Rebecca's Improper FractionsWednesday, May 09, 2007
Last night Rosemary was glum. Hilary called her to tell her that Rebecca had scored poorly in her math test. Somehow Rebecca did not tell her mother about the test so nobody helped her to prepare. Rosemary feels very guilty and went to sleep early. Rebecca is 9. She is in grade four at École Bilingue.
No matter how tough it is for her at school it makes me think of me in grade 8 in a very small school in Nueva Rosita, Coahuila. Grade 8, 7 and 6 were under one roof and the teacher happened to be my mother.
We were in Nueva Rosita because my mother had a job as teacher for the children of the engineers who worked at the American Smelting and Refining Company mine. They mined zinc and converted coal to coke. The coke was shipped to the US to make steel.
It was tough because my mother was doubly hard on me. Grade 8 was as far as the Nueva Rosita school went and from there our class of 6 boys graduated (we were all given razors as a graduation gift from the school) and we dispersed to schools in the US.
I am on the left (the boy with the big ears). My nemesis was Sammy Simpson, third from left. He was smart, good looking, tall, could immitate Elvis Presley's Blue Suede Shoes (consider that this was 1957), he played baseball and basketball, was a champion bowler, and got to drive his parent's '57 Ford all the time. Worst of all, he wore crisp, faded just right, Lee jeans and mine never looked like his. My mother did not know how to iron well so I tried to get Sammy's razor creases to no avail.
My only comfort was that I knew I was smarter than he was. Until my mother somehow told me one day, "You have a very high IQ Alex but not as high as Sammy's." I was devastated. In the 50s there were two very important double initials. One was IQ and the other was SA which stood for sex appeal. Sammy had both and I had neither. I settled down to be a nerd. In high school I avoided school dances because I could not dance and I was ashamed of my big ears. When two women showed interest in me (I was by then 20) I thought they were idiots. I could not believe it!
If Rebecca had not been asleep last night I would have called her and told her that failing the math test wasn't important. I would have told her that she navigates her piano music math very well and knows all about the f-stops and shutter speeds of my manual cameras. She has an excellent idea of how much space her body occupies from her dance classes (ballet, jazz and character at Arts Umbrella) and is able to follow all the steps in correct order without any problem.
When we go to her piano lessons I always put a previously unheard piano CD in the car stereo. Last Monday we listened to Philip Glass playing his piano sonatas. Rebecca immediately caught on to possible similarites with Erik Satie.
Last Saturday before going to Sebastian Alexander's baptism I gave Rebecca a crash course in Original Sin and the seven sacraments. We delved into the doctrine of transubstantiation and the Holy Trinity.
I remember when I was in grade 9 and I could not do chin ups. One day I was able to do one and then another and soon they were easy. I think the same will happen with Rebecca as soon as she realizes some of the practical applications of math. I cannot blame her for not being interested or understanding what an improper fraction is. It was on improper fractions that Rebecca did poorly.
Hilary nor Rosemary like this picture that I took of Rebecca last Halloween. They say she looks too mature. For parents their children will always be children. Yet they worry about their child's school grades to the point that a child, in this case Rebecca, comes home, almost in tears and refuses to talk about her day. I understand as I remember what it was trying to compete with Sammy Simpson.
I think there is plenty of time (if ever) to worry about math and school grades. Meanwhile I remember:
You find it hard to forgive those who, early in life, have
come to enjoy the advantages which go with maturity. Aside
from any other consideration, why don't you put into the
balance the long spring enjoyed by a youth who matured
Markings - Dag Mammarskjöld - 1964
Rebecca and I will have to study a few Dave Brubeck Quartet pieces with that difficult 5/4 time signature. It's an improper fraction. And in Take Five it's an improper fraction that I am sure Rebecca will like.
For those who might want to know the names of the boys in the picture please look here