He was supposed to teach her math

I took notice that our 5⅔-year-old was using the word ‘half’ and the word ‘part’ interchangeably and decided that the time had come to set her straight on the matter. She’s quite bright and loves learning new concepts so it wasn’t at all challenging to pique her curiosity. However, she hadn’t yet encountered fractions so, for simplicity’s sake, I suggested that we should consider only the even numbers, which she knows about. On a piece of paper, we wrote down 2, 4, 6, and 8. And then:

2 = _ + _
4 = _ + _
6 = _ + _
8 = _ + _

Unsurprisingly, she caught on quickly. After filling in the blanks together, I drew a circle for each of the four equations: one circle divided into two, one divided into four, and so on. How many slices do we need for half of a circle if there are eight slices? Four! What if there are six slices, like in this circle? Three! And over here, with four slices? Two! Wonderful! Good job! You’ve got it.

I also drew a 5th circle and divided it into two unequal pieces – one noticeably larger than the other. See? Here we have two pieces – but these are not halves. You can say that these are parts of the circle, or sections of the circle, but it would be inaccurate to call them ‘halves’. Do you know why? Because they’re not the same size? Exactly!

At that point, I decided to push the lesson a bit further. After all, she had just recently crossed the threshold from 5½ to 5⅔, right? My intention was to show her that the twelve months of the year (which she knows) could be divided into half (6) and also into thirds (4), thereby explaining why I had just recently started calling her a 5⅔-year-old.

So I began by explaining that we would first write down the number 3, and then add another 3 for the next number, which she said should be 6. And then? 9? Yep. And then? 12! After we’d written those numbers down, I jotted down:

 3 = _ + _ + _
 6 = _ + _ + _
 9 = _ + _ + _
12 = _ + _ + _

At this point, she began to noticeably tune out due to mental exertion. We managed to fill in the equations, but by the time I had drawn four circles (for 3, 6, 9, and 12) and divided them into the corresponding numbers of slices, I realized that I was pretty much doing the math exercise on my own. Then, even when I attempted to close out the activity by reinforcing that two 1’s gives us 2, whereas three 1’s give us 3, meaning that 1 is both ½ of 2 and ⅓ of 3, her mind had already wandered, and she was off to another activity.

I’m pretty sure that she still doesn’t understand what one-third is.

* * *

I enjoy speaking, writing, reading, typing, watching movies, and playing various word and story games with my daughter. We are raising a trilingual child, and I am both fascinated by and very proud of her language development. It’s incredibly rewarding for me to know that I am shaping her development and giving her an invaluable gift in this way. Never before have I been so invested in any project.

As it happens, I have an engineering degree, but most of what I learned back in college has long since faded from my memory banks for lack of any application. To the extent that I am good at math, it’s almost entirely due to the comfort with numbers that Papa inculcated in me from a very young age, and, of course, I wasn’t the only son who benefited from his tutelage. My brother, not long after Papa died, reflected upon his appreciation that Papa had been around to help him with his university math studies, which led him to receive a minor in mathematics.

My wife and I can both teach our daughter essential math skills, and I can even pass down many of the same math tricks that Papa once taught me, but… math isn’t enjoyable for me and it doesn’t come naturally. I’d rather be teaching her to write poetry. I’d rather be… I’d rather be… teaching her about mythical creatures of legends native to various world cultures. Perhaps some of those same colorful, magical creatures were good at mathematics themselves, but it has never excited me.

* * *

Not so long ago, on the 2nd anniversary of Papa’s death, I lit a 24 hour memorial candle in his memory. Lighting such a yahrzeit candle is a universal Jewish custom but not a requirement of religious law. Many people also light yahrzeit candles on those Jewish holidays when we traditionally recite the Yizkor prayer for our deceased loved ones, including Yom Kippur and Shemini Atzeret, both of which we celebrated just recently. I did not attend communal prayer services at shul for the holidays (COVID-19 is my excuse), and so I did not recite the Yizkor prayer, but I did light candles on all of the holidays… even including the recent holiday of Sukkot, which has no associated memorial prayers for the dead.

I’ve been attracted to candles and to fire for longer than I remember, but I never made a point of lighting them until the time came to commemorate my Papa, and, unexpectedly, I found it comforting.

Now, I don’t put much stock in belief in the supernatural. I believe that it is possible (and even likely) that some supernatural, omnipotent Force exists that created everything… but that’s about the extent of it. If somebody somehow proved that such a Force doesn’t exist (which I don’t believe to be possible), this wouldn’t be particularly disconcerting to me. It’s okay with me if God’s existence is disproven because I don’t believe that God or any other supernatural Force actually cares about us.

