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April 12, 2017

I turned the burner down and let dinner simmer while she grabbed oranges from the fruit bowl and moved them around the table. She assembled them in a specific order then sat back admiring her work. I knew it was coming, the problem, I was waiting for it. This is a regular scene in our home, arranging objects then building math problems around them.

“Okay...” she started. 

I knew it.

“I have 8 oranges, but you take 2 with you to work for a snack. How many do I have left?”

She rolls two oranges in my direction and rearranges those left in front of her, her tiny palms barely fitting around them. Then she looks up at me equal parts curious and impatient. Before we count them, she throws a curveball.

“Wait! Mama didn’t realize you already had some so she set aside 2 more for you. How many do I have left now?”

She sat back, proud of herself, and crossed her arms. We walked through the scenario even though she knew the answer before she asked the question. I walked back towards the stove while she gathered all the oranges to set up another equation.

It’s easy to timestamp the beginning. As soon as she was born her mother and I have been teaching her things. It’s easy to see when it started, but what becomes difficult to pinpoint is the transition of material. When did we stop referencing noises when referring to animals and start explaining their habitats? When did she stop waiting for us to feed her and start preparing her own snacks from the pantry? Was there an overlap? There had to be, right?

She has a notebook that she’s been writing her own word problems in; a collection of random math stories and equations using names of family members and fellow classmates. Her little voice attempts to grow louder echoing down the stairs and through the hall asking me to spell a certain word. 

“Daddy, spell shoestrings!” 

I throw the letters back to her one by one. Once she’s written an entire word problem, she clicks her pen signaling she’s done and we read over it together. Sometimes she crawls in my lap with the little notebook full of her 5 year old handwriting and we solve every problem she comes up with. 

I hope that never changes, the problem solving and the trust it takes to bring them to me. Maybe I’ll be more aware of the transition going forward, when the math problems evolve from addition and subtraction to finding out what X is. There’s an overlap, right? There has to be.

I turn the burner off and yell that dinner is ready even though we’re all in the same room already. It’s her mother’s turn, oranges roll into place on the table. Charlie yawns and stretches as the food crosses overhead; I grab plates and utensils and watch them work out the details. She writes this one down.

“Daddy has 8 oranges, but 3 have gone bad so we throw them away. I take one to school and Charlie takes the rest because he thinks they’re toys. What is Daddy left with?”

Click. She clicks her green pen and sets it down.

I sit beside them at the table, each in our own seat designated by habit alone. Charlie moves to squeeze under Madison’s chair, a four legged crumb catcher. My daughter smiles at me. They answer the question together. Nothing. All the oranges are gone so I have nothing left, they agree. But they’re wrong. I have them and that's everything.

Click. Sometimes you have to spell out your problems to find the answer.

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