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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Math Mom: Stillness
July 3, 2008 - 5:16am

"I was holding a yoga pose." That is the reason my eight-year-old son gave me one spring day when I asked how he scraped his elbow. He did not crash on his bike or fall on the basketball court. He fell out of his yoga pose. That is a sentence that would have never come out of my mouth as an eight-year-old. Yoga was close to voodoo in those days, particularly in Kentucky. But the voodoo images have long since gone by the wayside and yoga is not only part of my son's vocabulary but it is also part of his gym curriculum.

Let me confess. I attended elementary school so long ago that the two-story building with triple-sash windows and marble floors where I learned to read on Dick and Jane now encloses residential condominiums. Young professionals feast on whole wheat pasta with organic tomato sauce in rooms lined with walls that once heard me and hundreds of other children recite our multiplication facts and learn our lines for the fifth grade play.

I first fell in love with the scholarly life in those walls. I sat on the woven rug in my first-grade teacher's room and listened to her velvety voice read me Make Way for Ducklings. I gradually began to understand the number line that was positioned just above the chalkboard with the evenly spaced black numbers that started at zero. I rested my head on my desk when my teacher dimmed the lights every day after lunch for ten minutes. I was still. Only now do I realize the critical importance of those ten minutes.

It was in those ten minutes that my thoughts had a chance to find a home, to settle down after a morning of activity. I thought about traveling to Boston to see Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Pack, Quack and, especially, Ouack, since he had the most satisfying name to say. I thought about making the tiny earth move around the big sun in our astronomical model. I added zero to various numbers and felt clever. Although I didn't realize it at the time, I was adding to and subtracting from the various ideas I had taken in throughout the morning. Isn't that precisely the definition of a scholarly life?

Now, however, I find I have to work to create those moments of stillness. Mrs. Rose's quiet voice doesn't remind me to dim the lights after lunch for what we called "rest time." The demands of the day tend to crowd out stillness. I have to claim it for myself if it is going to happen. But how? The commodity for children, students and research is exactly the same: time and attention. And there is only so much of it to go around.

Some aspects of the educational curriculum evolve and develop over time, like yoga as a new addition to the physical education program for example. All levels of education seem to hinge on stillness, however, albeit in varying lengths of time. I hope to carve some out for me on a more regular basis. I might lose myself in my thoughts and scrape my elbow falling out of my desk chair though.


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