Ada Lace Sees Red
THE NEW ART TEACHER
Ada watched as her father returned Nina’s picture to her. The assignment was a self-portrait in a favorite color. Nina had picked pink. Pink seemed like such an obvious girl color, Ada thought that Nina’s choice might count against her. Ada’s parents were big fans of going against “gender norms.” If Elliott, her little brother, had done the same assignment in blue, Mr. Lace probably would have told him to “dig deeper.”
To Ada’s surprise, Mr. Lace smiled and said, “Really nice work, Nina. I love all the different tones you found in that color. You’ve reinvented pink!”
Nina beamed. “Thank you, Mr. Lace.”
It seemed like he must be in a good mood.
Still, Ada was nervous. Maybe it was that her father had never sounded that excited about anything she had made in the past. The most she got was a “Good job, sweetie” and a pat on the head.
As he handed the other kids’ pictures back, Ada listened to his praise. She tried to take it as a positive sign.
“Very nice contrast, Ethan. I can really see the details.”
“I love what you’ve done with the ponytail, Pixie. Good texture.”
“Look at those eyes, Casey. Brilliant!”
So, it was a surprise when Mr. Lace slowed near Ada’s seat and placed her picture facedown in front of her. His mouth flattened into something that was almost a smile.
“Ada,” he said. And nothing else.
Ada turned over her picture. There was a note that read See me next to a check mark.
Ada looked at her self-portrait. She had tried to draw a picture of herself—she really had. But it ended up looking like a sheepdog rather than a girl with floppy bangs. So instead she had drawn what was in her head: equations for Newton’s second law, Einstein’s mass-energy equation, and the Pythagorean theorem. She had thrown
in some of her favorite constellations for good measure. The color she used wasn’t like anyone else’s, and she had added a little glitter to make certain details stand out. It had taken her a lot of time and effort, and she was pleased with the result. It revealed a side of her no one had seen before, which was, after all, one of the rules of the assignment. What could her dad—her art teacher—possibly have to talk to her about? She
could barely pay attention the rest of the class. They were drawing cubes, cylinders, and spheres. She drew the cube over and over again and never moved on to the other forms.
Nina ran up to her the second the bell rang.
“Gosh, your father is a good teacher. I’m having THE BEST TIME in his class. He’s so encouraging!” said Nina.
“Heh, yeah! He’s a real cheerleader,” said Ada.
“I don’t just mean the grade. The grade barely matters! I’m sure everyone got a check plus,” said Nina.
“Right,” said Ada. “Who wouldn’t get a check plus?”
“He just knows what to say,” said Nina. “I was so nervous about choosing pink. But it really is my favorite color. And it turned out it was fine! It’s just what you do with it.”
said Ada. “Nina, can I meet you at lunch? I have to talk to Mr. Lace.”
“Sure. Hee-hee! It’s so funny to hear you call him that.”
Nina scooped up her stuff and bounced out of the classroom. Ada approached her father’s desk.
“Hey, Adita,” said Mr. Lace.
“If I have to call you Mr. Lace, Mr. Lace, I think you have to call me Ada.”
“You got it, kiddo,” said Mr. Lace. But clearly he didn’t get it, Ada thought, because he just replaced one pet name for another.
“You said I should ‘see you,’ so I’m seeing you. See?”
“I do see,” said Mr. Lace. He clasped his hands together.
“I know I’m not the best artist. I’m not like you and Mom. But I’m trying.”
know, sweetheart. And your work was fine. But it wasn’t exactly what I assigned, now, was it?”
“What do you mean?” Ada said. “That was my self-portrait.”
“Heh! That’s funny. It doesn’t look like you!” Mr. Lace chuckled. “Are these spheres your ears?”
“It’s my mind,” said Ada. “I was being creative! Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do in art class?”
“Well, yes. But sometimes we need guidelines to really challenge our creativity. And the brown is a little dark. . . .”
“It’s burnt umber!” said Ada. “What’s wrong with it?”
“Nothing. It’s unusual, but unusual is fine—great even! It’s mostly that you didn’t try to draw a picture of yourself. If you had at least tried to show us your face, or profile, or even your left eye, I wouldn’t even mention the brown. . . .”
“Burnt umber,” Ada mumbled.
Mr. Lace took a breath. He let it out his nose. Ada saw a little bit of dry snot pop out and settle just outside his nostril. She thought about telling him, but changed her mind.
“Okay, Ada. But the point is not the color. It’s the assignment. I will always be your father, but now I’m your teacher, too. You can’t just change the assignment as if this were an exercise we were doing together at home. Let me teach you. I give you guidelines to follow for a reason. Okay?”
“If you say so, Mr. Lace,” said Ada.
“Good. I’ll see you after school.”