I learned multiplication by sitting at the kitchen table and having 2×2, 2×3, 2×4, etc., barked at me while my mom prepared meals. Then she did the same while she cleared the table. She kept at it while she did dishes. She took some time off while we watched tv, but if she got bored with a show, the military version of multiplication lessons started again.

Sometimes, I guessed at the answer. She’d shout “two times three” from the kitchen sink and I’d yell back “six.” She’d say “three times two” and I’d shout “12.”

She’d put down the wet dish and walk over to me, look me in the face, and sternly demand “How is it different than ‘two times three’?”

I panicked and made up reasons until I finally figured it out. My home, it seems, was proud of the Socratic method although Socrates never stepped foot within our walls.

Today, my mom asked me to teach her how to play Sudoku. I explained the little boxes and the rows and the need to get the numbers one through nine into each of the rows without overlapping with numbers in the other rows.

We started with each box, “What can go here, mom?”

She guessed at numbers that were exactly like the ones next to them in a row. “Why do you think the five goes there?” I asked.

“It looks like it goes there,” she smiled. “This is not about looks, mom, it is about thinking” I sternly admonished. “Think, you know the answer.”

She would figure it out and sheepishly smile as she wrote it down.

We killed about an hour working through every step of her first puzzle. And for every minute of it I though, “This is payback, mom. Pure payback.”


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