Time and numbers

When I was very small, the school I went to, Stamford Park, would gather all the pupils in this big open area in the morning before classes began to go over general information. One activity would be asking the students if they knew what the day (and possibly date) was. I was three or four, so I really was bad at this. I remember being stunned that the day changed EVERY day and that someone knew what day was coming next. I always guessed “Thursday,” and because I was inconsistent with putting up my hand and volunteering this, I don’t think I was ever right. As a complete aside, at this school there was a teacher or teacher’s assistant who’s name must have been Miss Parker, because all the kids called her “nosy parker” and I couldn’t figure out why, since her nose was totally normal. Moving on.

The concept of numbering years also flabbergasted me. It was hard for me to grasp that the year wasn’t the same as my age (it blew my mind when I realized that my age was the same as the number of years I had been alive). I just couldn’t conceive of such a seemingly random number. When you don’t know any history, the year seems really arbitrary. Also, because people said things like “nineteen eighty-four” it was hard for me to realize that this was one number and not two numbers. I remember thinking that after nineteen eighty-four would be twenty eighty-five. Why not?

Later, I also had difficulty with the different names for larger numbers. For example, why is fifteen hundred the same as one thousand five hundred? Although it’s easier to say fifteen hundred, it feels a bit like saying “one day, 36 hours” when you should better say “two days, 12 hours.” I struggled with numbers, because I am dyslexic*, so sometimes it felt like when I got a handle on a number the name would change or something completely unexpected would come to be known about it and the rug would get pulled out from under me again. Bear in mind, these unexpected things would be like hearing 1,500 referred to as both fifteen hundred and one thousand five hundred – not earth shattering. Numbers are wondrously mysterious to me in a way that words are not. I have always retained a sense that a number can be a trickster and come at me in a wholly unexpected way at any time.

I spent a lot of my life assuming I was bad at math. But I am obsessed by math. In 2004 when I had stumbleupon activated, one of the areas of interest I had checked was math – and I found out a lot of really interesting stuff (like a really interesting article on infinity, similar to these here and here). Later, my husband told me to stop saying I was bad at math, since I was so into it. So I amended; I have trouble following math (even simple math) unless it is in word-problem form or something else that is tangible, because I can’t keep numbers straight in my head. It’s difficult to describe what dyslexia is like and how it scrambles things. There’s a disconnect between my brain, my eyes, my mouth, and my hands, but it also feels like there’s a disconnect between parts of my brain. I can’t remember lists of numbers because I become increasingly uncertain about the order and the numbers themselves, until – in a self-fulfilling prophecy – the numbers do become switched and substituted. This is actually pretty similar to my face/name remembery problem, where I meet someone, find out her name, use it confidently the first 3 or 4 times we meet, and then suddenly become very, very unsure if I’m right or not and my memory of our meeting devolves into a fuzzy haze where I’m suddenly not sure if she said “Sarah” or “Mary.” But I digress.

I was lucky to have met my husband (for, obviously, more reasons than I can ever relate), but one of the things that I think about in relation to the children is that he is good at math. He’s confident with math and can add up lists of numbers and do, like, differential equations and whatnot. I’m happy about this because I would like the babies to have a shot at mathing it up properly, and because he’s supportive of my math interest while also understanding that pretty simple stuff is challenging for me. I hope that the two of us together can show the twins that math is interesting and very relevant to life so they don’t have any hang-ups around math, like I did growing up.

And I can’t wait to begin sitting them down in the mornings and quizzing them about days of the week.

*Although I was tested for dyslexia when I was little, and was shown to be so by whatever test/s administered, you won’t find reference to numbers in the characteristics or manifestations of dyslexia. However, I struggled for long enough with letter reversals (I remember in particular when we were living in India, so I was between 5 and 7, my oldest sister paraded one of her friends through the dining room where I was playing and told me to show them what the letter “S” looked like, because it was a given I would get it wrong. I didn’t, but I remember really sweating it out and finally blindly deciding to make it facing a random way and it just turned out to be right), difficulty counting syllables in words, incorrectly blending words/flipping the sounds in words (I thought the word “irrelevant” was “irrevelant” for a really long time), name/word retrieval, bad spelling (ok, but who hasn’t?), stumbling when reading aloud – among much else – that I can remember the frustration around all of these very clearly. I worked really hard with therapy for a long time to become better at these things. I regret not giving the same diligence to numbers.

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