I am slung back in an armchair in the living room, reading a memoir of sorts: Safekeeping by Abigail Thomas. I laugh at one passage and turn the page and then am slammed—she does this, with the simplest of details—and glance into the study to see if my son and husband notice that I am crying. They don’t.
Thomas is going to high school part-time this year. He wanted to get out of the house, which makes sense to us. We’d like to get out of it, too. It is dark. The whole state is dark. But that is another story.
But my son wanted to keep doing math with his dad. For the last few years, they have been working together through courses from “The Art of Problem-solving,” courses which are heinously and deliciously challenging. They sit together at my husband’s desk in the study—I can see them from my chair—bent over their papers, murmuring to each other, scratching their chins, working to figure out the starred problems, which are designed to be nearly impossible. They love this. But every once in a while they both sit back after a particularly long wrestling match and sigh with frustration and chagrin. It is often a simple matter of computation that gets them off track. They can do the hard stuff. It is that elementary multiplication that bites them on the butt.
Today, while I am sneaking in my tears, they do this again—sit back laughing and shaking their heads.
“The usual stumbling block?” I ask, smiling down the hall at them.
“Yeah, 8 times 7,” says Thomas. They are grinning cheesey grins at me. They are proud of themselves, thinking that these blind spots confirm their genius.
“Ooh. That’s a rough one,” I say sarcastically. I have a role to play in this, too.
“Oh yeah… what is it?” says Thomas.
“56,” I say.
“Just checking,” says Ray. And then he whispers loudly to Thomas, “write that down.”
He looks up at me, bouncing his eyebrows, enjoying his small coup. “There’s more than one way to get to the answer.”
Then they set their elbows on the desk and rest their chins in their hands, mirror images, and start on the next problem, their pleasure in themselves so absolute that it sheets off of them and sloshes up against the walls.
I hold my book up again, but instead of reading, I look past the pages at them and let those waves wash over me.