As a kid, I did not understand math and like most people — I fear what I cannot understand. Other kids are afraid of snakes, 4 ft. of pool water, clowns and monsters under their bed. But for me, my nightmares consisted of counting to a thousand, being smothered by graphing paper and long division. Math is so foreign to me. It looks like a systematic squiggly lines that put fear on my mind.
Remembering the numbers and sequence is easy, and then comes the value of each; there begins my hatred for math.
Adding one from another becomes something more, taking its value as its own, consuming another to gain, to divide and become something less of its original self. Multiply and spread itself thin — this feels inhumane and utilitarian for me.
My mom noticed my “special situation” with math, and she would help me review the lessons every night. We would stay up until 10 p.m. as she taught me how to add, subtract, multiply and “dibay-dibay” (divide) the numbers. She would write down the numbers and the process to transform it. It’s as if we were mapping out the direction, avoiding traps and finding the hidden treasure. I would look at her, look at her handwriting, back at her and I’d tear up. I could hear her voice but the meaning wouldn’t reach me.
She tried flash cards, reward systems, scare tactics and I’m pretty sure she even tried hypnosis. Unfortunately, none of it brought me closer understanding math. I would panic before every quiz or major exam. In grade school, we have weekly exams on Friday, and every Friday I would be so nervous to face the enemy equipped only with paper and pencil, ready to face defeat.
Subtracting Fear and Getting Answers
Nevertheless, my mom — not one to lose hope — continued to look for something to make me understand, and find it she did. The answer came from Popsicle sticks. She laid them down in rows and columns and I would count them. She would point at a stick and name it one, the other two and next to it three, so on and so forth.
With the sticks, it was as if I could touch math. I saw it in a new light and felt something other than fear. I could smell the wood, see the paint and imagine the ice cream flavor it once was. I saw math and it was not scary. The terrible squiggly monster transformed into an ice cream-less stick. It was just misunderstood, and it failed to communicate with me without the creamy goodness — that is why we couldn’t see eye-to-eye.
Eventually, those Popsicle sticks became more than a representation of digits. They had their own name and distinct features. They had this alternate life and personality in my mind. I named the first stick Juan Solo. He sported a bluish color and had a purple tinge in good lighting. He had a glossy texture and a chipped top. Juan Solo was the first stick on the table, slightly shorter and more rugged than the others because of my careless handling. Beside him was Daisy Dos. She waas the same color but pinkish on top and would not go anywhere without her friend Threesha.
Adding New Eyes to the Equation
It was not a smooth sailing for math and I, we still had our own opinions on how to do things. I always g0t the short end of the stick when we’d butt heads. The teachers always sided with him. One time I was solving a word problem like this:
Susan has 5 apples and she gave 1 to Amy. How many apples does Susan have left?
I read the question. I identified the subject: Susan and Amy. Writing down the given numbers: 5 and 1, then deciding for the right process to compute the answer.
I answered in the space: just enough.
Susan has five apples and she gave one to Amy. In my mind, Susan was a good friend and still had just enough apples for herself.
I did not grow up as a math wiz who can compute the trajectory of a projectile and how fast it can hit you in the face. However, my mom taught me not to hurt someone I do not like. I did not learn how to use trigonometry to find how tall a building is, but she taught me to open the doors for others and respect people’s personal space. I did learn, more than the textbook could teach me.
She taught me how to see the world from a different perspective and how there are multiple ways to solve a problem. My mom showed me how to conquer my fear.
Multiplying the Love
She did not give up on me.
While she was tutoring me on Math, the dishes did not wash itself and the house did not stay clean on its own. She spent late nights with me and still woke up earlier than anybody. She divided herself to do multiple things at once. She subtracted her share to add more to ours, transfigured a house into a home, and converted her potential energy to light our life.
With six kids, a house to run, a kitchen to command, an 8-to-5 full-time job on the week days and a 24/7 duty with no breaks as a wife and a mom, she defied the staggering numbers. What she did not have was a secret equation, a formula to follow or space for errors.
I can’t compute how awesome my mom is. I will never know how much she sacrificed or how much pain she endured. All I know is we have more than enough because of her. I learned with my struggle with math that there are things that transcend logic, digits and the physical, that there are things more reliable than a mathematical constant, and a mother’s love is a value raise to infinity.