Should have said. Could have said. Should have said! You think of these things after. You come up with a list, and usually one zinger that would have done exactly the trick.
"Honey Nut Cheerios!" That's what I said. Followed by, "Strawberry-kiwi yogurt!" These were not zingers. These were not stinging retorts to fire at the art teacher who confronted me about my daughter's artwork. She caught me off guard. It was just Day 2 of a four-day art camp for Anna, who at age 5 loves to draw and paint. So, art camp. Four mornings of paint and goo and glop. I figured it would be fun, maybe even excite her with new possibilities.
So there I was, picking her up. The teacher pulled me aside. "I need to talk to you," she said, and showed me a picture that was basically a lot of black swirls and scribbles. "This," she said, in a harsh tone. "This is what Anna did this morning." She pulled out another picture, a controlled watercolor. "And this is what she did when I sat with her and explained and got her to focus."
At first I thought this was some kind of before-and-after testament to the teacher's communication skills. But no. "She needs to focus," she said, sternly. "And you need to make sure she has a good breakfast before she comes in here."
Breakfast? Well, now, hold on, lady. Breakfast seemed quite beside so many points that were filling my brain and my heart, not to mention my aesthetic sensibilities. So many that I couldn't sort them through right there on the spot, and that's when I came out with the Honey Nut Cheerios/yogurt line, which was, anyway, a factually correct accounting of Anna's breakfast intake.
"Well, then, you need to make sure she has a good night's sleep before she comes in here," she said. "She needs to focus!"
Taken aback, I was. And so I said, "Egh, bleh, blug, bleh," or something to that effect, and before I knew it, I was in the car. Is something the matter with my kid? She can't follow the teacher's instructions? Maybe she's rebelling? She's entering a post-toddler Goth period?
So now I'm in the car, driving home, trying to sort through all this. Well, now, wait a second, lady. She's 5! That's what I should have said. Followed by, "This is art camp!" Followed by: "You're the teacher! It's okay to help your students!" I should have gone Militia Mom: "Don't you dare make my kid wrong for wanting to scribble circles on a sunny summer morning." I should have gone sarcastic: "Breakfast? What a great idea! I'll feed my kids in the morning instead of that once-a-day bowl of chow I put out for them at night."
Inhale. Exhale. I think I'd better pull over. "You want chocolate milk?" I say to Anna, who is in the back seat doing her daydreaming. And so we stop at the drive-through that also happens to serve my favorite latte. We get in line behind a Toyota.
For the record, Anna says art camp was fun. She appears unaware of having been corrected for "bad art." So that calms me down. I inquire about the black scribbles. "Swirls!" she says, enthusiastically. "I was doing swirls!" I ask her about the watercolor. "It was something the teacher told me to do," she says.
Hmm. See, I should have gone philosophical. I should have said: "Look here, lady. Art is about emotion, whether it be joy or sorrow or confusion." I should have said something about how teaching a person to make shapes and to color them in is fine, but encouraging a child to express herself on the page is what we value in our family.
I should not have even dignified the breakfast/sleep/focus issue. I should have picked up the black swirl picture, and I should have said: "This? But I love this. The courage to make a mess is the first leap toward artistic integrity!"
Should have, could have, should have! Just coming up with a zinger or two helps. You deliver them in your mind and plan how you'll use them in case you ever get into that situation again, which of course you won't. So many good retorts are wasted this way.
The Toyota is done, so it's our turn. I place my order. I say, "Large skim latte," and I know what's coming, "Venti nonfat latte?" These coffee people always do this, correct my language. I always want to say something. Something more elegant than, "Oh, cut the baloney and give me a cup of coffee." Instead, I usually just say, "Yes," and I go about my life, quietly refusing to ever say, "Venti nonfat latte," so as to boycott the move to force pretentious talk upon the masses.
"Venti nonfat latte?" says a voice coming through the drive-through sign.
"No, a large skim latte," I say. "BECAUSE THAT IS THE WAY I TALK!"
Whew. I feel like a new woman.
Jeanne Marie Laskas's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.