Monday, January 20, 2014

La Matematica

In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the Chicago Public School kiddos do not have school. Personally, I don't understand why the kids aren't in school, spending the whole day learning about Dr. King, his legacy, fighting racism and injustice, etc. We can just add that to the whole list of things I'd love to see reformed, I guess, and in the meantime, we'll talk to our kid about Dr. King today, in between making homemade cinnamon-vanilla pancakes, limiting her time playing Minecraft, and finally going to see the movie Frozen before it closes.

Because of her free day, I have limited time to write, but I thought I'd share this moment from yesterday, which pretty much typifies the banter around here. After church, we headed out to brunch, and sometime between the point at which we became completely stuffed and our bill arrived, EJ initiated a conversation about her birthday party. You know, for that birthday she is having at the end of July, some six months from now. The fact that her half-birthday is coming up—when did this become a real thing for kids?—prompted her birthday thoughts, and she suggested that she would like to have an Elf-themed party, sort of a "Christmas in July" with a Buddy-approved menu of candy, candy canes, candy corn, and syrup. "It can be just like the movie, and kids can come dressed as the three kinds of elves: shoe-making elves, elves who bake cookies in a tree, and toy-makers."

She is nothing if not grandiose in her birthday plans, and most years we have had to talk her down from the idea that every single kid will show up in head-to-toe costume. For goodness sake, one year she suggested that we have a party themed, "The Clownfish Guardians of Doom Lake." If my kid got invited to a party like that, and was asked to wear a costume, I might cry.

Once we had listened attentively and then explained (again) that there was plenty of time to figure out birthday plans, we really need not nail everything down on January 19th, she then started throwing out number games. "I'm thinking of a number between..." is her go-to "I'm bored at a restaurant/in the car/in line at the store," cure. When her turns come around, she always picks her age, the number 81 (or whatever her current favorite number currently is—81 is now in favor because it is 9 x 9, I guess), her classroom number, and then the lowest or the highest number in the range, just to be sneaky. Needless to say, when we have our wits about us, we try to switch to another game once a few rounds of not-really-guessing-because-we-know-her-picks have passed.

Yesterday, our transition started with patterns. The first number I asked her to guess was 16, the next was 32, and when I had my third turn, instead of thinking of another number for her to guess, I asked her to see what those numbers have in common, and to figure out what I might pick next. This make math-guy Mike extremely happy, and he pulled us right out of the "I'm thinking of a number game" into "guess the pattern," which let me tell you, is really hard when you can't write the numbers down and look at the list.

This led to a pattern of prime numbers, at which point the check arrived at our table. We described what prime numbers are, and she was intrigued. We talked about how Mike likes our anniversary date so much because it is prime: 7 for the month, 31 for the day, and how I could care less about that. Mike then pulled out his phone and showed her something interesting about prime numbers online, at which point he and EJ spotted another famous number pattern, and she wanted to stump me with it.

1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21...

When I guessed it—the Fibonacci series—she seemed disappointed. I'm usually pretty easily stumped by math, so this was no fun. At that point, Mike asked her something like, "Can you guess by his name where Leonardo Fibonacci was from?" which instantly revived her spirits, and she yelled, "ITALY!" as we walked out of the restaurant.

Now, we already have what I would call, "the Italian problem" going on in our house. My dad, a first-generation American with 100% Italian heritage, has convinced our kid, who is 1/4 Italian (thanks to him), that she is "mostly" Italian. While it is true that her 1/4 Italian accounts for the largest percentage of any one nationality in her genetic mix, statistically speaking, it is still only 1/4 of the whole. EJ is totally onboard with his logic, though, and likes to point out everything and everyone Italian, "just like her."

As we walked down the freezing sidewalk to our car, the following conversation ensued:

Me: "I'm worried that you played into the already-overwhelming belief on EJ's part that all good things in the world come from Italians."

Mike: "Don't worry, once she studies the 1600s, it'll all even out."

Me: "Are you saying that the Italians stop contributing to math then, or is this a larger commentary?"

Mike: "It's most of the major cultural endeavors, really. It's like they just start sitting around, drinking cappuccinos."

Me: "Well, why wouldn't they? They'd already developed art, music, culture, math, cuisine, not to mention Roman engineering---what more did WE need to do for the world?"

Judging by my rapid defense, and my rapid adoption of the first person plural mid-sentence, I guess that 1/2 Italian in me makes me identify as "mostly" Italian, too. The whole exchange made both of us laugh, but it cuts to an interesting observation, too: it only takes a little scratch to the surface for beliefs about "who we are" based on "where we came from" to bubble up to the surface, an idea definitely worthy of reflection on MLK Jr. Day, no matter how you add it up.

1 comment:

  1. This made me laugh because my brain thinks math is absurd. I instantly felt like Ralph and wanted to say: My cat smells like cat food.