Hi, there! Welcome to the first piece of bookish news of the day 🙂 It’s a blitz by YA Bound Book Tours for The Cinderella Theorem, by Kristee Ravan!
“Lily,” Mrs. Price, my guidance counselor, flashed a fake smile. “You have forgotten to put any fun in your schedule. Why don’t I switch you out of Geometry and put you in Health and Careers? Lots of students say this is a fun class…” She let that last part dangle in the air, like a worm on a hook.
I don’t like worms on hooks. “No thanks.”
Mrs. Price shifted in her seat, still smiling. “And this class will help you discover what you’re good at as you explore your career options.”
Chatting with a woman who can’t recite the Pythagorean Theorem isn’t exactly how I thought I would be spending my first day of high school. “I know what I want my career to be.”
Mrs. Price sat up straighter, leaning forward. “Oh, and what is that?”
“I want to do pure mathematics research at a major university or be a code breaker for the National Security Agency.”
Her eyebrows arched. I think she thought I was going to say I want to be a doctor when I grow up or I want to be an artist.
“Lily,” Mrs. Price said slowly, “Are your parents pressuring you to take more math classes?”
“No.” I folded my arms across my chest. Mrs. Price has incorrectly assigned two parents to me. This can lead to an error in the equation of my family.[i]
1 Lily + 1 mother = the Sparrow family.
The Sparrow family ≠ 1 Lily + 1 mother + 1 father.[ii]
“Lily, if you don’t want to take these extra math classes, you don’t have to. Your parents can’t make you.”
“I want to take Geometry.”
“Lily,” Mrs. Price paused dramatically. “Do you know that you can talk to me about anything?”
Is that supposed to make me open up to her? Mrs. Price has not equalized her equation. She assumes: one simple reminder of being able to talk to her = me sharing my deepest beliefs and ideas.
I sighed, rolling my eyes. “Mrs. Price, no one is pressuring me to take math classes. I just like math, that’s all.”
Mrs. Price frowned. “I had hoped you would agree with me, Lily, and change your mind about these classes, because I’m afraid I can’t allow you to jeopardize your academic career with difficult classes that will cause you extra stress. Besides, our school district frowns upon students taking more than one math course a year. I’m going to switch you from Geometry to Health and Careers, from Statistics to Tennis, and from Pre-Calculus to Legendary Literature. This will be a much less stressful class load for you.”
It was my turn to frown. Scowl, actually. “How exactly are Health and Careers, Tennis, and Legendary Literature going to help me in life?” I was especially disgusted with Legendary Literature. Tennis was at least active and I suppose Health and Careers could–at the very least–be informative.
“Lily, I’m sure you’ll enjoy these classes. Other students in this school have rated these electives as some of their favorites. Now, run on back to class.” She returned my schedule card, all marked up and practically math free.
Can I have a look at population and sample data used to arrive at this conclusion? Other students in this school do not want to be mathematics researchers. Other students in this school do not understand that mathematics is fundamental to all life. Other students in this school do not love math. I do.
Mrs. Price called cheerily, “Oh, I almost forgot. Happy birthday, Lily!”
Yeah, what a great start to my birthday. Resigned to my mathless fate, I walked back to class figuring out how many days were left until I graduated and escaped to college.
4 years x the 180 days required by the state = 720 days – the ½ a morning I wasted arguing with Mrs. Price about the joy of mathematics = 719 ¾ days.[iii]
My mother is a famous writer (in this equation, famous = distracted). For some reason, that I have not been able to calculate, being a famous writer makes it difficult to focus on any one thing for extended periods of time, including daughters’ birthdays. Writing is not as exact as math.
To combat her distraction, I mark my birthday on every calendar in the house. It’s not so much that Mom forgets my birthday. It’s that she gets distracted while planning. This year, I took an additional precaution: I changed her screen saver to “LILY’S BIRTHDAY IS THURSDAY!!!!!”
