First Place | Nonfiction Writing Contest

56th New Millennium Award for Nonfiction

Adriana Páramo of Medellin, Colombia for “Teaching Mom Long Division”

Páramo will receive $1,000 and publication both online and in print.

 

Teaching Mom Long Division

 

I’m fifteen and convinced we can change the world for the better with the sheer power of education. The law in Colombia dictates that every high schooler needs to be a part of the literacy campaign by teaching one illiterate Colombian to write and read. My catholic school has a few good niches for us to choose students from. Mine is a construction worker who earns a living at a brick factory. His name is Salvador, he is in his thirties, and due to financial hardship, he stopped attending school after fifth grade. He has crusty green eyes, bushy dark eyebrows, ill-fitting dentures, and halitosis, none of which seems to bother me when we sit next to each other at a makeshift desk his factory provides for him after hours. He is short and unassuming in the way our campesinos from forgotten villages behave. He covers his mouth when he smiles and walks with tiny strides, his shoulders too close to his ears and a chin too close to his chest of matted black hair. He is more eager than bright, but I knew from the first day I sat with him that his eagerness to learn would be the core of our relationship, not his intelligence. 

Mom follows Salvador’s progress. The longer I work with him, the more interested she is. She asks questions when I come home after my sessions at the factory. 

“Is he not too old to learn?”

“No, mom. Nobody is too old to learn”.

“Is the homework hard?”

“No, mom, homework is meant to be a reward for doing alone what he learned to do with me.”

“Is he very smart?”

“No, not really.” 

“Oh, so he won’t be able to finish high school?”

The idea of helping Salvador to get his GED has crossed my mind. It is a long shot for someone who hasn’t opened a textbook in more than twenty years but an idea worth considering. He has dreams that require education, so he works very hard. The first months are trial and error. I’m too young and inexperienced to know that there are different learning strategies. Still, I improvise, try flashcards, games, riddles, and we go over the same material many times until something clicks and opens a door in Salvador’s brain.  His ambition overrides his lack of mental dexterity. He struggles to do the work, but he wants more. I expand my rudimentary curriculum, alternate between Spanish and math, then add geography. A year after working with Salvador, getting his GED is within reach. I tell this to mom while I grade his math homework.

“What is that?” she says, looking at his notebook over my shoulder.

“Long division.”

“I heard about it. What is it for?”

“It’s when you have to divide a number by another number bigger than ten.”

“And he can do that?”

I nod.

“You said he wasn’t very smart.”

“He is ambitious, mom. He won’t set the world on fire, but I’ll do my best to help him get as far as he can go.”

“What if I want that too?”

“What do you mean?” I asked, slightly confused. “Do you want to study, study or learn long division?”

Mom shrugs her shoulders, unsure of herself. “I don’t know. Both, I think. Am I too old?”

I look at her. Her short, wavy grey hair, perpetual rosewood nail polish, black flats, and tea-length floral dresses. She is only fifty but has always looked old to me, like a photograph. Old.

“No, mom. You are not too old to learn. You are not old at all.” 

Now, besides schoolwork and Salvador’s lessons, I need to make time for mom. We work on our schedules and agree to work every morning after breakfast since I go to school in the afternoon.

Mom has gone shopping for supplies on a belated back-to-school fever. She is now hunched over the dining table tracing margins on her brand-new notebook with a shiny plastic ruler, the price sticker still on, on her left hand, a red ink pen on her right one, the cap clutched between her teeth. 

“You don’t need margins, mom,” I say, trying to calm her anxiety.

“That’s what we did in the two years I went to elementary school,” she says, sounding disappointed. “And that’s what you six children did in school.”

I have confused her enthusiasm for anxiety. She is not anxious; she is eager, like Salvador.

I look at her from the other side of our round dining table. I’m reading an excerpt from Jean-Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness. My philosophy teacher’s assignment was to decide whether Sartre was a nihilist like Nietzsche. 

