Friday, December 16, 2011


I remember clearly when I realized I was not even close to being a strong mathematician. I was a strong student School came pretty easily for me for awhile, and I did fairly well on tests. So well, in fact, that I was accepted into our fair city's premier magnet school in fifth grade. I had never gotten below a B, ever, on anything. So when I got to sixth grade and found a big, red C on the top of one of my math papers, I felt that leaden stone in my stomach that I'd come to know intimately throughout the rest of my mathematical career. Math tutors, extra help, studying, homework . . .  none of it turned on that lightbulb in that particular part of my brain. I always felt a year or two behind when it came to math. I got to seventh grade math and, whoa man, I took about 89 sick days that year just to avoid protractors and, wait, compasses? Are those even math tools? Bottom line: it wasn't working for me.

Math, in general, is an academic discipline that eludes me. I have a pretty strong grasp on the basics of addition, subtraction, multiplication, division; percentages and fractions and basic algebra are cemented somehow in my brain, though if asked to metacognitively explain a solution, I'd be hard pressed. There are mathematical concepts that seem absolutely ridiculous to me: why the hell are there IMAGINARY numbers? Math, for me, may as well have been Mandarin or Cyrillic: a language that was so outside my understanding, with characters that made zero sense to my brain.

Proving the stereotype once again, folks.

Eventually when I reached high school (and miraculously was still attending my academically outstanding school) I had a math teacher who, with great patience, helped me not only pass his class but get a super high grade on the Regents exam. And I was lucky enough to have this teacher for three straight years. Every September I'd look at my new schedule and see "B. Soffin" next to the math course and do a little skippity-do with glee. I knew it would be a long, challenging year, but I'd pass that exam and not be spending my summer at the local public high school retaking math until I turned 75. Somehow Mr. Soffin had the magic mojo; when I sat for those exams in June I always, miraculously, did really well.

I don't know that I actually learned math, per se, or if I just learned how to take the exam and figure out the answers. We did, for the last month of two of school, use review books and take practice exams exclusively. Whatever. I'm not in high school anymore, am I? And Mr. Soffin helped build my shattered math confidence back up. 

What I always really liked in math was something I felt was more appropriate for a philosophy course. I liked it because there were no numbers to confuse. The logic tables, I think they're called, were fascinating. 

If A and B, then C.

I find myself using this logic often, even if I can't remember the tables' exact symbols and meanings.

If She had lived, He would not be here.

She is dead, therefore She is not here.

If She is dead, was She ever really alive?

OK, that last one shows my weak understanding of how the logic works. 

I stumble on that last one. Since she's dead, and I never knew her, was she ever really here? This time of year I can't help but remember those last weeks with her. We were hurtling head-first towards a brick wall and didn't even know it. And still we never even got to know her. Who do I remember? Who do I miss?

Math brain, dead baby brain. It's all so confusing, still.


  1. First of all, you are so lucky to have had Soffin. If math was your strength, as it was once mine, you may have been subjected to three years with another teacher (who shall remain nameless), and your passion for math may have been completely extinguished, as mine was. Plus, you may not have been the kick-ass writer that you are.

    Second, She was very much alive, and still lives in more hearts than you probably know. The first time we met She was barely visible, but her presence was obvious in her mother's glow. I have a picture of that day on my fridge and see her everyday. And the last time we met...She was nestled away under a pretty polka-dot shirt, while her radiant mommy laughed and indulged in holiday treats and half-caf with the girls. That picture will forever be captured in my mind. She was as beautiful as her mom, and always will be.

    Thinking of you both, always.

    Love, Courtney

  2. This is a hauntingly beautiful yet heartbreaking post, and Courtney's comment is beautiful as well. I never met Her, but She is alive in my heart through your words, MB, and every time I see a calla lily (which happens more often than I ever realized it would), I think about Her, and about you.


  3. I for one have always liked math. Mostly because it was so frustrating that when I finally grasped a concept there just wasn't another feeling like the one I felt when my dendrites fired and made new neural pathways. I was always particularly good at statistics, measurement and evaluation, and research. Even in college I tutored other statistics students. That being said the number crazy in my head when my daughter died was staggering. Why me. How many others. What are the chances. Will It happen again. What kind of cohort am I in. How do they differ and compare to me. I always referred to myself as a bad statistic because with no reason or cause that could be found that's all I could chalk it up to be. A really bad draw of numbers. Someone's baby has to die to make the statistic exist and although I say: why me? I also realize: why not me. Statistics take away the fair or unfair, the guilt the blame and leave me in empty number land gawking at my bad odds.
    I think the crazy of did she really exist is not one of logic. We both ask ourselves this even though we know the answer is yes. Fo me I think trying to reconcile whether she exists to other people is much more confusing. Our daughters existed. The memory of their existence lies within us and those around us who are kind enough to remind us that they remember. Ugh. I wish it was different for us both....Every day! Sending love via computer which in programing is all 1s and 0s :)

  4. Math is not my subject, but oh, yes, she was alive.
    It's hard looking back, knowing now that the brick wall is there but not being able to warn yourself, or more importantly do anything.

  5. Thanks, ladies. It means a lot to me to be understood when I'm feeling so confused . . . xo

  6. I know this is far from the point but good for Mr. Soffin and good for you. Despite earning my living doing statistics, I'm not a natural mathematician. It's strange stuff, especially things like imaginary numbers. They make my mind bend a bit!

    I just don't know. Sometimes I still feel very confused by the whole thing. How? Why? Who? In an endless little plodding circle with my slow brain trying to understand any of it at all.

    But I do know that Calla was alive. Really alive. And loved.

    I still dwell on those final weeks, speeding towards that brick wall that I was totally unaware of.

    Sending love from my confused un-mathematical illogical brain to yours xo

  7. Yes. Yes. Who was she? How can I miss her so fiercely when I barely know her?

    And if I am lucky enough to have another - one born solely because she died - what will that mean for me? For her?

    Thanks for sharing. I feel these things so deeply too, but it's hard to talk about it with the day to day people in my life bc I don't want them to misunderstand and see my daughter as less important than she really is...

    I am currently repeating my first set of winter months since heading towards that brick wall last year. It is so hard sometimes.


  8. Dude. Dude. I just wrote a post like this. Confused and such. And now I've just read this.
    Seems we are in a similar head funk. Christmas just screws with everything I found out I was pregnant with Hope at Christmas, so while I was a lot further from the brick wall than you were, I can still relate. I had no fucking idea of the huge disaster that lay ahead and I was powerless to stop it.