According to family lore, when I was four years old, my parents were leaving for a trip and asked what I wanted them to bring back for me. I considered all my options– a doll, a dress, a hula hoop–and I asked for an arithmetic book. I know the story is true because I still remember the book and the little diagrams asking me to fill in the answers to the problems. I loved it.
My passion for numbers persisted as I sailed through math in elementary school. At Nautilus Junior High, I learned Algebra and Geometry from Mr. P.T. McClesky. He was a totally bald, stern-looking, former marine with a limp from a war injury. He scared a lot of kids but I adored him. Underneath his gruff manner was a heart of gold and a brilliance for teaching. He was a tough teacher, but he made math fun; every single day in class he made numbers come alive. Although I remember being confused at times, somehow it all came together and I got all A’s in math. And it was my very favorite subject.
Little did I know that 9th grade would represent the absolute peak of my lifetime affinity or ability in math. I’m not exactly sure what happened–but my early aptitude for math took a nosedive. Once math moved from the concrete to the abstract, it was over for me. I made it as far as Trigonometry, barely. And since academic requirements were a lot more lax in those days, I got a degree from Yale without ever taking a math class after 11th grade. Aside from one semester in high school, I never took Economics either.
My father, who studied chemical engineering, sometimes helped me with my math homework in high school. And I remember wondering how he could remember stuff like formulas more than 30 years later. Unfortunately this aspect of the gene pool did not hold up well for my children. The early years were fine, and in third grade, Daniel’s teacher gave very creative math assignments to be done at home. We’d go around the house looking for groups of 5 objects, or certain shapes; and I remember those times as bonding and fun. But once Daniel got beyond third grade, I was useless.
My husband V refuses to believe I was ever a whiz at Algebra. He is one of those people who can calculate things like compounding interest rates in his head—while I am stumped by anything more complicated than the multiplication tables. Especially now that Mr. McClesky is no longer around to explain it.
I’m equally lacking on the economy. I get it when interest rates go up and down. And I can follow the stock market. But I’m confused by Freddie and Fannie; constantly complaining to V that I don’t understand the higher concepts of economic theory, such as the intricacies of what led to the current collapse of Wall Street.
I feel comforted knowing that there are people who do understand it. Like Ron, who commented on my blog yesterday based on his experience in the financial world. Like people who hold important jobs in the government who also understand this stuff. Because I don’t.
It would be difficult for me to sound intelligent discussing the economy, and I would appear clueless and way over my head. Even if I had top experts at my disposal –and even if I was reading from a prepared script.
Although I think I might have done a more credible job than the President of the United States did last night.
And now John McCain has a sudden urge to go to Washington and fix the economy. He’s almost as weak in economics as I am. So I’m thinking the person they could really use there is definitely not John McCain. Or George W. Bush. Who they really need is Mr. McClesky.