Mom looks at the right red lines she has traced on the empty pages of her notebook and decides she needs left margins too. “Freedom is what we do with what is done to us,” wrote Sartre. I’m processing his words, trying to break down this philosophical boulder into pieces my sixteen-year-old brain can digest, when I catch mom staring at the parallel margins. She smiles proudly. I can tell she likes what she sees. 

“What’s the hard bit for?” Mom is holding a gray and white eraser in her hand. 

The gray end, the hard part, is to erase pens and colored pencils. The white part can erase all kinds of pencil writing.” 

She irons the first page of her notebook with both hands. 

“I’m ready,” mom says as she puts the eraser into her pencil case. A pencil case. Something within me cracks right open, and the molten rock of my rebellious teenager heart, once hardened by angst and all its fiery substance, turns to goo.

For the next hour, I need to tread carefully. This fifty-year-old woman sitting next to me has a second-grade education, has not set foot in a classroom in 42 years, and has never read a book, a map, or a compass. This is my student: a functionally illiterate single mother of six with veinous hands, svelte legs with spider veins on the inside of her knees, bad back, dark lips, dentures, glasses, generous breasts, perfect nose.

The next hour is critical. I can’t push her too hard; I don’t want to scare her away. I can’t repeat myself too often; I don’t want her to feel inept. I can’t praise her too much; I don’t want to be condescending. But I want her to understand our new dynamics. I am her teacher. She can’t pull rank. Yet, she is my provider, my source of spiritual and physical nourishment. She is my compass, and I’m not ready yet to set sail or be adrift. I know this much. I need to be very careful.

I start the long division process with multiples of ten and no remainders. I want mom to fully grasp the concept, master the basics, then slowly add more difficulty.

Mom excels at this. She gets all the divisions right and is getting cocky. 

“It’s so easy.”

“Is it? It took me many years to learn this.”

“No, it didn’t.”

“Did.”

Let’s get the basic terms first.

The dividend is the number on the right side of the equation, under the line. It represents the amount being divided.
The divisor is the number on the left — it’s the one doing the dividing.
The quotient is the number on the top. It represents the answer or the number of units in each place value once the equation has been completed.
The remainder is the number on the top right. It represents the units left over that can’t be evenly divided into the quotient. 

My student looks befuddled. Mathematics is about numbers, not words. 

“Can we get to the meat of it?” she asks, running her fingers through her grey hair. 

This role reversal, the daughter teaching mom for a change, excites me more than I thought. First, I introduce an equation that doesn’t have any remainders, so she gets used to the format and starts understanding the new vocabulary she’s just learned. I smile, giddy with her eagerness. 

“You have 500 pesos to spend on food for ten days. How much can you spend per day?” I ask.

“Is that what you are trying to teach me? I already know that.”

I look at her, unmoved, and wait for her answer.

“Fifty, mija, fifty. I’m not stupid,” she says, visibly annoyed.

“I know, mom,” I say, fully aware of her fragility, “but we need to cover the basics first.”

We go back and forth with a few more exercises. 

“If you have 1000 pesos to buy your five girls Christmas presents, how much do you spend on each?”

 Mom looks exasperated. 

“Twenty,” she says and yawns to punctuate her boredom.

“Think again, mom.” 

I grab her right hand in mine and tap each of her brown fingers. “Twenty, forty, sixty, eighty, one hundred. What happened here? You have 1000 pesos, not 100.”

Mom grabs her pencil, and just when she is about to write the numbers down, she mumbles, “two hundred, two hundred.” She is embarrassed for getting it wrong, and I’m embarrassed for embarrassing her. I want to empower my mom, not humiliate her. 

“But if you get confused, remember your mnemonics, DMSCBR.” 

We try the technique with the names of fruits but get stuck with fruits beginning with the letter R. We tried flowers, professions, and colors. We settled for animals: Delfin, Mico, Sapo, Cocodrilo, Burro, Ratón.

