Invisibility

One day, when my children were fairly young, I discovered that I had the power of invisibility. While this discovery was totally unexpected, invisibility has been a useful trait over the years.

My children were preparing for bed one night. They were somewhere around the ages of four, six, and eight. I had set them to the task of getting into their jammies and brushing their teeth in preparation for bed.

I was exhausted, as I so often am at the end of the day. I went in my room to lie down for a minute—my own mommy “time out”—while I waited for them. I started to zone out, my mind drifted, though I remained attentive. I remember over-hearing their kid conversation. My oldest was talking about something that had happened on the school bus that day, and the manner in which he spoke was just a little different than when he spoke to me. The tone in his voice as he relayed the event to his sibling was one of authority. It was pure kid-to-kid conversation, and as the oldest, he knew the most.

I heard my name mentioned in the conversation. Then I heard little footsteps in the hall, stopping at the door to my room. My room was dark, but light shone in from the hallway.

“Mommy?” a tentative voice asked into the darkness. I was tired and almost asleep. I didn’t answer. The footsteps retreated. “Do you know where Mommy is?” the little voice asked her little brother.

“No,” brother responded.

“I can’t find her,” said the little voice. She had barely looked, but brother didn’t know that. “Will you come downstairs with me to look for her?” And two sets of footsteps padded down the stairs and around the first floor while I puzzled over the fact that she had stood in the doorway of my room and not seen me lying on the bed. I heard a far-off voice inquiring into the dark basement. And then the footsteps came back up to the second floor.

“Where is she?” the two little ones continued to look for me as they conversed about my whereabouts. Hand in hand, they walked into my dark bedroom and passed inches from the foot of the bed as they checked the bathroom—also dark. They turned around and walked out the door, still calling to me despite my presence just a hair’s breadth away. I smiled in fleeting satisfaction that I was somehow invisible.

However, the discussion right outside my door was growing emotional and slightly panicky as the children considered how I could possibly have disappeared. “Hey you two,” I piped up. “I’m right here. You walked right by me.” To myself, I marveled that I could be invisible while I was in plain sight.

These days, it’s not so easy to be invisible. But when I am, I have learned to use my invisibility carefully. Sometimes, I try hard to conjure this power with no success; other times it just happens. Driving the car—especially with a car full of kids—I tend toward invisibility. Other times, I might be invisible from a different room.

No matter where I am when this power overtakes me, I have come to realize that in my times of invisibility, I must remain quiet and listen in order to get the greatest benefit.

Snow Wonder

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I went out the other evening to pick up my daughter from her team practice. It was snowing, though with the winter we’re having, I prefer not to acknowledge snow. I will admit, however, that it is beautiful when it is falling, even when the snow banks are already eight feet high and the grass may not reappear until July.

When I arrived in the parking lot, the carpool had not yet gotten back from the gym. I rolled down my window to talk to another mom, and her young son opened the back window and began playing with the snow that was gathering on the car. “What’s that?” I asked him.

“Snow,” he responded.

“No,” I shook my head. “There’s no more snow. That’s bugs. They’re spring bugs.”

“It’s snow,” he told me without a hint of question in his voice.

“It’s little tiny bugs. Lots and lots of them. Those bugs only come out in the spring.”

He shook his head. “No. It’s snow,” he said, and he rolled up the window. Clearly, he was done with my silliness, and he didn’t need me to change what he already knew.

My daughter arrived, and she immediately hung her head out the window to catch some big, juicy snowflakes on her tongue before we drove off. “Can you put on your high beams when we get to the back road?” she asked, settling back in to her seat. The snow was lazy, but steady as the car pulled out of the parking lot.

I smiled to myself. “I’ll try,” I told her, not making any promises. I never knew how the traffic would be, but the back road was usually not heavily traveled at this time of night.

When we turned onto the back road, she was disappointed to see there was a car ahead of us. I slowed down and the car pulled ahead and disappeared around a bend. I flipped on my high beams while I had a chance. The snow took on a life of its own, speeding toward our windshield like stars whizzing by a spaceship.

As we traveled down the road, the snow suddenly stopped; then a few feet later, it started back up again, like we had driven through a brief tunnel or a hole in the cloud.

An amazed exclamation of “Whoa!” escaped from my daughter. Her word, her tone of wonder, were perfectly synchronized with my own thoughts. The break in the snow was so unexpected, so incredible, so wonderful, “Whoa!” was a perfect reaction.

To share a moment of natural wonder with one of my children is always special. The fact that her outer reaction exactly mimicked my inner reaction let me know that somehow, as I have parented her through so many every day moments, I have taught her to appreciate the ordinary wonders in life.