So, having solved the problem of the distractedness, we are usually ready to proceed with normal birthday celebrations. I say usually because there are occasionally book signings or tours that cause further issues. This year, however, there were none of these kinds of complications.
That is not to say that there were no complications.
There was, in fact, a huge one.
I came home from school intending to go out to dinner with my mother. That is a normal, mathematical way to celebrate a birthday. I grabbed a handful of pretzels from a bowl on the counter and popped my head into Mom’s office to say hello. (Mom’s office = a cluttered, messy room full of unorganized paper scraps that contain notes about her stories.)
Mom smiled at me. “How was school?”
“Not enough math.” I munched a pretzel. “What time are we going out tonight?”
“Going out?” Mom’s voice was quieter, distracted. She was sinking back into her novel.
“For dinner? For my birthday?”
Eyes fixed on her computer screen, she answered, “No. Matt is bringing dinner.”
“Matt? Matt who?” I quickly ran a mental index of my mother’s friends, acquaintances, and contacts for a Matt.
Mom gasped, covered her mouth with her hand, and mumbled, “Oh! It was supposed to be a surprise! What am I—”
“Mom!” I grabbed her shoulders, crushing a pretzel in my palm. “Stop. Who is Matt? Explain logically.”
She nodded. “Okay. Let’s sit down.” She led the way to the living room, and sat beside me on the couch, patting me on the back. “The thing is, Lily, I don’t want to explain too much without your father. He—”
“Wait. What?” I interrupted. “My father?”
“Oh! Fiddlesticks! I did it again! Matt’s going to kill me. I do fine for fifteen years and blow it on the last day. Why am I—”
“Right. Well,” she took a breath. “To begin, I should say that your father is not dead.”
“But, he is dead. You told me that he died–that the train he was on hit a cow.”[iv]
“No, Sweetie.” She patted my knee. “He’s not dead. He is alive and he’s coming to dinner.”
“I don’t understand. The train wrecked, the cow died, Dad died. You showed me the channel 6 news footage.”
Mom sighed. (Why is she sighing? Did she think that I would automatically understand? Did I miss the Lily, your dad is not dead memo?) “There was a train wreck, a cow did die. And it was on the news. But your father was not on the train.”
I took a deep breath and tried to sort out the emotions that started crowding my brain. Shock and disbelief—what she’s saying can’t be possible—can it? Joy and happiness, too—my dad’s alive!
But years of dealing with my mom have made me logical. One of us has to stay focused, so I pushed all the emotions down and focused on gathering more data. “Okay. Where was he?”
“He wants to explain all this to you, and he should be the one to do it. Can we just leave it at: he’s not dead, and he’s coming to dinner tonight?”
“But why did you tell me he was dead?”
“It was safer for everyone if you thought that. But, Lily, your father can explain this a lot better than me.” She stood up. “Now, I need to work on getting the prince to fall in love with the princess, and you should probably get your homework done before dinner. I’m sure you’re going to have a lot to talk about with your dad.” She turned to go back to the office.
Are you kidding me? That’s the end of the conversation?
I followed Mom into her office. “But you lied to me.”
She sank into her chair, sighing. “Lily. There will be a lot of discussion about this tonight. Please. Let’s just wait until then.” She added in a lower voice, “I wasn’t supposed to have to do this alone. It was so stupid of me to slip up.”
“So, we’re not going to talk about it now?”
“Lily! I have a deadline. You have homework. Go do it!”
“Fine.” I slammed the door on my way out.
Mom was wrong to assume I had homework. It was the first day of school. We wasted most of the day with passing out textbooks and going over rules. I spent my “homework” time analyzing the events of the afternoon.[v] Specifically, I needed to place Mom’s shocking new variables into the equation of Lily’s Life.
Lily = a 5 foot, normal, freshman girl, who has shoulder length blonde hair, green eyes, and a distracted mother.
The new variables that now had to be put into my equation are A = my father is alive and B = my mother is a liar.
