Marla sat in a folding chair at the edge of the playground with a sketchbook in her lap. A little boy stood behind her, his chest against her back, his chin on her shoulder, watching a face slowly appear, line by line, on the page below.

There were swings to be swung, balls to be kicked, sand to be dug but the boy chose Marla.

“I wish I could draw like that,” he sighed.

Her pencil stopped and she looked the boy in the eyes. “Shaun, you can,” she said. “Art is something you learn, like math. I’ll show you.”

And she did. Pencil, pastels, charcoal, watercolors, markers. Realism, cubism, impressionism. Shading, contrast, negative space, rhythm.

Marla was a student at the local college, a teacher to me at daycare. She told me I could. And I still do.


So many years later I sit under a tree drawing and my littlest girl, the one with my face, watches silently. There are bikes to ride, dolls to dress, bubbles to blow but she chooses this. “I wish I could draw like that.”

“You can,” I say. “Art is something you learn, like math.”

And I show her all that Marla showed me.


In the lobby of Lamar Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas Sunday night, Marla surprised me. Her smile took me back to the playground, the sketchbook. Her voice is still miraculously without accent – how is that possible in Texas? And she’s still making art – producing a documentary at the moment.

“Do you remember when..” she asked.

Of course I can. I still do.

One sentence of yours can stick with a child all his life. Make it a good one.