Family: Janet Christie's Mum's the Word

Difficulty differentiating between wonder and pride



It’s Saturday morning, I’m in a cafe with Youngest, it’s cold outside but the sun blasts through the window and there’s coffee and snacks and we’re having good Mother/Child chat, no bickering. Youngest is bright eyed and full of business. “I want to show you something,” she says, smiling.

Oh good, it’ll be some nonsense on YouTube, a pug sneezing or something, I like those. She reaches into her bag but instead of producing her phone, pulls out a jotter. Maybe art or a poem, that’ll be nice...

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“Differentiation,” she says, flips open the book and I see the grids of doom. It’s maths.

Differentiation. I know that word. I don’t know what it means but I remember I’m scared of it. My stomach lurches, my palms sweat, my throat constricts, I’m having a fight or flee reaction but I’m paralysed by fear and incompetence, like at school.

“Do you know about that?” she says.

“I’ve heard of it,” I say, my voice a squeak.

“And nature maps?” she says.

“Oh yes, I liked that much better, drawing leaves and…”

“Ha, ha. In maths.”

“Oh. Em no idea,” I say. “I remember differentiation, but I didn’t understand it.”

“I’ll explain it,” she says, kindly.

“Oh good.” I might cry.

“It’s how you find the rate of change,” she says. “Look.” She’s pointing at formula and graphs and wavy lines and saying ‘what you do is….’ and I’m trying to listen but instead I’m wondering how I gave birth to this child that is abuzz with algebra, lambent with logarithms, dazzling with digits. Where does this gene come from? Maybe it’s from my uncle the accountant, I remember the time he arrived to visit bringing two gurkhas he’d met on the train…

“Are you listening?” she says.


“So I’ll just go over that again.”

She does, and the way she explains it, for the first time I actually have a glimmer of understanding. I can see why it might be useful, I almost understand why she loves maths.

“Thank you,” I say, ridiculously pleased. “Why don’t you become a maths teacher?”

“Mmmmm,” she considers for a moment, then says, “Nah.”

“Why not?

“Cos of the kids.”

She means the ones who don’t pay attention. The annoying ones. I think she means me.