Divide
Multiply
Subtract
Check your work
Bring down
Repeat or Remainder

Delfin, Mico, Sapo, Cocodrilo, Burro, Ratón. Mom closes her eyes and repeats the mnemonic over and over. While she works at memorizing it, I scribble in my notebook.

Do you remember when you took me to a virginity test and stood right there behind the gynecologist, peering into my most intimate me?

Mao-Tse-Tung wasn’t my boyfriend. Neither was he interested in taking my virginity. The little red book I hid from you, and you tried your hardest to find, was not a compendium of secret love letters but his communist manifesto, which, true to be told, I never understood. Still, the mere act of owning, carrying, and hiding it from you made me feel smart.

San Gregorio is not a saint, mom. I’m sorry to burst your bubble. He hasn’t been canonized yet, and he didn’t perform surgery on my eyes. On my night table, you left cotton balls, a shot of rubbing alcohol, and some pennies to pay for his divine intervention. I used the cotton balls for a school project, put the pennies in my piggy bank, and the alcohol simply evaporated. There was no miracle, mom, just chemistry and teenage scorn.

Closure means finality, a letting go of what once was. My father abandoned me and you and my five siblings. Take off your wedding ring, for goodness’ sake. Let him go. Your wedding ring, your catholic marital vow, the longing in your eyes when you sit in your plastic chair in the kitchen looking out will not materialize him. He is not coming back. Do something. Find closure. Let go.

Black, white, and native (not Indians, mom. Indians are from India). We are a mixture of the three lineages. So when I fill out school forms, and you instruct me to check white, you deny me my true provenance. You want me to annihilate the black and the native in me so I can be what I’m not: white. 

Regla, you call our menstrual cycle a ruler. I used to think that a ruler was only this plastic thing I used in school to draw straight lines or measure distances. I’m older now. I know better. Ruler, as in a person exercising government or dominion over something, is a euphemism for menstruation. As if it was this cycling bleeding that defines a woman. You no longer menstruate. Have you stopped being a woman? Wait, you no longer have a ruler. Does this mean you are free?

I title my lousy acrostic, “A Mnemonic of Past Grievances,” tear the page off, and on the following page—still fresh with the imprint of my complaints, I start preparing mom’s lesson. I want her to digest this at her own pace while I’m in school, and she is under no pressure to perform.

“Okay, this is a step-by-step example of a long division with remainder. Ready?”

Mom makes the scout sign with her fingers. “Siempre lista.”

“Mom, remember to set up the division problem with the long division symbol or the long division bracket. Put 487, the dividend, on the inside of the bracket. The dividend is the number you’re dividing. Put 32, the divisor, on the outside of the bracket. The divisor is the number you’re dividing by.”

Divide the first number of the dividend, 4, by the divisor, 32.
Four divided by 32 is 0, with a remainder of 4. You can ignore the remainder for now.
Put the 0 on top of the division bracket.
0 * 32 = 0
This is the beginning of the quotient answer.

 

After almost two years of hard work with Salvador, he asks me to help him prepare for his GED test. He is the sprinter at the finish line. He can see it, and he is pushing me to push him harder. He works almost feverishly. He knows the capitals of every country in the world. He knows rivers and mountain ranges. He knows words like chlorophyll, plankton, and pollinate. He knows the states of matter and the solar system. He knows about regular and irregular verbs and can recite the twenty prepositions of the Spanish language. Sometimes he looks so overwhelmed that I doubt there is any room left in his brain to store more information. He is not good at processing information but excels at memorizing everything I feed him. His knowledge is deeper and broader in scope than when we met, but not enough for a GED. I know this. Yet miraculously, he passes the test.

 

“Did he pass the test?” Mom wants to know.

“He sure did.”

“So, basically, he went from illiterate construction worker to a bachiller.”

“Amazing, right? Salvador is a charging bull, mom. I just cleared the way for him to push forth.”

