Some people, they can jump straight to the answer. My father, when the man plays a board game, he moves the peg straight to 55, say, when a player earns 17 points and had been at 38. Me? I pinch the peg and advance it 17 spaces, counting aloud one at a time. Going slowly, one by one, you could argue leaves more room for human error. But to me, a person who second-guesses her moves, it’s a layer of security. Because, quite frankly, I don’t trust myself.
I could of course round 17 up to 20. 38 up to 40. 20+40=60. Given that I’ve rounded both up a total of 5, I can then subtract the 5 from the total of 60 to land on 55. I get it, but I don’t quite trust that I’ll do it correctly in the time given. Again, I don’t trust myself, so I go back to basics. To what I know is true. Even if it makes my life harder, even if it takes longer. I’ve also always been slowest reader in my class. Always.
They say that speed reading can actually increase your comprehension. I’ve tried, my God, have I tried. But I don’t trust myself or the process. I skip the smaller words but worry that I’ve missed the whole meaning in the process. Also, I’m a thorough reader, hanging on every word and rhythm, finding the beauty in the twist or play of a line or word.
Despite the fact (read: flaw) that I still count on my fingers, I’ve always done remarkably well at math. Yes, to the point where I tutored people in calculus in college. The more complex and forceful the better. It’s a puzzle! I love puzzles. I love banging away at it, trying several different methods to see if I get the same promised answer. I did far better in math than I ever did in English. Fitting that I’m a writer.
Because with writing the truth is in your honesty and authenticity of your feelings. You capture a truth, something you dare admit, yes, yes, yes. You have the answer. You have to figure out how to best teach and express this truth, just as you’d attempt to teach a math problem, step-by-step, to a new learner.
Now as a parent I’m struggling with the fact that my kids don’t have this same hunger, not yet, for solving these math puzzles. They don’t light up when they’ve solved something. Me? I do a full-on touchdown dance. They haven’t yet found the joy in stepping beyond what they know, those trusty methods of counting one-by-one, and taking that forceful leap. I want so much to teach them how exciting math can be. It’s like the giddiness that sneaks up on you when everything in your home is in its place. Organized and clean, clutter free minimalism. It’s stunning.
I bring out the graph paper and show them my excitement. I am hopeful that my enthusiasm can at least breathe some joy into the homework experience. Lately, I’ve left homework, and all its beautiful mistakes alone. I never correct their work. I want their teachers to know exactly what they know, and on what they need the most work. But when they ask for my help on studying for an upcoming test, it’s all I can do but cry tears of joy. You want my help? That, I can do.
The fact that my Christmas tree is still up, and it’s nearly Groundhog day, well, I’ve done the math. And the world ain’t gonna end, on that much, I can trust.