A and B are dependent upon one another. For instance, my mother is proved to be a liar (B), because my father is alive (A). My father’s being alive (A) was a secret because my mother is a liar (B).
How is that normal?
Statistically speaking, teenagers should have parents who create supportive environments for them to grow in during their difficult, formative years. This is the mathematically proven way of success.[vi]
How are a dead father, who is not dead, and a mother, who is a liar, supportive? What teenager sits around on her fifteenth birthday trying to think of questions to ask her mother about her used-to-be-dead father?
I was led to believe my father died in a bizarre train/cow accident two days before I was born. I always thought of it like this:
After the accident = (Amtrak – 1 train) + (Lily – 1 father) + (Farmer Jones – 1 cow)
But none of this matters now, since my father is not actually dead. How unfortunate there isn’t enough time in the Plan of Lily’s Life to have therapy discussing cows, liars, and fathers.
I dug around in the bottom of my closet looking for The Box my mother gave me for my fifth birthday. It contains everything I know about my father and once upon a time, I thought it was the best birthday present ever.[vii] When I was younger, I kept The Box beside my bed. I was very afraid of the dark as a child and having The Box next to me gave irrational comfort. (Mom leaving the hall light on helped, too.) But as I grew older and no longer needed The Boxbeside me to sleep, I put it away in my closet, getting it out less and less to look at the items and think about my father. And this past year, I hadn’t even looked at The Box since my last birthday.
I blew the dust off, slowly opening the lid to hear the creak of the hinges. I like that sound. The Box has a tarnished keyhole, but the key was lost before I ever had it. I ran my fingers over the lid, feeling the words carved on the smooth wooden surface:
Our Only Protector
When I asked my mother about the words on The Box, she said she didn’t know what they meant; Dad had never explained them to her. (She was probably lying.)
There are three items in The Box–three tangible, mathematical facts about my father. The first is a solid blue marble, the color of a tropical island lagoon or something else that is blue.[viii] My mother told me the marble was my dad’s. He was so good at marbles as a boy that marble playing at his school stopped, because no one could beat him.
I decided that I, too, would become skilled at marble playing. I got pretty good, but marbles was not a game children played at my school, so I mostly played by myself.[ix] (My mother would sometimes play with me, usually whenever she needed a break from her characters.) But I never played with the blue marble. In my elementary school mind, I reasoned that I would save the blue marble for the game I would one day play with my father. (At seven, mathematical facts, like the surety of death are not overly important.) I do, however, find considerable irony in the fact that, now (apparently), I can play that game with my dear old dad.
The second item in The Box is an antique brass doorknob my father used when he proposed to my mother. He said, “I am giving you the doorknob to my heart because you are the only one who can open it,” or something else equally sugary and romantic. Even though romance is too abstract to be mathematical, I always thought this was a tremendously clever way to say “I love you.” (Evidently, so did Mom.)
The third item in The Box is a letter from my father to me. It was written the day before he “died” or whatever the new story will be. (For all I know, my mother could have written the letter. She is, after all, a writer.) This is what he “wrote”:
Dear Future Sparrow Child:
I wanted to take a moment to write down what I am feeling at this moment. I am rather excited and pleased that in a few days (or maybe less!) I will officially be your Father! I wanted to let you know that you are coming into a wonderful family. Your mother will dream up wonderful stories to tell you, and I will help you explore this New World of yours. We are going to have a grand adventure together. I can’t wait to see you! I am counting the minutes until I can be
Now that Mom has given me new data to consider, I’m not sure what to think about the letter anymore. Did he know he was leaving when he wrote it? How could he write such a letter of excitement and then leave? And for that matter, why did my mother say it was safer for everyone if I thought he was dead?Was he dangerous? I lean towards a “no” on this issue. (In my experience, which is limited, dangerous people do not propose with doorknobs.)
