Homework

How could I have forgotten that the light in October is exquisite?

Unlike hazy summer, Vermont autumn is clear. The woods are emptying of leaves. The wind sweeps through the towns and over the hills.

From my garden, I cut a cabbage, boil the leaves slightly, and roll up meat and rice, filling the pan with sauerkraut — a Romanian recipe from my grandmother, who died before I began cooking.

Bit by bit, our hours migrate from the garden and back porch in the house. We no longer eat dinners in the sunlight. When I return from work, I see crumbs on the kitchen table, remnants of my teen and her friends.

I imagine these girls figuring out their online chemistry class and plotting their future. When I ask what’s happening in those hours, I hear, We’re fine.

In the evening, the teen spreads out her graph paper and notebook. I knit on the floor with the cat beside the wood stove while her sister reads the day’s news aloud.

The teen shoves her graph paper to me and asks if her approach to problem-solving is correct.

I look at the paper and suggest, Call your uncle. That’s out of my skill set.

The cat flips over and purrs.

The teen bites the end of her pencil and goes back to work.

“The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.”

Joy Harjo

Bright Spot

Walking by my daughter’s room, I answer a math question, which delights me immensely. I can do math. More accurately, I did a lot of math in high school, some in college. This particular problem isn’t even all that challenging. But high school math class is somehow buried deep, deep, in my mind, and possibly no longer even accessible.

And yet, like so much else, I feel obligated as a parent to just know this stuff. I grew up in a household where, no matter what the homework, my physicist father could answer my questions — although he always made my siblings and I sharpen a pencil and show your work, legibly. 

I know I can do plenty of things as a mother, or at least competently enough — including keeping a solid roof over our heads — but still, there’s that glimmer of pleasure as I walk by with my arms full of laundry: can cook dinner and do geometry, too — at least for one evening.

The snow doesn’t give a soft white damn whom it touches.
E.E. Cummings
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