Tag Archiv: magic

Math and me

picture compliments of morguefile.com

picture compliments of morguefile.com

I am teaching grade 4-6 math this year. When I was asked, I agonized and stalled, then worried that I’d made the wrong decision. I didn’t want it to take too much away from my already limited writing time.

Math and I have an odd relationship. As a kid, I was quick out of the gate to “get,” that thing called math. Learning math was a physical rush. Numbers felt comfortable and friendly in my head. Patterns peeked smiling from all kinds of places.

Life happened and I began to see and believe that “real” math people innately understood things I didn’t. There was an “it” they had that I lacked. I still loved patterns and numbers but our friendship was private.

Grade seven math was the first class I was ever given to teach. The head of the math department was a legendary calculus teacher. That year it was my nervous lot to teach his son. Several times the legend found me. Each time I expected to be discovered for my lack of realness. “You’re a born math teacher,” he would say.  I told him of the myriad English courses, but not a single university level math course to my credit. “You’re a born math teacher,” he replied unphased.

That summer I signed up for a university Calculus course hoping to convince myself that he was right about me being a born math teacher. The first class was only housekeeping, but I could feel the thrill of math in the air. I sat down that night eager to read the textbook, but none of it seemed real. Just little exercises for the sake of exercising. Was there even a point? For a pop quiz the next day someone began pouring blue water into a bottle. “Write the function of the blue water going into the bottle,” said the monotone grad student conducting the class.

This moment came with a great deal of clarity. I didn’t care even the tiniest bit what the function of the blue water was. I left and found a course whose functions interested me considerably more (a women’s studies course, if you’re curious).

Meanwhile, anytime I was asked to teach a math class I said yes. The irony was always that, as much as I love teaching English (and I really did love it), I was always a better math teacher. I privately debated the possible existence of a born math teacher with no knowledge of higher math. A 2003 book, “The Myth of Ability” by John Mighton, said it was more than possible, so I made it my bible and never looked back.

Math is about magic. Teaching math is about inspiring magicians. Unexpectedly  back at a chalkboard, I’m not sure how all the balancing will work. I’m 80% through my novel’s umpteenth rewrite. I have the blog and have other writing things on the go. But fifteen minutes into the first math class I knew that sometimes magic trumps time. People in love don’t worry about the time spent together that could have been used for other things. Teaching math is like that for me.

My concession to reality is to keep County Road 21 postings to twice a week. The number of typos and grammatical errors may trend upwards.The times I can’t manage a post may increase. But in the long run I believe that my writing and teaching math will make fine friends.

So here’s to the magic!

Fairy tales

The Captive Robin, by John Anster Fitzgerald, 1864. Public Domain

The Captive Robin, by John Anster Fitzgerald, 1864. Public Domain

I started a piece called, “Fairy tales I tell myself.” It was about failed work projects and the fact that the idea of the children pitching in is a fairy tale I tell myself in order to make it feel like a team effort. I wanted to discuss the mounting level of fantasy required to plan a list of jobs (as if there were other creatures intent on their completion).

So a wee bit of cynicism, and “fairy tales” was not supposed to be a compliment. At which point, God laughed and hijacked my train.

 

Girl one lost another tooth. (A relief for the scales of justice as her sister’s teeth have been raining down like manna from heaven.) I thought a tooth fairy conversation was not far off, but I didn’t see it going the way it did.

I don’t know whether to believe in the tooth fairy, she said. I pretty much know there isn’t one. That’s what my friends all say. . . but I’m . . .I’m not completely sure.

The man in the red suit (who we don’t campaign against, but who’s never really caught on as a tradition for our family) came to my rescue.

Kids want to believe in Santa Claus, I said, because they want to believe that there’s magic in the world. That love does things so amazing we can’t explain it. A kid might find out that Santa isn’t real and worry that miracles aren’t true either. But they are. Someone might have made up the idea of Santa Claus but love really does do things so amazing we can’t explain it. So amazing that it’s magical like flying reindeer.

She didn’t say anything, so I kept brushing her hair.

What would be better? I said. To believe the tooth fairy isn’t real and you don’t feel dumb with your friends or to believe she is real and you don’t have to feel sad that part of what you imagined is pretend?

Girl one took these things and pondered them in her heart. I brushed hair that no longer needed brushing.

Your sister puts her tooth under her pillow for the tooth fairy. Your brother doesn’t want to so he brings me all his lost teeth and I hand him some money. It’s okay both ways and the money’s the same either way. Which way do you want it?

I want to believe, she said.

I didn’t know how much I’d wanted her to say that until she said it. She danced downstairs the next morning waving the money that I’d put under her pillow myself. I saw her eyes and found it impossible not to imagine a tooth fairy with wings. Look what I got! she said. Girl two and I gasped with her.

