Family life

Why I'm famous at my kids' school

Susan Goldberg discovers that her childhood skill of solving a Rubik's Cube gives her serious cred among her son's school class.

Photo: Susan Goldberg

Photo: Susan Goldberg

Thunder Bay, Ont. writer Susan Goldberg is a transplanted Torontonian and one of two mothers to two boys. Follow along as she shares her family’s experiences.

“Mom,” Rowan tells me in the car on the way to school this morning, “I think you’re probably the most famous person in the whole grade five and six class right now.”

He’s exaggerating, of course, but I’m still flattered. It’s not nothing, you know, to have any kind of status with a bunch of 10- and 11-year-olds, most of whom are boys. For the most part, very little I do impresses any boy in that age category. To them, I’m just another mom, about as interesting as white rice. I’m terrible at any kind of team sport, woefully ignorant about current music trends, and utterly uninterested in video games or most television. The only thing that’s ever managed to impress a bunch of Rowan’s friends is the fact that I kick butt at “Ms. Pac-Man.” Every so often, at the airport or some dodgy bowling alley, we come across a vintage version of the game and I pull up my quarters and proceed to clear screen after screen without breaking a sweat while my kids ooh and aah. It’s a skill I picked up circa 1984, when I was 12 or so and spent about four days solid playing the game at my cousin’s bar mitzvah in Winnipeg.

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But I digress. I’m currently famous among the grade five and six cohort for an entirely different but equally retro reason: I can solve the Rubik’s Cube.

No, really — I can. It’s a skill I picked up, well, when I was in grade five and Rubik’s Cubes were all the rage. I got my hands on a cube, and on a copy of James Nourse’s The Simple Solution to the Rubik’s Cube, and I attacked the problem with all the obsession and single-mindedness that only children can. I wish I had the time and facility now to learn things the way that kids do, throwing myself completely into the process without worrying about things like, say, earning money or thinking about what’s for dinner.

(For the record, Rachel says that she, too, learned how to solve the Rubik’s Cube back when she was in elementary school. But she figured it out on her own. I wish I could say that I was as brilliant as she was and didn’t need to cheat and use a book. But that’s not the case.)

Unfortunately, in the three-decades-plus since then, I’d lost my cube-solving skills. I could get the first two layers down, but the third always eluded me. That is, until this past December, when we got the kids Rubik’s Cubes for Hanukkah and, newly obsessed, I managed to snag a vintage copy of Nourse’s book on eBay. It took a few weeks to arrive from England, but ever since it showed up in the mail, it’s been a Rubik’s Cube fest around here. I haven’t entirely memorized the solution again, but I’m getting there. These things take more time when you’re in your 40s.

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Apparently, my timing is perfect: the fifth- and sixth-graders are totally into the cube. They’re having cube-solving competitions at recess, just like we did back in the day. A friend of mine has already borrowed my copy of The Simple Solution and photocopied it, ostensibly for her own sixth-grader. But apparently he hasn’t had a chance to look at it much, because his dad — an anesthesiologist — is hogging the book.

“My friends say that you can solve the Rubik’s cube in, like, two minutes,” Rowan tells me. This is patently false, but I have to admit I like the idea of having some notoriety in his cohort. In time, I think I could get there. 

What I’m really hoping for, though, is that Rowan — and, for that matter, Isaac — gets bitten by the Rubik’s Cube bug and learns how to solve the thing. So far, he doesn’t seem that interested, but I can always hope. Because then we can have competitions. I have no doubt that, with practise, he could eventually smoke me. But I won’t mind, because I’ll always have Ms. Pac-Man.

Did you solve the Rubik’s Cube when you were a kid? Do your kids play with any of the same toys you played with as a kid? Tweet me at @mamanongrata

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