes when driving with my teenaged son and he’s telling me about the latest antics of his school video team that he films with and I can hear that he’s finally found his tribe and that might make high school a bit more bearable?

Maybe it would be the color of the Number 2 pencils he forgot this morning when he rushed out of the house to take his PSAT and all I could think about was his concentrated, furrowed brow when he was a toddler and learning to write.

It could be the color of my daughter’s pajamas she’s wearing when we’re snuggled on the couch together, giggling over Sprout shows that we used to watch when she was a squirmy toddler and I was an exhausted mommy, and I am struck by how delightful this is, but haunted by how effortlessly time slid by.

I rejected Bittersweet years ago. I thought I could tuck the emotion in the back of my crayon box as well. Turns out, I couldn’t. And I wouldn’t even want to. Motherhood stretches you. It turns you inside out. And, if you’re lucky, you discover what an entrancing color bittersweet truly is.