When my oldest son, Marcus Jr., was five years old, his kindergarten art teacher pulled me aside at an open house. I immediately started wondering whether he was about to tell me Marcus was in trouble for something, or his grades were slipping (in kindergarten?!), or he went off radar on his assignments – he’s a bit of a dreamer. Instead, the teacher told me that he had something to show me.
I followed him to the front of the classroom while other parents oohed and ahhed over their kids’ artwork, on proud display at desks by the artists themselves, and mingled with other parents. I didn’t see Marcus Jr.’s displayed on his desk. I found out why a moment before I started to question it. While he looked through papers on his desk, the teacher said, “I’ve never met you, but I’ve known what your face looks like for most of the school year now.” I’m both confused and mildly alarmed. ‘Sup with my face, mister teacher-man? He continued, “No matter what assignment I give the class, Marcus draws the same face into every picture.”
He pulled out a sheaf of papers of various colors and textures and began spreading them out across his already chaotic desk, and said, “I’m actually really surprised by the detail in these. For a five year old, he’s great with details.” I’m looking at all my son’s art by this point. I’m shocked – every picture is my face. Literally, my entire face, from hair, to eyebrows, eyelashes, cheekbones, lips, and jawline. It was a tad disconcerting because that was a lot of my face at once – I mean, I only ever see it in the mirror. But it also gave me some pause – my son, only 5, who still had baby fat in his jowls and the apples of his cheeks, drew my face. Beautifully. The slope of the nose was perfect, the shape of the lips was mine, the curve of my cheekbones was spot-on, the angle of my eyes…it was pure art. Though mostly two-dimensional, each face improved with each progression. Pretty sure I cried a little.
While I was suddenly marveling at my son’s ability to recall faces, the teacher was saying, “I’m actually just really surprised at how he captured the wide nostrils and full lips unique to the diaspora – at such a young age, it’s amazing.” I’m thinking, you’re surprised a lot, mister teacher-dude. But I agreed. “He even drew my beauty mark…”
The teacher said, “He knows your face so well, it’s all he draws. He’s also clever for working it into the assignment, instead of making it the assignment,” and laughed. “Oh, and you can take those home if you want. They’re all graded.” He went back to the other parents. “Thanks,” I said, still staring at the papers. I looked at Marcus Jr., wondering where I got such a kid. I couldn’t wait to get home and tell Marcus Sr. that our oldest kid inherited his artistic skill.
It’s funny, we never really think about how our kids probably think of us as much as we think of them – but we probably should. I didn’t think about the fact that that my kids doing something as simple as looking at their parents every day could influence them in so many different ways. Especially in their creative talents (all three of my kiddos are artists). I often wonder if we underestimate our children, like they’re here to give us the lessons, and we’re actually here to learn. Maybe that is the way it works, maybe they’re the masters, and we’re the young grasshoppers. All I know is, a syllabus would’ve at least been nice. This shit is hard. But then, so is life at times. Exams should be a breeze.
He’s 14 now and doesn’t draw my face so much, at least not as much as he did at five. But he still smiles at me the same way he did from his first one, and I think that maybe in his head sometimes, he’s still drawing my face.