Creative Mathematics *

“Jimmy wants to determine the height of the tree on the corner of his block. He knows that a fence by the tree is 4 feet tall. At 3 pm, he measures the shadow of the fence to be 2.5 feet tall. Then he measures the shadow of the tree to be 11.3 feet. What is the height of the tree?” I hear from the other room. Homework is going on, and from her tone, I can tell my daughter is disgusted by the question being asked of her in geometry. “Ugh!” she says to no one in particular.

I remember this type of word problem as the bane of my existence in high school. “It’s 27.2,” I call to her, omitting the unit (because really, does it matter?). I am fully confident that I am not even close.

“What?” she says, a hopefulness in her tone that indicates she believes I might actually be supplying her with the right answer.

“I said, the answer is 27.2. I just did it in my head. Impressive, isn’t it?” I walk into the living room and smile at her. All three children are staring at me like I have three heads, maybe four. “What?” I look at them innocently. “I made it up. It’s called ‘creative mathematics.’ It’s a new thing I just invented.”

“Oh!” My daughter jumps up, completely on board with the new class I have just discovered. It would be kind of like creative writing, but on a math scale. “Where do I sign up? I could totally get into that class!”

Me too… and probably, many other people I know would also appreciate it. Word problems would be awesome! The question would no longer say, Calculate the height of the tree. It would now ask, How tall do you want the tree to be? Or maybe you could simply decide how tall you need the tree to be to suit your purposes. Of course, you would have to give the reasons to support your answer.

Creative mathematics would have nothing to do with calculations. It would be about problem solving and creating your world with the specifications that you find necessary. Plausible or not, you would be allowed to reimagine your world to suit your needs.

Granted, just like creative writing, creative mathematics would not fit every situation. For example, if you were putting new counters in your kitchen, you would need an accurate measurement rather than simply deciding how big you wanted your counter to be. However, such a mathematical option would allow the creative among us to enjoy math and take a break from the many long years of calculating the right answer and showing the work we did to get there.

In life—even in situations like medicine—there are very few “right” answers. Creative mathematics would honor that fact and encourage effective problem solving. Yes, in mathematical calculation, students would still be expected to find the right answer. But in creative mathematics… the sky’s the limit.

* this post is dedicated to the best math teacher I have never had. Once upon a time, a long time ago, she spent hours in daily telephone tutelage to move my sorry math-challenged self through high school calculus.

Essays

“I have to work on my history essay,” my son announces.

“Isn’t that due tomorrow?” I ask.

“Yes. But it won’t take long.” To me (a writing teacher), writing an essay seems like something that might take some time. This particular essay involves a bit of research in the gathering of sources, and while it’s not a lengthy piece, this particular teacher is a stickler, to say the least.

“What should my thesis be?” he asks me from the other room, as if I know the assignment and the points he will make. I think about how much easier it would be if he would venture into the kitchen where I am preparing dinner so we could discuss without yelling back and forth. And since I have been struggling with my own writer’s block, I am not feeling particularly adept to be giving advice on how to start writing.

“Think about the points are you going to make,” I say. When pressed, yes, I can hold a writing conference from a different room. “Those need to be part of your thesis. But you probably want to do your research first.”

“I’ll just start writing,” he declares, dismissing any input I might offer at this point in the process. Fine then. He did ask for my help, after all. I swallow hard as the teacher in me wells up, desperately wanting to comment about the research piece.

I go about my business making dinner and finishing up some evening chores. After about half an hour, I start to the basement to tend to the laundry. My son is staring off into space. “You need to focus or you’ll never get that done,” I say in passing.

“Mom…!” he says in his favorite tone of teenage incredulity. “I’m working on it!” He springs from the couch, iPad in hand, and starts following me. “You have to see this….” But I am already down the stairs in the laundry. “Mom, look.” He holds the iPad out for me to see, and three solid paragraphs fill the screen. I am impressed. “See?” he says. “I’ve got this.”

It isn’t long before he is finished, and he brings me the essay to read. Aside from some repetition in two of his points, which I mention, it’s not bad. We work on the thesis, and he returns to the living room to type and reformat. In a few minutes, he says, “I need help with my citations.”

After a brief discussion of whether or not we can work from the same room, we decide he needs the computer, and I need to cook dinner. So, from the kitchen I say, “You’re going to write the author’s last name followed by a comma, then the first name, period….”

“Mom!” my daughter interrupts. “You have that memorized?? That’s so wrong!” Maybe. But since I use it often—as in daily—the memorization came as a side effect.