Girl one wasn’t asking about the existence of the tooth fairy. She was asking if it was okay to believe in fairy tales. If it was okay to find in make-believe, things so true it made your heart hurt.

C.S. Lewis’s Narnia is that for me. I don’t expect to walk through a wardrobe in my daily life and find a different world (although I wouldn’t rule it out entirely). Rather, I expect that we may awake one day to the realization that where we are is Narnia. In the wordless places we see in part but are afraid to say, so we make poetry, and art, and music for each other to admit to what we know. That the trees have always talked, we simply haven’t heard them. That Aslan is real and on the move and without understanding why, that is precisely what we have been hoping and whispering so earnestly to each other.

We tell fairy tales to give back to our children what they give to us. That thing we so desperately need. Permission to believe.

Song and Dance

Image courtesy of supakitmod at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

  Image courtesy of supakitmod at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As I write, the children are upstairs dancing. Three of them. No reason. Out of the blue, one said, “I’m going to my room to dance. You guys want to come?”  I think our musicals kick off on Friday night has us feeling artsy. “Sound of Music,” was a huge hit. (Juvenile search for free, legal music to download has begun.) The singing/no speaking dinner was grand. We’ll do it again and give it time to develop. One was too shy. The others had a grand time. Five year old quite enjoyed her attempts at vibrato. A highly recommended activity, I say.

Maybe it’s a small thing to hear my child look up from reading a book and announce a desire to dance. It makes me happy. My own love of dance is hampered by the requirement to move my body without a plan. I remember going to a concert once. Nothing fashionable, just a marching band on a lawn. I loved it and I wanted to clap with the music. Most everyone else was. I was inside the sounds of trumpets and flutes, cymbals and drums, I wanted to be part of the song.

I don’t remember if I was eleven, twelve, thirteen . . . but I couldn’t do it. I pictured myself picking my hands up off my chair and putting them together, but I was too afraid to try. Not sure how to start. Worried that everyone else knew how to clap in time, but I might not.

Since that day, I have learned to clap to music when I want to. For a time, I could mostly line dance (thanks to help from anyone who would go over the simplest things with me just one more time). Line dancing had the beauty of set moves to follow, but that skill has gone the way of things.

My joyful dancing, the kind without a plan, has been with my children. I danced with them as babies when we were alone. Later my children began asking me to dance. About kids and dancing, I hold to the following to get me through the occasional requests to participate:

1. It matters more that they learn the freedom and joy of dance, than it matters that beyond the confines of my imagination and the walls of our home, I have known neither.

2. Along with remembering me taller and wiser than I am, their memories of whatever odd moves I may try to incorporate into my dancing have the potential to undergo similar distortions if I can just keep smiling.

The marvel of it grows in me. My children are upstairs dancing. For fun. Maybe I was faking it to get here, but my children love to dance. Watching them, I see the shadow of small miracles. Of these I can only say thank you. Bow softly. Wonder at such good gifts.

 

 

Singing in the Snow

We put a pretty big value on family time over the Christmas break. This year, we have a plan that we’ve gone so far as to tell the kids, so there’s no going back now.  We’re going musical, as in musicals. All that’s really left is to pick the ones we’ll watch and get them.

`              Here’s why we’ll be watching so much singing and dancing this December . . .

1. Boy one announced that the music from Fiddler on the Roof was some of his favorite music in the world. (We didn’t even know he had downloaded it.) He started singing Fiddler songs around the house, but had no clue about the story.

This got me thinking. Then two more discoveries pushed the idea into a full blown mission.

2. Boy one confessed that, “Matchmaker,” was his favorite song at first because he assumed it was about someone playing with fire . . . and how cool is that, you know, mom?”  He said he sang it for a while before he figured it out.

3. We discovered that only one of our children had ever seen, “The Sound of Music.”

How it was we got this far, we two who both love musicals, without sharing this with our children, I have no idea. We did a test run last week with the 1971 movie version of, “Fiddler on the Roof,” to help us gauge our range for choosing.  They obviously understood it at different levels but regardless of comprehension, it was a big hit. Do you know how nice it is to hear your kids singing those songs around the house?

I feel a town crier is in order, although chances are that both the crier and my excitement about sharing musicals with children would be met with confusion.  Watching the kids enjoy, Fiddler on the Roof, was just so satisfying. I feel a kind of civic duty bursting out of me. Like I should be stopping people at the grocery store to tell them about it. Like I should be knocking on doors of people I don’t know and handing them copies of, The Sound of Music.

This is why I have a husband.  He reminds me that I will probably not want to knock on all those doors in the morning, so perhaps best not to print out all those fliers tonight.  “But that the original idea,” he will say carefully, “the one where we show 4 or 5 of the best ones to our kids . . . well, it’s just so manageable . . .”  And normal, he kindly does not add.

