“Eleven plus 24 is what?”
The conversation skirted around the question, no answer forthcoming. A mother spells out each equation, her son blurting out answers, hoping for approval, excited at the process but ready to be finished.
“Eight plus eight times four is what?“
Another one blurted out, frustration rising in both. Eight plus eight is sixteen she says, forcing the answer, despite its accuracy. Multiplication comes first, after all. She’s leading the witness, your honor, and all of that. Insecure comments about a hundred other things while this math problem floated in air. Will I need to take a shower tonight. I found a quarter earlier today.
You won’t tell anybody about earlier, right.
“Seven times nine is what?“
The right answer comes, but the mom questions it. He answered too fast. He answered without thinking. She says no, but stops. Oh you’re right. Can you make the numbers look nice. Could you sit still. I will quiz you on these harder ones.
There is a patience and love between the two of them that I don’t yet see in myself. It is clear that neither enjoys fighting through these math problems, but both are dedicated to doing their best – in spite of the fight, away from the distractions. Through the white noise between them, one constant signal gets through. Different frequencies with one constant code. dot dash dot dot, dash dash dash, dot dot dot dash, hold on stop please look at me.
“Who created … who created the periodic table of elements.”
Dmetri Mandolin. Close enough to count. He’s only eight, maybe nine, and Mendeleev is an unfair name. Every science question is answered in split seconds as he wanders around the room, unable to sit still, unable to settle. This isn’t math. He knows this stuff, and that’s how life is. You know things or you don’t. You are good at this and you are bad at that. Only the smartest understand their limits – the rest of us keep trying to fill in the gaps as though perfection is possible.
“Thank you. When you get home, we have to finish this homework.”
He’s out the door before she can finish. She sighs. They have conquered another day.