geomukkah?

We’ve been multitasking more than we would like to be. In addition to Ben’s consulting business and our own two-pronged family business (which supports people on the autism spectrum, on both the employment and product sides), we certainly knew this fall and winter would be an extra hard time to balance the holidays as well as our beloved Parade of Spirits.

We did not know we’d be adding the death of my father, and our children’s decision to homeschool, to that bundle. But here we are.

Early in September Tucker and I had made a very impromptu trip to Manhattan to help build giant puppets with Processional Arts Workshop. This was a dream come true for us, and we had a real whirlwind 36 hours, during which we stopped briefly at the Museum of Mathematics. There in the gift shop, I picked up two little geometric puzzles, telling Tuck that I’d save them for Hanukkah gifts.

Good thing I had them, because we were pretty unprepared when the first night of Hanukkah fell tonight on Christmas Eve. We didn’t even find candles until hours before sundown. Latkes were eaten alongside a ham Tucker had cooked earlier in the day. The kids watched a henshin series called Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot for possibly six hours. (It was a gift from our friend Jhon who had come from Tucson to be with us for Parade.)

When we lit candles and I took the two little packets of puzzle pieces out of my pocket, having grabbed them hastily out of my underwear drawer, they were different from one another in a way I had not noticed when purchasing them. One had twice as many pieces as the other, and even it’s price sticker was higher. “Well,” I said, “It looks like there’s an easier puzzle, and a harder puzzle. Which one of you wants which?”

It could have been a loaded question, but they were unanimous. Claudia wanted the easier one. Béla wanted the harder one.

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And Claudia’s easier one was, indeed, easier. She got it in no time at all; it was a cube. The puzzles were similar in construction and material to our new holiday window lights, so it was familar to her. She put the pieces together a few different ways, but then returned it to it’s cube-solution state.

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Then there was Béla, who — while not exactly “perturbed” — was not having anything like immediate success. Neither did Tucker.

At the time I purchased these puzzles, it never crossed my mind that I would play with them, and even holding them in my hands and having the opportunity to feel that one was much heavier and had more pieces than the other, I still just zoned out on it. I readily admit, I have not been using my brain for things like puzzles, or math, for decades. It’s a big deal if I try to figure out the tip in a restaurant (even though Tuck has taught me a good trick, I frequently forget the trick). I’m happy when I can remember our Amazon Prime passcode. Math, patterns, puzzles — that was for other people. So much so that without even noticing, I bought one of my kids a cube, and the other, a…

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square gyrobicupola, without really noticing.

In early September, I knew my dad was dying of dementia at a relatively early age. I knew that maybe I should be doing something to circumvent that fate (even though I am regularly assured that I do). But I know I’m lazy. I know my brain is lazy. And now that I am homeschooling my children, I have done more math in a month than I’ve done in the last decade. And now I see; this is happening for a reason.

I spend evenings poring over sites featuring printable logic puzzles and sudoku, learn about new kinds of math puzzles and manipulatives, not just for the kids, but for me. Without doing this “for” them, I don’t know how, or if, I’d have done it for myself.

Ben was making latkes, Tucker had gone upstairs, and Béla and I tried his puzzle again. I got more active in trying to figure it out. I still felt very guilty — had I not seen on the little envelope inserts themselves, one puzzle’s difficulty rating was a one, the other a five?

And then I just started wondering how soon we could get the other puzzles in the series.

I almost got it. I showed Béla. He had an idea about where I had gone wrong. I undid half the pieces, and started again.

It was mama who made that square gyrobicupola. And mama was proud.

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We will be in Manhattan this coming week and I’m going to see if we can dash into MoMath, to fill in the gaps in our series — as I want us to do all of these now. Together. Taking apart, and putting together. I was so proud of myself. I was so proud to work with my son.

And there’s our Hanukkah celebration, with our Hannukiah and a plate of ham, and two geometric 3-D puzzles, and Johnny Sokko and his Flying Robot (who is pretty clearly a Golem, and whom i REALLY want to build for Parade of Spirits).

The gaps that homeschooling is beginning to fill in, in the egregious (but well-hidden) lack of core skills my two “straight-A” public school students had, thanks to “teaching to the test”, are being addressed — but so is my own mind. I feel a beautiful blessing has been bestowed on us. It was the kids first day of “Christmas vacation”, but they still wrote, and thought about math (and touched it with their hands), and here I am at 2:19 am writing about homeschooling, because I believe it is the most vital thing I have ever done for myself or my family.

Happy Holidays.