Thursday, March 01, 2007

A Different Kind of Arithmetic

Okay, I've got nothing, so I'm going to quote some more Sam Levinson. I'm telling you all, or "y'all," depending on how tired I am: This man's books are wonderful. He was a genuine teacher, in the best sense of the word. He was truly a wise man. Was? Is. He might be gone now, but his essence lingers. I learn something every time I re-read his loverly books.

This piece is from "In One Era and Out the Other."

In school we learned one kind of arithmetic; at home another. 1 + 1 = 2 was fine with our teacher, but not good enough for Mama. She demanded to know 1 + 1 = 2 what? Mama's was a method of remedial arithmetic aimed at remedying our poverty by judicious spending. It worked something like this:

1 pair of skates = 12 violin lessons. Cancel out the skates and carry over the lessons. She balanced the equations on her scale of priorities and made sure the needle pointed to our future.

1 phone call = 1 carfare to a museum
4 movies = 1 shirt
1 bicycle = 10 pairs of eyeglasses
5 ice cream sodas = 2 pairs of socks

It was a form of reverse budgeting, planning ahead not only for what not to buy but for buying the instead of, which she could not afford not to own. This kind of juggling, borrowing from our desires to meet our needs, forced minuses to become pluses and liabilities to become assets. She knew the world would never examine her books, but it would examine her children. (She had only one set of these.)

A few paragraphs, a few simple words, an important lesson that many adults today still haven't learned. And when our adults don't know how to do Mama's arithmetic, how can we expect our kids to know how to balance the equations of real life?

First things first. Ice cream will feed the moment, but warm socks and eyeglasses and shirts and museums will feed the soul, and that which feeds the soul lasts forever.
Posted by Mamacita (The REAL one) @ 7:30 PM | |


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