Mom listens to every word I say as though she doesn’t want to miss anything. Like if she blinks, she’d miss some vital information.

I don’t tell her the literacy campaign is particularly lax when granting GED certificates. The powers that be have lowered the standards so that more people could graduate and make the campaign appear like a huge success.  

“I want to finish high school too.”

We are sipping café negro in the kitchen. Mom is sitting in her white plastic chair by the small window, and I’m leaning on the sink and looking at the same totumo tree she is staring at. I’m trying to reconcile these three degrees of high-schoolness. Salvador and mom, both functional illiterates who haven’t been in a classroom in decades, and me, who, at sixteen, have spent ten consecutive years, without a single day of absence, learning. The three of us getting our high school diplomas at the same time. Unfathomable, fantastic, absurd. Why the hell not? 

Mom reads well, writes with elegant curlicues that remind her of my dad’s ornate writing, and has remarkable reading comprehension skills. She is a fast learner, but her memory is fickle. Somedays, she forgets as fast as she learns. Maybe it has nothing to do with her memory and more with her lack of focus and being a single mother of six with a monkey mind forced to multitask. Just the other day, we found her wallet in the refrigerator. My sister and I stood there open-mouthed, staring in disbelief at mom’s blue leather wallet sprawled open between the margarine and the tub of lard. She does funny things like this all the time. I must remember her forgetfulness and constantly remind myself that mom is not Salvador. They are two different types of learners, and she is my blood. I must cut her some slack, more than I did, Salvador. Mom and I have something very good going on—our relationship is on a long-standing honeymoon, and I don’t want to do anything to jeopardize our finally-found, desperately-needed harmony. We sit at the table like two war veterans, carrying the wounds we inflicted on each other in the previous years but keeping them secret. Let bygones be bygones. My rebellions, her mistrust, my anger, her almost comical fear of watching her last little girl become a woman. All water under the bridge.

Next, multiply 0 by the divisor 32 and insert the result 0 below the first number of the dividend inside the bracket. 
Draw a line under the 0 and subtract 0 from 4.
4 – 0 = 4
Bring down the next number of the dividend and insert it after the 4 so you have 48.
Divide 48 by the divisor, 32. The answer is 1. You can ignore the remainder for now.
48 ÷ 32 = 1 
Note that you could skip all previous steps with zeros and jump straight to this step. You just need to realize how many digits in the dividend you must skip over to get your first non-zero value in the quotient answer. In this case, you could divide 32 into 48 straight away.
Put the 1 on top of the division bar, to the right of the 0. Next, multiply 1 by 32 and write the answer under 48.
1 * 32 = 32

*

When I was a little girl, my mom had kidney surgery. The surgeon botched the stitching and left mom with a long-jagged scar across her right side. The diagnostic was a case of a drooping kidney. The surgeon lifted it. Or so the story goes. I think the kidney was stolen, as the poor women’s organs used to be when under anesthesia. Mom had endometriosis. Many years ago, she had a hysterectomy. When my sisters told me that mom had had everything taken out, I thought she was empty inside. Her heart dangling like a pendulum into the void. Mom has a bad back. She gets up in the morning dragging her feet, her right hand on her lumbar, complaining bitterly about her dolor de cintura, “waist pain.” Mom has astigmatism and presbyopia; she wears round bifocals. Lately, she has been having photophobic migraines. She first sees a little bright squiggle in the corner of her eye, some foreboding telltale that a migraine is about to hit her. Then she goes to her room, closes the curtains, and lies in bed. Nobody can disturb her, which is fine because I asked her if she needed anything one day, and I didn’t like what I saw. Mom was catatonic, her eyes wide open and fixated on the ceiling, her grey hair Medusa style on the pillow, mouth agape. Mom looked a little deranged, a little dead. The sight made my hair stand on end. I closed the door and waited for her to give signs of life on her own accord. 

