I couldn’t do math to save my life, still can’t. I didn’t get those brain cells. But my mother did. She was a business woman and book-keeper, who believed that her daughter should be able to navigate the world of numbers by some miracle of genetic biology. When that failed, she hired math tutors – lots of them. They were dead-on serious people, who sat in over-lit rooms arranging columns of tiny numbers so they fit in miniscule boxes. They used rulers and charts and made up non-sense stories about a person traveling to Cleveland going twenty miles an hour – and how long did it take if they stopped for a coffee and donut on the way, and how much longer did it take, if they had to stop at their Aunt Lizzie’s house as well, who lived thirty minutes from the interstate? It seemed a lot easier to stay home or have Aunt Lizzie visit them.
In seventh grade my mother decided I should forgo the usual horseback riding, baseball games, manure fights, fort building and hiding out in the woods, so I could devote my entire summer to…you guessed it…math!
She got up each morning to drive me into the city, like I was going to the hospital to get urgent care. I tried to comply but couldn’t. Two whole days passed before busting out. I knew she wouldn’t take it well, so we continued our morning routine. I’d give her a long-faced troubled look to avoid suspicion, then wave good-bye before catching the number 10 bus to the swimming pool. That summer I perfected my skill on the high boards doing swan dives, the jack knife, half-gainer, half-gainer with a twist, double flip and the ‘look out, here she comes’ cannon ball. Work on my suntan and social skills completed the day.
This went on for an entire glorious month before coming to an abrupt halt. I no longer remember if it was the lack of report card, a school visit or the fact that my teacher had no memory of any student by that name, that finally alerted her to trouble. But one day, I returned from the pool to find her standing on the front steps of the school, smoke coming out of her ears. She was so angry she couldn’t speak, and what little she must have said, I’ve thankfully repressed. I do remember those eyes in the rear view mirror as they glared at me on the way home. I sat wet and humbled in the back seat. Her eyes full of anger and disappointment, but mostly a kind of hopeless exasperation about what to do with her ‘problem child.’