Math Genius

It's not that I make some embarrassing mistake with his allowance, but my kid has picked up on my hints that I'm not good in math. Thank goodness his grandmother knows what she's doing.

Omri, my 8-year-old, is convinced that his father knows almost everything. There's no other way to explain the range of questions he fires at me. He hasn't settled on a particular field yet, his curiosity only increases, and I (only he and the Creator know why) appear to him to be a reliable source of information.

One time it's questions about geography, sometimes it's sports (there is a God!), last week it was about the Bible, this week we went for history, the day before yesterday it was technology and who knows what it will be tomorrow. Luckily for me I know with all certainty what it won't be tomorrow: math.

The truth is that at Omri's relatively tender age this demonic subject is still called arithmetic. Attached to it, of course, is its monstrous sister-subject handasa (engineering), basic geometry. Next year it will be called by its true, terrifying name.

In any event, Omri already knows the subject is taboo. We don't speak about it, certainly not with Daddy. He has an uncle who studied computers, a grandmother who can calculate with fearsome accuracy how our inheritance has shrunk as a result of bad investments, and a mother who will sit with him until midnight over a math problem if only to bring home to him Daddy's worrisome backwardness in this area.

It's not that I made some embarrassing mistake with his allowance, or displayed shocking ignorance of the multiplication tables, but my little genius apparently picked up on my hints. He saw me, for example, spit out the answers in "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" or "1 vs. 100," but he also noticed that when a local version of "Jeopardy" was on I always fled the room during the math sections to brush the cat. She was always so dirty. Omri watches his father solve crossword puzzles, and notices that the sudoku squares always remain blank. And if my memory doesn't betray me, when we sat down together to do his arithmetic homework he caught me, on more than one occasion, going into another room to phone a friend - to ponder what exactly they want from the boy and ask whether the answer I just gave him was correct.

Yesterday, slightly before the release of the figures showing the decline of Israeli schoolchildren in the international mathematics and science standings, my wife called to tell me that Omri was 15 pages behind his class in the simple geometry textbook and that only an outstanding sacrifice by his perfectly pedagogical grandmother will guarantee a closing of the gap. That's the real reason it's so important to me to maintain good relations with my mother-in-law. To hell with the inheritance, what matters is for the kid to leave me alone.

This morning, to prevent any embarrassment, I quickly got rid of today's Yedioth Ahronoth. The evil people who put out that newspaper were not content with merely reporting the shameful episode. They insisted on including sample questions from the math and science exams. Just what I need, for the pint-sized press hound to flip through the paper and demand answers, or for his mother to make the walls shake with a cry of "I've got it."

More than once I've considered arranging for a CT scan that would show the world that it's not my fault. Imaging technology, I am sure, will prove beyond a doubt that I was born with only one brain lobe. The right one, of course. That's why I never knew, and will never know, how long it takes to fill a swimming pool that always has a leak, for some reason, or when two trains, one leaving Haifa and the other Tel Aviv, and both traveling at different speeds, will meet. At least when it comes to the first question the right side of my brain, the one responsible for creativity, will instruct me to call railway information and get an answer.

When my children were very young I wasn't half-bad with numbers. I taught them what the number 1 looks like, that a pretzel or eyeglasses resemble an 8, and that 4 is an upside-down chair. I gave them the fundamentals. With all due respect, how is it my fault that the world refuses to be content with that? What crime did I commit that other people are compelled to go into fractions, derivatives, angles and other troubles?

Anyway, if you ask me, I'm on the way up. I'd calculate the exact improvement if I had the ways and means, but we'll make do with a verbal description and say that it's meteoric.

About five years ago I learned to calculate percentages. I reached the maximum utilization of the times tables. I calculate 1 percent and multiply it as needed. Without any help from Grandma I managed to make up for being close to 15 years behind.

Perhaps you were disturbed by the latest data showing slippage in Israel's international math and science standings. I, on the other hand, was filled with pride. Omri, son of Shlomi Barzel, in 24th place in the world? What an honor.