The times tables. Finally! Addition and subtraction was baby stuff but multiplication is the operation of Einstein and I had arrived.
My teacher was an antique (my mother also had her in third grade) and Mrs. Horgan’s methods were simple. She had us recite “3, 6, 9, 12, 15, 18, 21, 24, 27” many times and we were expected to absorb this knowledge. Questionable by today’s standards, it seemed to work.
After a couple of days’ practice, Mrs. Horgan asked if anyone could stand and say the string of numbers. There was no reward except for a “very good” but for some reason I coveted that praise.
While we were still working on the fours I got a brainstorm to learn the sevens. I fantasized at how impressed my classmates would be. “Wow!” they’d all say. Maybe they’d carry me around on their shoulders like in the movies. They’d at least applaud wildly at my success, of this I had no doubt.
I worked on this project in secret lest I jinx it. 7, 14, 21, 28, 35, 42, 49, 56, 63. Over and over I practiced until I knew I could say it without mistakes.
We got through the fives, the sixes, and it was nearly my time to shine. I pretended to struggle while reciting the sevens with the class. I enjoyed having this secret knowledge. We practiced Monday and Tuesday. Finally, on Wednesday, Mrs. Horgan asked if anyone knew the sevens well enough to say them for the class.
My hand shot into the air. She looked surprised, probably because I was generally a shy kid. Sitting here today, I honestly could not say why I wanted this so much. “Cindy,” she said, “Would you like to say the sevens for us?” My moment had arrived. “Yes!” I answered confidently.
I stood up. That’s when I realized I had only fantasized the ending of this scene, not the beginning. Suddenly nervous, I closed my eyes so I couldn’t see everyone looking at me. I took a deep breath and in a loud, rapid-fire voice, shouted, “SEVEN! FOURTEEN! TWENTY-ONE! TWENTY-EIGHT! THIRTY-FIVE! FORTY-TWO! FORTY-NINE! FIFTY-SIX! SIXTY-THREE!”
I opened my eyes, ready for the admiration of my teacher and classmates but instead they appeared shocked, then amused. The kids gave one another that widened-eyes look that unmistakably says, “She is SO WEIRD.” Mrs. Horgan found her voice and said, “Very good, Cindy” and I sat down, my face burning with humiliation.
That moment taught me a lot . . . about the unpredictability of people, about the risks of seeking public approval, and about fantasy often surpassing reality.
I’ll take my attention these days from behind the safety of a keyboard, thank you very much. But if you ever need to multiply anything by seven, well, that just happens to be my superpower.