Subtraction

Red and gray lego bricks sprawl out across his floor. Piles neatly sorted by color and size are evidence of the order with which he approaches his life. Throughout the day in his spare minutes, he retreats to his room, diligently picking away at the fire station he is so excited to rebuild. He asks me if this can count as math for today.

And I pause and think a hesitant “yes.” Yes. I don’t mind if we skip the math book today. Because today you shoveled the driveway and you hauled the trash cans to and from the curb. And you showered and combed your hair and made your bed. And you interacted politely at the dentist appointment. And later you’ll pick up after your sister without being asked, and you’ll keep an eye on the hurricane that is your baby brother. You’ll pepper me with questions all day, about every possible topic. You’ll brainstorm news ways to earn money for latest interest you’re saving for. And then you’ll clear the table and help with the dishes and end your day with a prayer.

So yes. Today I don’t mind if we skip over the page of three digit subtraction because today you are too busy growing into a smart, kind, hard-working, self-giving, honest man.

Today the subtraction that you do will not be done on pencil and paper. It will be done inside you. Eventually you plow through things heavier than the snow in your shovel. The little ones you watch out for now will one day be your own. Your questions won’t always have answers. And someday you’ll crunch the numbers to see that they don’t add up and that you’ve fallen short. Maybe because of a mistake you made. Maybe because life is just unfair sometimes. But one day soon, you will have to rebuild things a lot harder than legos.

One day you’ll find that subtraction is really just sacrifice on paper; the taking away from a whole to give to other parts. And isn’t that what being a man is really all about?

So go and build your fire station. Sort the pieces, fit and refit them together, envision the final product. Enjoy the process. Enjoy being seven. One day you’ll need to subtract things from yourself and from your life that are so much bigger and far less quantifiable numbers in a math problem. And no text book can teach you that.

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