Wednesday, March 02, 2011

The Maguffin Math Mystery, And Showdown At The Patience Corral

Eli 9.7 still has a sore knee (better, but not 100% yet), so he didn't go to hockey practice yesterday.

We have this little ritual we do every week on Tuesdays. I pick him up from school, and we go to a nearby food place called "Cafe Express." It's always deserted at 3:30, with plenty of open tables, so Eli sets up his homework on a table, I order his macaroni and cheese, and he does his homework and eats an early dinner.

About 4:25, he says he wants to head for the rink, even though we don't need to leave until 4:40. We spend most of the next fifteen minutes discussing when we should leave. Then we leave at 4:40.

We get to the rink just before 5. Early skate starts at 5:15, and he's always standing at the glass at 5:10, waiting for the Zamboni to finish. At the stroke of 5:15, he's on the ice. He skates for an extra half hour before practice starts.

Actually, that extra half hour goes right into practice when he has early practice, which starts at 5:45. When he has late practice, off-ice training doesn't even start until 6:15, and practice starts at 6:45.

Does this time stuff matter to him? No. He's the only kid who comes to early skate whether he has early practice or not. Every week. All season long.

Except this week, because his knee was still banged up, and he was still walking with a sizable limp. So I picked him up at school, and we decided to go to CPK instead. It's his favorite restaurant, with his favorite waitress, so it was a good place for a tough day.

After we ate, we decided to walk over to Borders, since it's one of the bookstores they're closing after their recently-announced bankruptcy, and Eli likes to check out the "deals." "Dad, there are some serious deals here," he said, seduced by the 20% off signs hanging everywhere.

"Look as much as you want," I said, "but we're not buying anything today."

"Okay," he said, and he started looking around.

Within minutes, he found his gambit. "Dad, I really want to get a math book," he said.

Clever, clever boy.

"Why is that?" I asked.

"I don't know," he said [I JUST WANT TO BUY SOMETHING]. "I just really like math."

"Okay," I said. "I'll go home and do some research on the best math books for kids a little older than you, and I'll show you a list that you can pick from."

"Can I just look them up here?" he asked. "I really like math." He walked over to a computer terminal and types in "McMuffin Math."

"Um, I'm pretty sure that won't return any results," I said. "McMuffin is trademarked by McDonald's."

"I know there's something like that," he said.

"Maybe try 'Maguffin Math'," I said. Hell, I didn't know--maybe that was some kind of math series for kids.

No results.

"Just try searching on 'math', then sort by 'children'," I said. Jackpot. Lots of books.

"Oh, Dad, I really want this one." Bright cover. Nonsensical title.

"Sorry, little man, not today," I said.

"Dad, come on!" he said. "It's a MATH BOOK."

"I'll be happy to research math books for you and find a really good one," I said.

"But this is the one I want!" he said.

"Then I'll find out if it's any good, and if it is, we can come back later this week."

"Fine," he grumbled, walking toward the front of the store.

"Let's go home and finish your homework," I said.

He walked about ten feet, then stopped at one of the little book tables Borders sets up in the middle of the aisle. "I am NOT MOVING until I get that book," he said, smiling.

"Okay," I said, standing next to him.

"Oh, it is ON," he said, laughing.

"Yes, I guess it is on," I said pleasantly.

We stood.

After a few minutes, he said, "Is this like in basketball, where I have a pivot foot, but I can't move past that?"

"Yes," I said. "It's just like that. You've picked up your dribble."

"Dang it!" he said, laughing. "I should have picked a table with better books. I don't even LIKE Nancy Drew!" He looked at the rest of the books. "Well, at least YOU don't have anything to read, either," he said.

"No, there aren't any good books for me on this table," I said. "It's a good thing I brought my Kindle." I held it up, complete with a lovely red leather cover.

"DANG IT!" he said.

"I'm reading a great book on deep caving, too," I said. I flipped it open and started to read, still standing there.


Time passed. Within minutes, Eli exhausted the possibilities available to him within range of his pivot foot.

"You would stand here the rest of the day reading, wouldn't you?" he asked.

"Yes," I said, smiling.

"I know you would," he said. "What was I thinking? How do I get out of this now? I can't quit."

"Look at it this way," I said. "I'd wait here as long as I needed to, and I wouldn't mind. There's no way you could win. So by stopping, you're not quitting--you're losing less. And losing less is kind of a win."

"So we both win!" he said, laughing. "Let's go."

We walked out to the car, and after he got in, he pulled out his math textbook. He held it up to me. "Dad, see? That's why I put in 'McMuffin.' "

It said 'Houghton-Mifflin' on the cover.

"That's the publisher," I said. "They didn't write the book. Although if we ever find a McMuffin math book, I promise we'll buy it."

"Finally!" he said, laughing.

We went home.

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