 *

Draw a line and subtract 32 from 48.
48 – 32 = 16

Bring down the next number from the dividend and insert it after the 16 so you have 167.

I use the same curriculum I designed for Salvador but at a slower pace. Mom is curious about geography, and since I told her that Salvador had learned the capitals of many countries, she wants to learn them too. I know it’s too much. Teaching mom the capitals of countries she has never heard of doesn’t seem fruitful. I suggest learning about Colombian geography first. Mom agrees. I wish she’d stop measuring herself up against Salvador.

“Okay, mom, Colombia is divided into 32 states,” I say, the Colombian map spread open on our dining table.

Mom leans over the table and locates a few states, Bogotá, the capital of Colombia, and the Atlantic, and the Pacific Oceans bordering our country to the west.

“This is Venezuela, right? Mom asks, pointing at the bordering country to the East. “Your dad used to go there. He said it was like Miami, but he’s never been to Miami, so who knows where he heard that.” Mom sighs. Her longing for my dad is heavy, sharp, and so defined that it feels like the three of us are looking at the map.

I start at the northernmost tip of Colombia with La Guajira, the capital: Riohacha.

“Your dad used to say that Venezuela was/is very rich because of its oil. Apparently, you can make a lot of money there. That’s why he went so many times.”

It annoys me when mom talks about dad with such deep yearning. When she does, she doesn’t seem to remember that he abandoned her and their six children and never looked back. And if he ever made money, we never saw a penny of it. Really. What’s wrong with her?

I ignore her comment and slide my finger out of La Guajira and into the next state to the south, Magdalena; capital: Santa Marta.

“Mind you, men are such liars, especially your dad, and women are so stupid; we believe everything they say. “And just like that, mom goes from unrequited love, theatrical sighs, and dreamy eyes to pure scorn. “Maybe instead of Venezuela, he was with his “amiguitas” while I waited for him to come back from his “travels” like the boba I am.”

C’mom, mom, focus. I look at the clock. I’ve got the Sine and Cosine Rule waiting for me. I also have homework to do. If I don’t get my hypotenuse, adjacent, and opposite sites right, I’ll fail my trigonometry test, and then I won’t be able to blame it on your lack of concentration. 

While mom rambles some more about dad, men, and deceit, I list the 32 states and their capitals alphabetically. Mom looks at me sideways and over the rim of her glasses as if saying, are you listening to me? Are you learning about men? I do question mom’s knowledge of men. She has known only one, so she is an expert on dad and dad alone. He is one man among gazillions of men. He doesn’t represent his gender. I hope. We try a few states and capitals: Amazonas, Antioquia, Arauca, Atlántico, but mom is getting tired. We don’t make it to Bolivar.  

Divide 167 by the 32. See a pattern emerging?
167 ÷ 32 is 5 with a remainder of 7
Put the 5 on top of the division bar, to the right of the 1.
Multiply 5 by 32 and write the answer under 167.

5 * 32 = 160

 

It’s Saturday morning. No school for mom. Instead, she takes me on a “secret” foray. Mom is very clear about the number of knocks on the door. One, wait, another one, wait, now three consecutive ones. We hear some rustling on the other side of the door. Mom looks over her shoulder. I also look over my shoulder, right and left, although I don’t know what I’m looking for or what will happen to us if we get caught. Her paranoia is contagious. Mom instructs me to repeat the knock. The letterbox opens, and I instinctively crouch to peer in, but mom pulls me back, shaking her head no. A man whispers from the other side of the letterbox, “Cuantos?” Mom says, “Dos,” as she squeezes my hand nervously. A few seconds later, the letterbox opens and spits two thin rectangular boxes wrapped in newspaper. Mom throws a few crumpled pesos into the opening, and we speed walk to the bus stop with our contraband of Marlboro. 

