I am coloring with Declan. We are making trees. I start to make my usual tree, which will emerge with owls, a couple of flowers, a graveyard off in the distance, and maybe a kid fishing by a stream. The kid might even fall in. I never finish the picture. I never finish any picture because I am a mom, and it’s not allowed. It’s why I like sumi-e–the Japanese style that looks unfinished to the Western eye. I can’t practice sumi-e with a six-year old around. Permanent ink attracts six-year olds like when I try to do yoga or take a shower or anything that requires a modicum of modesty or meditation. Permanent ink is a disaster.
He starts a kid-style apple tree sans apples. He looks at me and screams.
“Mommy!” he says, “You can’t do it like that!”
“This is my tree,” I say.
“That’s the WRONG tree!” He is adamant. I protest.
“How can there be a wrong tree? We each can draw the tree from our imagination,” I explain.
“Your imagination is WRONG.” Funny, I’ve often been told that. “You must do it MY WAY.” He hands me the crayon. “Do it like THIS!” He proceeds to instruct me as to the correct way to shape and form the tree. Even the coloring process has a method and direction.
“You CAN’T go around with the crayon in circles.” I have been shading the tree quickly. “You have to go back and forth like this, HARD!”
Kid, you’re starting to remind me of standardized test prep.
“Put the sky in here.” I pick out a pretty light blue.
“No! Not like that, like this.” His sky is a different blue, and goes back and forth along the top edge of the paper. I take the right blue and do it correctly. Soon, he discovers my paper is portrait, not landscape.
“Ohhh!! Mommy, you’ll never be able to make a tree. You’ll have to do it again!” Maybe he’s not like test prep at all–you only get one shot there.
My tree makes me a renegade. The world may judge me. I hope not harshly.
“Mommy, do it like THIS!” he corrects a finer point of my bark-coloring technique. I obey. I pick up the red crayon.
“What are you DOING?” He is concerned I might step off the beaten path into creativity again.
“I’m making mine an apple tree.” The red crayon in my hand heads for the paper.
“NO! There are NO apples in this picture.” No pie, no apple sauce, no jelly…
“There are no apples in your picture, but I’m putting them in mine.” He snatches the red crayon and places it back in the box. Instantly. He glowers. No apples. It has been decided.
We are done. My tree looks exactly the same as his tree. He smiles.
I want to tell him this is just the style of teaching from which I flee–in my class, you can put apples, oranges, or key limes on your tree. But key limes don’t grow here, you say? Just wait two years…global warming. I fear he won’t listen. And he has stolen my red crayon.
Alas, there are no apples on my tree today, but there are a few on my counter, and I’m hungry. I eat one. I’ll put the art aside…for awhile.