I tapped my foot against the tile floor, my knee occasionally making contact with the cafeteria table on the upswing. I was nervous: I had a math test today. I didn’t know why math tests made me so nervous. But they did, and I had one at 2pm.
I unzipped my lunch box and emptied its contents: a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, some pretzels, an apple, and about 8 pieces of computer paper stapled together. I took a bite of my sandwich, put my lunchbox aside, and whipped out a pencil. I examined the first page of my packet: my mom’s handwriting covered the page, and it immediately brought my anxiety level down.
“Find the area and perimeter of the below circle.” My eyes glanced down at the circle my mom had drawn beneath her prompt. It was pretty good considering her questionable drawing skills. Her equally-as-questionable handwriting was nestled within the circle to indicate the diameter across.
I went through all 10 questions and could feel my sixth-grade mind warming up. When I reached the end, I went through the answer key my mom had written and felt a wave of relief rush over me with each question I checked off as “correct.” I felt better.
My mom is a certified math nerd: when she was younger, she named stuffed animals after mathematicians. Yes, I’m talking stuffed animals named Pascal and Riemann. Whenever I was learning something new in math class, she would quite literally squeal with delight as she recalled the rules and laws of her beloved world of numbers.
Her excitement about math wasn’t what made me anxious, though; the finality of math is what made me anxious—the way little mistakes make final outcomes so blatantly and fundamentally wrong. It just always felt high-pressure to me in that way.
Despite my apprehension toward it, I felt committed to math because I wanted perfect grades. And that meant I had to be as perfect at math as I could be. I think my mom sensed my anxiety, and she did everything she could to make me feel more comfortable: countless nights of textbook reading, patient teaching, and mock-test making.
But that’s what my mom did with everything: she didn’t just make math better, she made my stomach better when it hurt, my heart better when it broke, my muscles better when they ached (she gives great back rubs).
And, she did all of that after working a tireless and high-pressure job all day; after sitting in an hour and a half of traffic on her way home every evening; after cooking us dinner every night.
She was the breadwinner in our family, and it made (and still makes) me damn proud. I remember perking up with excitement each day around 7pm upon hearing my mom’s heels “click-click”-ing through our kitchen. Before I knew it, she would be poking her head into my room: “Hi honey,” she’d say with a tired smile and her blazer draped over her arm. She was powerful, patient perfection standing there: qualities that made her an amazing business woman and an even more amazing mom.
The lunch bell was ringing; perfect timing. I felt ready. As I folded my packet up and put it back in my lunch box, I noticed a note I had missed. It had the familiar chicken scratch on it: “Good luck on your test! You will do great. Love, Mom.” Thank you, Mom, for loving and believing in me as faithfully as 2+2=4. For teaching me how to add, but for being there when life itself didn’t quite add up. And finally, for proving perhaps the most important equation of them all: the limit of love between a mother and daughter does not exist.