So, no posters, no grocery store announcements. Just a blog.  :)  Did I mention that we haven’t finished narrowing our list yet? Sound of Music, and My Fair Lady, for sure. After that, I welcome suggestions!

tiny treasures

It is hunting season around here. My neighbour always kindly reminds me, or I might forget. Forgetting wasn’t a possibility the other day. It was so loud that I looked out the kitchen window to see if there was a confused hunter out shooting our sheep. Whether it was target practice or boredom, the dog and I stuck to the roads for our walk.

The kids and I call the woods that I usually walk through, “The Magic Forest.” It’s pure Narnia. Especially in winter. Kids who are ambivalent about walks in general, almost always accept invitations to the Magic Forest. Hunting season is short, but I miss my magic trees. Gravel, pavement, telephone poles, and plastic food wrappers (reminding me that living in the country does make the one immune to self-indulgent stupidity) are just not the same, even without the cars.

The only magic on the roads is when I happen on some of the creatures passing by. Skunks, deer, racoons, rabbits, a family of foxes, wild turkey. I always slow down to look. One night a porcupine stopped to look back so we had a conversation in the dark until he finally ambled off.

I think my favourites are the turtles. Every year in May or June, there is a week when the turtles line the gravel on the sides of the road like vacation destinations. A road just around the corner from us seems to be prime real estate. At dusk, huge snapping turtles dig nests in the gravel and lay their eggs. I always want to explain that the benefits of warm blacktop can’t possibly outweigh the danger of cars. I never see the babies, only mothers in the spring. But despite the fatalities, they keep showing up to lay eggs, so something must be working.

On my unmagic walk, I tried to convince the dog that removing the burr from her tail would make her more attractive. We have been having this discussion for about three weeks now. Turns out she doesn’t care what she looks like. Every time she paused to sniff something, I would give a futile attempt to grab at that burr with my fingers. Bent over trying to grab the burr in motion, my eyes caught sight of a hole. For a second I thought some moron had buried their white plastic garbage in the gravel, but logic prevailed and I took a closer look.

On the side of a most un-enchanted and ordinary road, magic. Turtle eggs.  Already hatched. No baby turtles, but I dug out five or six dusty white broken shells and took them home to show the kids. In the dance down here between miracles and madness, mark one for the miracles.

Unholiday p.s.

This year the ten year old has been invited to trick or treat with a friend in town. I wonder if that will change things. He is merrily collecting items to transform himself into a mad scientist. What people in town will think, I don’t know. I am denying my urge to rush to Walmart and fix it before it breaks because there’s nothing wrong, and everything right with this boy combing our house and garage and work bench for props.  Currently, my mad little scientist would only be happier if he was going as a piece of poop or a fart.

Impending unholiday

My annual dread is fast approaching. Before the kids went to school, I solved it by turning off the lights and playing games in the basement to end October. Since then we have 1) ignored the non-holiday in other ways 2) dressed up and gone out to get ridiculous amounts of candy from people who are obviously very insecure about seeming cheap.

Halloween seems so overblown to me that I feel the need to wave the flag of moderation . . . but really is it candy and costumes that drive me crazy.

On candy, my children eat freely the first night and can only get through a tenth of it at most. They don’t want it for days after that . . . then what?  How am I supposed to sleep at night thinking about their little immune systems processing all that sugar, cavities forming in triple time. What happened to getting ONE piece of candy at a door? Or an apple?

On costumes, I love kids dressing up, but nobody does that. Everywhere, people are wearing freshly purchased costumes that will rip quickly and end up in the trash. Occasionally, someone is wearing something hand sewn by Grandma or Aunt Betty, but no one, I mean, no one, is wearing a costume imagined, designed, and assembled by the actual child wearing it.- – – Ok, there are four of them . . . but they are all mine. If Halloween was about creativity and pretending, I would be there. Handing out whole wheat, oatmeal chocolate chip cookies in moderation, but I would be there.

Instead, it is all so plastic. Buy, get, need, want, gotta have . . . more candy, slicker costumes

Sometimes I wish someone would tell my kids how much they don’t get it. How much their costumes look so extremely homemade by 8 and 10 year olds, with touch ups from a 5 & 13 year old . . . Then I could say forget it and stay home. But no one has said a word. Old ladies and farmers have complimented the get-ups and asked for explanations. All parties seem pleased with the interchanges I can’t quite hear from the car.

I live with children who have yet to notice much beyond the beautiful of the world around them and I’m not sure it’s time to change that. The possibility of expanding their audience once a year to showcase their creations to complete and total strangers delights them. The fact that I throw away their candy slowly over weeks irritates them but not enough to diminish the joy of one of three days in the year when I declare, “CANDY FREE-ZONE,” for a few hours. I assure you that those words are danced to as wildly as any tribal dance anywhere.