I feel the familiar band of stress tighten around my head. My ears are taut. I feel like a loaded spring, ready to jump in and rescue Ammu as she sits doing Math with her dad. They are working on two-digit multiplication.
“What is 7 times 8?” asks Saathi his voice even, a controlled impatience seeping through.
The silence is unbearable. He repeats the question. Pattu is humming elsewhere and Laddu is doodling, a million questions issuing forth from such a tiny being. I want to scream. I want to shush everyone. I want to scoop up my first child and tell her it is okay. That she can use the paper instead of mental math. I want to tell her as she grows, there will be calculators and other devices that will make life easy. But, I hold off respecting the invisible lines in our marriage.
Ammu shows up, a smile on her face. We hug, I tousle her hair, hold her a bit too tight. She wriggles away and takes my sweater with her. The chill that comes from the sudden absence of the warm material feels delicious.
“You can always use the paper, you know that right?” I call out to her.
Most evenings are easy. The girls sit side by side, their hair falling on their faces as they work through problems. I check their answers after they are done and we fall into a predictable routine. They shower and watch TV before dinner. Some days like today are harder. It brings to the fore that things I take for granted are so difficult for my children. If I am not the one sitting beside them, trying to grasp elementary concepts, I can remain objective. I am empathetic. I feel compassion. I want to pull the paper and shout to no one in particular that there is life beyond homework.
Children sit in the classroom for about six hours. They are subject to a constant barrage of information. They come home and review what was done in class. For most kids, this is normal, easy even. For some, like my child, it is the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back. Her body wilts, her demeanor changes. She looks defeated.
This is just the beginning. The years ahead will get harder before she figures out strategies to cope. I ache with the knowledge that there is very little I can do to fix things for her. I ache because, as much as I want to say this is not what I want for my child. I do want for her to be able to do simple math. I want her to be able to compute taxes on things she buys. I want her to be able to calculate change when proffering a larger denomination. These are essential life skills for her to navigate this world.
So, I watch from the sidelines with an aching heart and arms ready to envelop her when she is done. I want to run my fingers through her hair, hold her close and tell her it will all be okay. This too will pass.