Friday afternoon I found myself sitting at the table fidgeting with a piece of paper. I was sitting there trying to come up with new and exciting ways to explain how a person can remember 7x8=56, and like Sunburst, I was drawing a blank. We had already talked about how nicely it goes 5-6-7-8 (56=7x8). And we had also noticed how it was 7x4 doubled. But beyond those things, I had nothing. The seven times table can be like that. So I sat there, letting my mind wander, and I began playing with the sheet of paper. With my help, it folded itself into a note.
Do you remember folding notes?
It seems like several lifetimes have passed since middle school, but I still fondly remember jotting down my most important little thoughts on notebook paper, folding them up into little packages complete with tiny pull-tabs and passing them to my best friend. I'd wait anxiously for her reply, and then I'd fire off another note. To protect our identities we had clever nicknames for each other, which we changed mercilessly and often--- Sparky/Shaggy, Nikki/ Vince, Gordie/Chambers, Mrs. Taylor/Mrs. LeBon, Mickey/Davy, Inchworm/Dead Inchworm, Fish-Head/Dead Fish-Head... nothing was off-limits, apparently.
I don't remember ever getting caught, even by the dreaded Ms. Yanagihashi, who as the detention marm, inspired dread in the souls of all sixth-graders. We were careful and calculated, Sparky and I, and our passing of notes continued for many years... crammed through locker vents, hastily pressed into each other hands in the hallways and courtyards of school, and when our paths diverged into separate high schools, the fancily-folded notes of yore gave way to entire notebooks of random thoughts, odd doodles, and teenage rants exchanged at length over phone calls or weekend sleepovers.
It's been a long time since the days of passing notes with Mrs. Taylor. A few years ago she sent me one of the notebooks of notes I had given her during our Freshman year, after extracting an explicit promise from me to mail it back to her or suffer the dire consequences of her wrath. It was awful and embarrassing as an adult to comb through those pages I had written at 14-- so much angst, so much uncertainty. But like it or not, those were my important thoughts back then, both the good and the ugly, the silly and the morose. For whatever reason they must have meant something to her, and she kept them all these long years.
I sat there basking in nostalgia and idly playing with the little pull-tab I had crafted on the note in front of me. Suddenly I knew what I had to do.
I picked up the nearest pencil, and in teeny tiny letters, I wrote on that tab: 7x8.
I opened up the note, and inside, I wrote the words: "the answer is 56." I folded it back up again and slyly passed it to Sunburst. She took one look at it and grinned. She unfolded and folded that note many times. And then she wrote me a note of her own, folded up in just the same way.
About fifteen minutes later she passed me a note of her own making. I was giddy as I imagined what exciting bit of news or sweet words of endearment she was passing me. The little pull tab said, "Sara" on it, and inside I found the words: "Is it time for lunch yet?" Endearment? I suppose with a nine-year-old that's close enough.
During lunch she told me 7x8=56. So I took that as a cue and secretly made her two more notes folded in equally enthralling ways. 8x8 made it into a heart-folded note, along with the answer and my own words of endearment for her. She found it on the stairs on her way to bed. She snatched it up quick as lightning and hid it under her pillow. When I came upstairs to tuck her in, she was smiling brightly, but didn't say a word about the note. After I said the bedtime prayer and kissed her goodnight, she told me, "64. 8x8 is 64." She pulled the opened note from under her pillow and asked me to show her how to fold it back up again.
We folded and refolded the heart-shaped note several times, and she admitted to me that she thought this was the neatest way ever to learn the times table. She couldn't believe she was actually learning this stuff, that she only had two more problems to go, and she was so proud of herself. She said, "I doubt teachers can pass notes like this in public school, and I bet no one has ever learned the times table like this before. It's so interesting mom. Interesting and creative. I'm sure glad I'm homeschooled." And if that wasn't enough sugar-coated syrup to melt my heart, she looked at me with shining eyes and said, "Everyone should feel lucky to have a mom."
Yep, she had me in tears. Does homeschooling get any better than this?
The next morning at breakfast Sunburst discovered an arrow-folded note that read 8x12. She looked at me knowingly before slowly and carefully opening it. She read the answer inside, and closed it back up again. A little while later she told me the answer.
"Only one more problem to go," I told her. "Do you remember which one is left?"
"12x12," she said. "But I think it's 144."