Still, the candle flame does excite my imagination in how it licks at the air around it. It’s soothing to imagine my Papa’s neshamah flickering in its flame, and I’m hardly the first human being to relate emotionally to fire as a living thing. In fact, as I now write about this, I find myself stirred to write some poetry about it… perhaps I’ll do that later. [addendum: here’s the poem I wrote later]

And so I’ve taken it upon myself to light a yahrzeit candle for Papa every Friday evening before Shabbat starts. For me, this has nothing to do with religious obligation, nor anything to do with faith. Rather, it’s simply comforting. It feels nice to spend a minute focused on remembering Papa. It feels nice to wake up on Saturday morning and see his candle still burning.

Of course, if I continue lighting a candle every week, I suppose I’ll have to come up with something else to do for Papa’s yahrzeit… but, unlike math, imagination has always been my strong suit.

34 thoughts on “He was supposed to teach her math”

  1. Ben, I enjoyed your post. Perhaps because I love the Jewish feasts as I learn more about the meaning behind them. All the Jewish feasts actually point to something/someone meaningful where mine (I’m a Gentile) are simply – well, feasts.
    I went to Israel with my friends Marty Goetz- singer, songwriter) and his family. (check them out. he is a Messianic Jew- sounds Like Frank (as in Sinatra) I was astounded at the history of your people and how it matched the ancient stories in the old testament! I’ve seen the great wall in china and other antiquities but none compare to the history of your people. Rock on with your writing! Shawn @ thisgirlslife.blog

  2. So much out there to read and see and experience, and I spend so much time here on these sites looking for verses that touch my heart in one way or another. I did not expect to be so captivated by a man writing about tools and math, father and daughter, and all the other subjects you consider. Especially in a way and in terms that are so close to my own thoughts of my father, living on his own now in California. You are a fine writer. Thank you for sharing so much.

    1. Hi, George! It’s very nice to meet you, and I deeply appreciate your kind words. I’m sorry for your Dad – it must be really hard for him to be alone. Ever since my father’s death, my mother has been sort of “alone” too because I’m over here in Israel, and my younger brother just graduated from college and is starting his independent life. She and my father had been planning their future years together, and then -BAM- he was suddenly gone forever. 😦

      1. My very best to your mother, my friend. I know that after my mother passed, my father found solace in doing something I think nobody had ever expected him to do–writing children’s stories. I think he writes them for her, really, for his wife who is gone now. But it keeps him busy and happier than he would have been. Anyway, it is indeed a pleasure to have met you, David. I look forward to following your writing and learning more about you and your life. Take care of yourself.

  3. Ben your little girl sounds like a smart sweetheart! All will come in due time. You are a great teacher. I am much the same. Math has not appeal, but science and writing are my joys. I love that you still light the candle and remember you father. That is special.

    1. Thanks, Dwight 🙂

      Writing has become quite a release for me… and my daughter has started deliberately rhyming words, attempting to “write poetry” like I do 🙂

  4. I’ve always always spoken to God since I was a child.

    In Eu the environment is catholic/christian but nevertheless I never felt a resonance with the Christ that I simply consider a great soul. But God is God!

    I spoke to Him even though I always thought he was too busy for just listening to me. Nevertheless I knew that he was with me even if not immediately there with me when I talked to him.

    Since a couple of months I had a revelation : if God is ominpresent and omnipowerful and omniknowing (I know it’s not the proper word…) it means that for him it is possible to be everywhere with everyone at everysecond! It was such a beautiful answer I received from God. Since then I talk to him even more! N my heart melts! ❤️❤️❤️

    1. The word is “omniscient”. The Jewish concept of God is: 1) Omnipotent, 2) Omniscient, 3) Omnipresent, and 4) Omnibenevolent.

      The whole “God” thing comes much easier to my wife than it does to me. She sought out a relationship to God before discovering and then choosing to commit herself to Judaism…

      Whereas I was attracted to traditional Judaism because I feel that the Jewish people are my extended family, and I only seriously began to think about God because I was drawn to the traditions of my people.

      1. Yes, omniscent! A latin word the same in italian n french! Interesting what you say about your wife! I’ve been thinking a lot why i really feel no connection at all towards Jesus but just for God. Then I read in some Judaic pages that it seems that to many cristians happens the same n that they were probably jewish in previous lives. I think it could be true… I have often thought that perhaps I should consider more seriously my Jewish connection… I am open to receive the “go” from G-d. He is incredibly patient with me! ❤️❤️❤️

  5. This is a very nicely articulated and informative article. I liked the way you are grooming your daughter is really appreciable. I also liked the way you are adhering to customs and practices, which will be definitely inculcated by daughter as well. Thanks for sharing this beautiful write-up ☺️

  6. You are definitely a natural when it comes to teaching, and she seems quite sharp herself. Good luck to both of you. 🙂

      1. I know. I am hoping to become a teacher, but I have to learn how to teach lol. I couldn’t come up with the simple format you used to teach her those numbers. See what I mean?

  7. We lived in France for 10 years, so my french is fairly fluent. A tri-lingual child is just brilliant. You are giving her a great start.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s