Saturday, March 14, 2015

Groundhog Pie day

Last night, I stayed up too late, and slept poorly. At first light the cat started bugging me, meowing and placing a paw on my chin. I could see in the wan light of morning that it was still snow-covered out there. I patted the cat, feeling like winter here will never end. The cat settled in next to me, and I slid back into restless sleep.  After another half an hour, the cat stretched out on top of me, putting both paws on my mouth. I patted him, knowing by the blue quality of the morning light that we had heavy cloud cover and snow yet on the ground; I fell asleep again. We played this game for several more repetitions. I overslept.

I tweeted yesterday that I hate Pi Day. An old friend H____ from my college math teaching days offered up her take on it, tweeting, “Many of my students wished me a Happy #PiDay on the way out of class today. Everyone was just smiling and happy.”
She continued, “I had such fun this week talking about #PiDay with my students, sending them Pi links, etc. They were super into it,” and, then, “We talked about some of the cool properties of the number pi. And while the 3/14 thing is silly, we took it in good fun.”
She compared Pi Day to, “the stupidity of Groundhog Day,” adding, “taking a day to celebrate Pi … is a delightful thing.”

H____ was right, of course. People pretend that nerds have inherited the future, because a couple of nerds like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs became billionaires. But most nerds just do ordinary jobs for regular salaries, and while they may share messy hair or dirty glasses or a fondness for a particular mock turtleneck, being a nerd is more about your passions than your fashion. I can’t think of other days of the year that my affection for things mathematical is necessarily appreciated.

Several lifetimes ago, I was a college math teacher, and then a stay-home mom, and after a long time away from the classroom I got a job teaching math in a nearby Catholic girls high school.

Coming from a college teaching background, my contact with students had been mostly limited to 2 or 3 days a week for either an hour or an hour and a half, and office hours. I had done some student advising, but it was always cut and dried, about picking courses and a major. In this job I was taking attendance, reporting dress-code violations (in theory), supervising clubs, doing parent-teacher conferences, writing college recommendations, and listening and handing out Kleenex when girls came to me to cry about things.

I was surrounded by them, from a little past 7 a.m. when I arrived, until some time past 3 p.m. when I dashed out with an arm-load of grading, late to pick up my own kids from their schools across town. I had them in my room as soon as I unlocked the door in the morning, I ate lunch with them in my room at noon-ish; I went to the bathroom with them. I had a room cleaner assigned to my classroom, who cleaned the white boards, swept, and wiped down and rearranged the desks each day after school. Once a week I walked the neighborhood before school, with a safety vest and a clipboard, writing down the license plate number of any student car that was parked in violation of the rules.

That first year, I never conducted an exact head-count of my students until late February, when the head of the math department asked me for it for ordering pies for Pi Day. I had never heard of Pi Day before this job. What a silly reason for a celebration. It had never occurred to me that March 14 might be written 3.14, perhaps because I always thought the ordering day-month-year more logical. As a math person, I understand affection for numbers. I put a line through my sevens, for clarity. My favorite integers are, in order, 8, 0, and 24, and though I do like e and the square root of 2, I love i. Ok, yes, I’m a huge numbers nerd. But, Pi Day? Really?

Crumble-topped Apple Pie

The department chair allowed 6 pieces per pie, because, she said, they were small pies. She ordered enough crumble-toped apple pies from Borrachini Bakery to feed a piece of pie to every math student in the school. This number was essentially the full enrollment of the school, minus the one or two seniors who were headed to art school and didn’t take math their senior year. Like most of the math department, I had a teaching load of five classes: four honors and one, non-honors section, known as, “college prep.” The honors classes had the highest enrollments, with a maximum of 26 students in each, and the majority were full classes. I had perhaps 104 honors students, and an additional 20 college prep students. At 6 pieces per pie, that’s 20 2/3 pies, but, of course, pies don’t come in a fractional form, so let’s make that 21 pies.

The mood on Pi Day was always festive in the math classes, the way it was on spirit days when the girls came dressed head-to-toe in their class colors, or Halloween, or the last day before a break, or any day when snowflakes were seen falling outside the hundred-year-old windows.  Maybe I should call the mood distracted. They were excited for pie, of course.

From the moment that the pies were brought to my classroom, in big stacks of tidy pink boxes, the smell of the pies was intense. Apples, sugar, apples, sugar. Apples! Sugar! And from the first moment of cutting a pie with a pie server I brought from home for the purpose, more apples, and more sugar. By the time the first 26 students had their slice of pie during first period, I was already done with the smell of pie. The desk set aside for pie slicing was already sticky. My garbage can filled up with paper plates and sticky forks and gooey leftover apples and sugar, and don’t forget the empty pie boxes, four boxes per class. The floor around the desk with the pies got sticky. The floor around my desk got sticky. The floor around the trash got sticky. The doorknob got sticky. The room got even stickier through the day. Sticky.

By the end of the day, my clothes were sticky with pie. The light-switch was gooey with pie. My nose was coated with pie. My eyes felt gooey with pie.

This morning on Facebook, my former student and room cleaner G____ had a status update:  Happy Pi Day, everyone!! (Totally craving some pie.)” 

She is in graduate school now.

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