“Hey Mom! My friend hasn’t even started his paper yet. He’s hoping for a snow day tomorrow!” C laughs.

“Hmm. He does know we had a snow day today, right? Is he planning to write the essay?”

“Who knows,” C says. “But mine’s done!” He pauses for a minute. “I just need a title. What should my title be?”

He struggled with the title longer than he did on writing the entire essay. Which just goes to show, sometimes the easy things can trip us up. Sometimes, we get caught up in the little things in life and end up with writer’s block. As for his friend? He’s still working on the essay. I think he’s stuck on the first sentence.

 

Memory foam

This weekend, I took my daughter to get some new sneakers for the P. E. class she will have through the new semester. We went to a store not far from our house where they were having a buy one pair, get the 2nd for 50% off. She found some sneakers she liked, and began the search for her size, 6.5.

I don’t really need shoes, but I tried some on, just for kicks. I started with a 7.5, which was large, so I moved to a 7. While I found the memory foam insole quite appealing, the shoe was a bit big and gappy on my foot. (Since I’ve had children, my feet have shrunk. Most women say the opposite is true, which proves that I am an anomaly). Needless to say, we left the store with only my daughter’s new sneakers.

On the drive home, she asked me why I didn’t buy any shoes. “50% off, Mom. You could have gotten some shoes for yourself.”

“But I don’t really need shoes,” I told her. “I tried some, but the 7 was a little big, and the 6.5 probably would have been too small.”

“Wait…” she paused while she thought about what I had just said. “If you can wear a 6.5 shoe, that means I can wear your shoes!” She said this as if she were making a great announcement. “You could have gotten some new shoes, and I could wear them!”

All the more reason not to buy some shoes, I thought, but instead, I quickly built upon her newfound realization. “And that also means that I could wear your new sneakers!”

“But you wouldn’t,” she stated with matter-of-fact certainty.

“Why not? I like the shoes you just picked out. They’re a nice color.”

“Mo-o-o-m!” she drew out in that teen tone that borders on a whine, but isn’t quite. “That’s gross.”

“What’s gross? It’s gross for me to wear your shoes, but not for you to wear mine? How is that different?”

“Well,” she began in her best voice of authority. “When you wear my shoes, you will mash down the memory foam, and it won’t be any good any more.”

“Wow. Did you just call me fat?” I teased. “Really? I don’t weigh that much more than you.”

“Mom, I weigh 76 pounds…”

“84,” I corrected. “Nice try, but that’s not the way memory foam works. It doesn’t remember who was in the shoes last. It’s called memory foam because it remembers… well…. Okay, I don’t really know. But I won’t ‘break’ it just because I wear your shoes.”

By this point, we were both laughing. Back when the kids were little, I used to be able to make up the details I didn’t know, and they didn’t question it. Today, that’s not so easy.

Truly, I have no idea how memory foam works, but I know that “memory foam” is not a good name for it. There is no “memory” of who used it and how they used it. But I do know this: if you’re going to try to reason with a teenager, you should probably know what you’re talking about! (Unlike me….)

Mirages

The other morning, in a moment of ultimate optimism, I heard the radio dj say, “65 degrees today.”

Wow, the thought flew through my head, too fast for me to really linger on it. It’s warmer than I was expecting. But in that brief moment, it didn’t seem unusual.

I had a fleeting feeling of peace as my body relaxed ever so slightly, no longer holding on to the muscle tension necessary for the constant shiver of winter. I felt my mind relax about my wardrobe as well, since I wouldn’t have to bundle up against the cold, and my options were suddenly more plentiful. Maybe I’ll wear a pair of capris, I thought. Because 65 is actually spring warmth around these parts, I probably wouldn’t even need a sweater.

But no, I realized with a sudden jolt back to reality. Something is wrong. The words of the dj—the words I’d heard or imagined—were like a desert mirage to a thirsty man. When you want something badly enough, the slightest hint can push you to convince yourself of its presence.

While it is not unheard of for the temperature to be 65 at the end of January, it is highly unlikely considering the winter we’ve been having. And there had been nothing in the forecast for unseasonably warm temperatures.

I backtracked in my hearing, and replayed what I had heard. The dj did not say 65 degrees. In fact, what the dj actually said was, “It’s 5 degrees today.” Ugh! I was off by 60 degrees! Clearly, my mind made up what it wanted to hear. And the day would not only be five degrees, but extremely blustery. Wind chills in the negative teens and blowing snow to mess up the roads and decrease visibility.

Like a mirage, 65 degrees is out of reach right now. We can see it off in the distance WAY up ahead. We will keep moving toward it, hopeful that it won’t be long before we get there.