Mom resells the cigarettes at our apartment, where she runs an unauthorized shop. She also sells candy, chips, chocolate bars, sodas, and alcohol. She doesn’t condone smoking or drinking and selling either doesn’t conflict with her principles one tiny bit. It is ancillary income. She claims that my sisters’ financial contributions are not enough. I suspect they are, but mom runs this shop because she wants a taste of financial independence. Mom says that conducting business from her apartment is not illegal, doesn’t need a permit or license, and to avoid confusion, she doesn’t call it a shop; she calls it a Chuzo. El chuzo comprises a few shelves right behind the dining table, which means we have to sacrifice one chair, and now we have only three places instead of the intended four. Like any shop, this one requires bookkeeping. Since mom is profoundly mistrustful of financial institutions, she keeps her cash in plastic bags hidden in her underwear drawer and her accounting in a small notebook. She names her main account after herself, Carmen, and uses its meager funds for the important stuff. She calls her secondary account Carmelita and uses its even more meager funds for little indulgences. Carmen often lends Carmelita money or vice versa; one doesn’t pay the other, and the monies go from one plastic bag to another. Mom creates a third account to arbitrate. She calls this third account Carmaughters, a portmanteau of Carmen and daughters, Carijas.  When mom is not looking for her wallet or her bifocals, she constantly asks me, “Did carmen pay Carmelita? Did El Chuzo borrow from Carijas? Are Carmen and Carmelita in good standing?” ad infinitum.

Draw a line and subtract 160 from 167.
167 – 160 = 7
Since 7 is less than 32 your long division is done. You have your answer: The quotient is 15 and the remainder is 7.
So, 487 ÷ 32 = 15 with a remainder of 7
Continue repeating the division and multiplication steps for longer dividends until you bring down every digit from the dividend and solve the exercise. 


We’ve been working for almost three months; mom’s progress is negligible. She eagerly comes to the dining table, pencil case in hand, the ruler at the ready, eyes shining with expectation. 

“What are we doing today?” she asks me daily, clapping loudly.

“You choose,” I reply, thinking she’ll be more receptive if she chooses what subject to work on. But no matter the subject, with mom, every day is like the first day; her hard disk reformats itself and refuses to store new information. A clean slate. Mom’s short-term memory is impaired, and because some days she has no recollection of having already said or asked something, I repeat myself to exhaustion. Her emotional need for company and interaction overrides her need for information. I make a point of being as loving, compassionate, and tolerant as I can be at my age, yet on a couple of occasions, my frustration forced me to excuse myself, go to the bathroom to muffle a scream, wipe a tear or two, and splash water on my face. I want this for mom. I want her to get her high school diploma, even if I must bribe someone and buy it. Then what? I ask myself. What would she do after? Apply to college? An impossibility. We work some more on the long division exercise, but the chuzo is busy today, and we keep getting interrupted. One liter of Coca-Cola. 

“Remember your mnemonic, mom?”

“Yeah, yeah,” she said, writing down the sale in her crumpled notebook. “Perro, gato, burro, something.”

“Ha-ha, very funny.”

I write Delfin, Mico, Sapo…don’t make it to Cocodrilo. A neighbor wants four loose cigarettes and a lollipop. He says he is trying to quit, and sweets soothe his cravings. Mom rolls her eyes as she takes the four Marlboros out of a pack, vocalizes the word “stingy,” tacaño, so that I can see her, puts on her the-client-is-always-right smile, puts the change in a jar, comes back to the table, writes the sale down, and looks at me apologetically.

“Now, where were we?”

We lock gazes. I know mom is clueless. I know she doesn’t remember what we were working on two minutes ago or what we did yesterday or the day before.

“Astrophysics, mom, today we study astrophysics.”

“Astro what? Astro delfin, Astro perro, Astro burro,” she gives me a mischievous look. “How am I doing?” 

Today she is my unruly student. She wants to sit at the back of the classroom and launch spitballs into her teacher’s head. Today, she doesn’t want long divisions or state capitals. Today she wants to sell knick-knacks and play. I have a shorthand quiz, chemistry homework, and college applications to fill out. We call it a day.

