I admit it. I caved to the mom pressure of Russian math. I’m not really sure how it happened. It started with whispers of Kumon. When I heard the neighbors’ highly capable twin girls were enrolled, I ran home to Google it. My pseudo tiger mom radar went up and I started to pay more attention at school drop-off. Moms were talking in code about a Russian school that was being housed in an otherwise deserted office complex, and I noticed all the kids racing out of our regular school on Tuesdays with their backpacks overflowing with protractors and an endless supply of No. 2 pencils. We were obviously missing out on something very important, so I embarked on a full-blown investigation.
I found the Russian math school in the next town over and immediately called to make an appointment for my little prodigy. When they told me it would be a three-month wait for the next opening, I insisted it was an emergency: My daughter was halfway through kindergarten and I am only now finding out about Russian math. “She is already six months behind; we can’t afford to miss one more day!” I pleaded and got my girl in for testing the next evening.
It was the middle of a blizzard and my poor baby had strep throat, but that wasn’t going to stop us. I threw the SUV in snow mode and skidded my way over to the school while my daughter slipped in and out of sleep. We pulled up for our 7:30 p.m. appointment and were greeted by a tall woman whose height was accentuated by stilettos. She was dripping in jewelry and oozing with perfume. Her eyes heavy with smoky black liner made her look like an exhibit in the exotic creature section of a zoo.
“Welckom,” she said, through a thick accent.
We followed her into her office, where posters announce “The road to Harvard begins here.”
My daughter sits at a desk, and Stiletto Lady thumbs through a giant workbook. The pressure is on. I’m sweating through my thermal underwear. Stiletto Lady takes a page from the book and places it in front of my daughter.
She points with her long polished nails, “We have an apple and a pear and a plum. Tell me which one is missing in the next box?”
My daughter looks back at me. I can tell she is shitting in her pants. I am too. I give her the evil eye and look away. She gazes around the room and back to me again. I can hear the second hand ticking in the giant wall clock. I want to blurt out “It’s the pear, come on, it’s so fucking obvious! It’s the FUCKING PEAR, you know this!” I’m red with hives. I know what this woman is thinking. “Oh, so you thought your daughter was a genius?” I can hear her Russian cackling behind her steely eyes.
An hour later, Stiletto Lady tells me that with some tutoring and summer school my daughter might be able to catch up, but we won’t be able to determine that until next year. She hands me a folder filled with information on how to register online and where to find a tutor.
We get in the car and I yell, “What WAS that?” What was going on in there? You knew it was the pear! I mean, really, why were you looking around the room and back at me and playing dumb like that?!”
She starts crying. From behind her balled-up fists I hear, “I don’t want to go to Russian Math School.”
I get a hold of myself. It’s nine o’clock on a school night, negative 2 degrees outside, and she has a fever. Maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on her.
“Sweetie, why don’t you want to go to Russian Math School?” I ask.
“Why do I have to take Russian math when I have American math in my own school?”
“And, what is Russian math anyway? That lady was really scary and she smelled weird.”
Another good point.
“Well, I don’t really know what Russian math is. We didn’t have all this fancy stuff when I was a kid. The only thing I know is that if you don’t take Russian math you are not going to Harvard.”
“I don’t want to go to Harvard.”
“All the kids in your class are taking Russian math, and they will be going to Harvard.”
“I don’t care.”
“You don’t care if you are the only kid from your class not going to Harvard? Okay, if you really don’t care and you feel like Russian math is too scary and you just want to stay home and go to community school, that’s fine. But you need to make that decision right now. Because time is running out, and if I don’t register you tonight there will be no second chance. Get it? Are you clear that you are choosing to go to community college and you might live in the basement forever? This is your decision, and you are going to have to live with it. I don’t want you to come to me in seventeen years saying ‘all my friends are Ivy League and I’m not’. You’ll have to tell that to your therapist, okay?”
“Fine, then that’s settled. Now let’s get home and give you some Motrin for that fever.”
I’m doing fist pumps in my head thinking about the money we are going to save on tutors and classes. Thirteen years of Russian math and tutors—because I can’t help her with that shit—that’s a college tuition right there. Granted, probably a junior college and she will have to commute from home, but she already said she wanted to live with me forever so, score! Dodged that bullet!
The truth is… now I’m nervous that she’s never going to go to college. I’m having nightmares about her leaving out the basement door to walk to work at Panera Bread. I blame it on all these lunatic moms running around in hysterics over Russian math. And it’s not just math. These moms tell each other, oh I’m just doing the basics like swim since it’s a life skill and we live on our boat every summer. And, you know, soccer, just the usual stuff to keep the kids active.
They’re lying! I saw them all down there at the Russian school and their kids were speaking Mandarin to each other! The whole family suddenly speaks fucking Mandarin? And, I’m like what the hell is going on here? Then there’s Suzuki violin and the Olympic swim team—it’s the never-ending race for the gold ring. And nobody tells you what they are doing because they don’t want the competition. Well, we don’t want to compete with you. We are just fine sitting on the sidelines. Sometime the sidelines are more fun.
I don’t know what the future holds for my daughter. She might be Harvard roommates with your little Einstein. Or she might supply me with discounted bread in my old age. It’s not my daughter’s lack of Russian math that really scares me. It’s the Russian roulette of life and the futility of trying so damn hard to stack the odds.