There are no pictures of my father in The Box or in the house for that matter. My mom does not like to answer questions about pictures. It makes her very defensive and bothered.[x] And I’ve given up looking for them in her closets or in the attic. There are just no pictures of my father.
I had been working on a theory that Mom burned all of them in some sort of grief cleansing after he died. But now he isn’t dead…. Could he be a spy? Or maybe he was a tortured, drug-addicted musician? Both of those theories would support Mom saying, “It was safer for everyone if you thought he was dead.”
I shook my head. Speculation is not mathematical and the trouble with looking for tangible facts about my father in The Box is that the equation The Box sets up is this:
what I know about my father = M(1 blue marble + 1 doorknob +1 letter +1 old box)
M = what my mother says about my father
We can reasonably conclude that the M is tainted (by my mother’s lies) and thereby taints the whole solution, but if you take M out, you’ll have no information at all. Multiplying by zero equals zero. Zero stories about my dad. Just a box.
And for the first time, looking through The Box had made me angry. All of these things I “know” about my dead father were probably lies. Just one of Mom’s stories made up to entertain her daughter.
I shoved the blue marble in my pocket. Then I put The Box away and checked the clock. Almost five. Five o’clock is always suppertime in the Sparrow home. I don’t know how this kind of a schedule works with a distracted mother, but somehow it does. She always has supper ready at five, no matter what the characters in her story world are doing.
I saw no signs of supper in the kitchen. Nothing. I looked in the office. Mom was still busy writing. What are the odds that on the day I find out my dad isn’t really dead, my mom also forgets to cook supper?
I wanted to ask my mother about supper, but I didn’t want to ask about my father specifically, because that would be weird, and I didn’t want to lash out at her. (Cool, rational thinking wins the day.) I didn’t want to say, for instance, “Hey Mom, you may have lied to me for fifteen years, but don’t you need to be cooking something? It isn’t everyday Dad comes over for dinner.” so I said instead:
“What are we having for dinner tonight?”
Mom continued writing for a moment, then realized I had spoken, “I don’t know, whatever your dad brings home.”
I stood shocked for a moment. Let me see if I have my facts straight: a man I have never met, a man who has been “dead” my whole life, is bringing home my special birthday dinner. HE is bringing it HOME? To our home? We have a leaky faucet that has lived here longer than he has. This is not his home. Home implies permanency.
Mom looked at me. “Why are you staring like that, Lily?”
“What do you mean ‘he’s bringing dinner home’?”
“Try to understand, Lily.” Mom patted my arm and spoke slowly as if she were talking to a three-year-old or a crazy person. “Your dad is coming home for your birthday, and he is bringing dinner with him.”
I stared at her. “You mean he’s coming over for dinner, right? He can’t be coming home, because he doesn’t live here.”
“Lily, he’ll be here in less than five minutes. Do we really have to discuss whether he’s “coming over” or “coming home,” at this exact moment?” She started stacking her notes in different piles, a sign that writing was done for the day.
“Yes.” I folded my arms. “You don’t get to just lie to me and then say a stranger is coming home and then try to neatly stack me up like one of your writing notes!”
“Lily.” Mom’s voice was stern. “We are not doing this now. If you need to go back upstairs to calm down—fine. But I don’t want your father coming home to us screaming at each other.”
I could tell I was on the verge of becoming irrational so I stomped upstairs to brush my teeth.[xi] (I tend to brush my teeth when I get annoyed.) What does she mean, coming home?
On the landing, I stepped over the mini-vac Mom had left (through her distraction) plugged in. Most likely, this morning, when she was supposed to be vacuuming the stairs, inspiration seized her and she abandoned cleaning for writing.
I stomped into the bathroom, annoyed with my adult role model. How am I supposed to grow up in this abnormal environment?
Just as I finished angrily squeezing toothpaste onto my toothbrush, the shower curtain was pushed back by a fully clothed man standing in the bathtub.
“Lily!” he said. “Happy birthday!”
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