When I come back from school, mom is in a winsome mood. She wants me to go to my room immediately and remove my school uniform. I’m tired and dragging my feet. Mom is relentless. “Go, go to your room,” she insists. I walk into my small room, turn the light on, and there it is; propped against my pillow is a Roberto Carlos LP with a handwritten note that reads: Para mi profesora favorita. Feliz dia del maestro. To my favorite teacher. Happy teacher’s day. I love this Brazilian singer and can’t wait to play the vinyl in our wall-to-wall victrola. I hug her to thank her, but the embrace turns into something else. She starts to cry, and before I know it, I’m sobbing in her neck. This is the end of our student-teacher relationship. We both know this big dream of ours will not crystalize. 

“You are so smart.” She is cupping my face with both hands, and her tears make me want to switch lives with her…

I’ll marry the wrong man and bear him six children; I’ll be a single mom and carry the load on my shoulders year after year. I’ll cook, clean, and teach five girls and a boy how to be decent human beings. I’ll renounce the company of a man, kisses, hugs, love. I’ll buy contraband and run an unlicensed chuzo from home. I’ll do all of this with a bad back, bad eyes, bad knees, a drooping kidney, and terrible memory. Mom, you go to school, pass the finals, get your high school diploma next month, and fly away. Be.  

I want to encourage her, push her a bit more, maybe go to the literacy campaign headquarters and ask for different teaching methods. I want. I want. I want. This. For. Her.

“Thank you for trying, mija, but” mom shakes her head, “yo soy muy bruta pa’esto.” How can she say that? How can she say she is too stupid to learn?

I hold her in my arms and whisper in her ear mami, mami, mami because I don’t know what else to say. I open my eyes and scan our small apartment. My sisters bought it for her, and it is the only thing mom has ever owned. Outside my doorless room is a short hallway that ends in the dining room. I can see the table from where we are. Her pencil case is ajar next to the math notebook. She must have worked on her long division exercise while I was in school. At what point did she decide to call it quits? How far did she make it? There is so much I don’t know about mom, past, present, and future. I don’t know that her memory loss is not a quirk but early-onset Alzheimer’s. I don’t know that my dad will return to her only to desert her for the second time and that when he runs out of money, friends, and lovers, and cancer ravages his bones, mom will welcome him back and care for him until his last breath. I don’t know that in a few years, I’ll marry the wrong man against her advice, will get pregnant, and will be back here in this very still doorless room will go on my knees and ask her to let me move back to the apartment with my baby. She will say, “No, I told you not to get married. You are a wife and a mother now. Go fight your own fights.” All I know is that I should’ve taught mom to use a calculator rather than long division, that I pushed her too hard, and instead of lighting up the path for her, I blew out the few candles she had still going in her. 

We loosen up the hug and wipe each other’s tears.

“Mom?” I stop to debate whether to finish my sentence, but it’s too late. The words spill out of my mouth. “Today is not Teacher’s Day.”

“Isn’t it?” she says. “Well, it is in my house,” and marches into the kitchen to serve dinner.

*
 
Teaching Mom Long Division © 2024 Adriana Páramo
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5 thoughts on “”

  1. What a beautifully written piece! I was enthralled reading it. The respect for the mother, the humility of the teacher, the caracteres fuertes de las dos. You were raised well, m’hija.

  2. Dear Adriana,
    Congratulations for winning the New Millennium Non-Fiction award. You absolutely deserve it. You touched me to tears reading your story. Strong characters. Interesting story. Excellent writing!!!

  3. Adriana: We teach to learn. We learn to teach. What an amazing piece that exudes, kindness, caring, and knowledge. You believe in the family, and share your erudite ways with your brother and mother.The characters stay with me long after I read the piece. Congratulations on your success in winning first place. 💜

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