Multiplication by Subtraction

No one in our family is a math whiz – we’re all literature folk with one black-sheep biologist mixed in. Quite frankly, I think the average student is taught way too much mathematics in school. If you don’t plan on becoming an engineer, physicist, or statistician, do you really need to have advanced calculus or trigonometry? I’m sure most would disagree, but I wonder if we aren’t taught too much high level math and not enough basic life skills. How did my girls graduate high school with honors yet have never been taught how to balance a checkbook, write a resume, or fill out basic government paperwork?

mathematics-1509559_1280I’m not saying I can’t do math. I can function on a very basic level and I helped the kids with homework until they got to about the eighth grade. That’s where I went rusty and chewed pencils down to nubs before blaming teachers for their new math and its crazy calculation methods. Give me Markmatics, which is a math theorem based on very rudimentary understanding, a calculator, and Google.

The only class I failed in college was algebra. It wasn’t an intellectual problem; it was a question of priorities. The class directly conflicted with intermural football and forced me to make a choice. Being nineteen, I chose the glory of the field and its sorority cheerleaders over the classroom. When I retook it, I made sure to schedule it earlier in the day. I am content with the small amount of math I retained from school, although I do wish I had a better understanding of geometry. A functional grasp of angles, lines, shapes, and dimensional proportions would help immensely in my workshop. I’ve wasted many pieces of wood nibbling off degrees to get to the right angle.


There is, however, one mathematical problem that became increasingly obvious to me last weekend. I have yet to decide if I will call it: The Law of Diminishing Noise, The Principle of Relative Quiet, or perhaps something else. Here is its formula:

6 – (1p + 2c)/1d = g(1p * v) x 1000²

Since you aren’t well-versed in Markmatics, let me explain.

IMG_2360We spent the weekend settling two into their college dorms. Although, we have gotten used to taking our eldest since she is now a junior, it is still hard. She has a gregarious presence that fills our home with laughter and song that is missed when she is gone. And now she is gone for another year. Adding to that, we took our quiet, studious homebody to college for the first time. Her presence is a constant – a solid rock. She is always careful to monitor her mother for signs of sorrow and is by her side instantly when needed. Now she is freshman an hour away. Their doors are open but their rooms are empty.

Two cars are missing and even the driveway looks lonely.

Compounding the issue is that the one who remains is now driving. She is either at school, working, or dancing nearly all of the time. We’ve almost hit the empty nest. I know you would say that this is a normal progression of life and many others our age feel the same pain as their chicks leave the nest. That is true, I understand. However, the natural maturation of three magnifies the unnatural subtraction of one.

So I will land on the name The Principle of Relative Quiet in Grief Amplification for my theorem.

Let me break it down:

6 – (1p + 2c)/1d = g(1p * v) x 1000²

6 = Our natural family
1p = one removed permanently
2c = two gone to college
1d = one now driving

g = grief
v = the void left by the 1p (one removed permanently)
1000² = the multiplication factor of the now empty home (add as many zeroes as you want)


Removing the activity of the eldest three makes the loss of Kylie so poignant. We should be watching her blossom as a freshman. She should be excited about the next auditions. As the others leave, our little Kylie Bug should be slowly taking over the house with her glowing smile and ever-present joy. Her voice should be trilling in our halls as we settle in to a new experience and start high school over again. But we aren’t. We are filled with a void that shouldn’t exist. This quiet isn’t right. Every moment lacking sound is a startling reminder of what should remain.

Our home should still be loud and the quiet is painfully deafening.

I knew this weekend would be hard on my wife. I planned it out to make sure I was home as a buffer and told friends to be on the ready to fill some time in her now-empty schedule. I worried about her and completely discounted the toll that the quiet would take on me. After all, I’m old – I like peace and quiet now. I am the man!

I am the man – I watch out for the others.

I am the alpha male – I protect my pack.

I am the man – I push down inconvenient feelings that might well up.


I am the daddy… and this quiet hurts my ears.

15 thoughts on “Multiplication by Subtraction

  1. My heart hurts for you each time I read one of your Kylie posts. As I watch my friends and coworkers joyfully, though sadly send their own students off to college I cannot imagine what it must be like to do so knowing that one of the two who should remain is gone forever.

  2. Mark and Robin, I can not understand the type of silence that you are experiencing but as we send the last two off at our house and our version of the quiet envelops us, I’ll be reminded to pray for you. When Kendall and Jenna stopped by to say hello the other day in my classroom, I was painfully aware that there should have been another along with them. Empty quiet is the worst.

    1. Empty quiet is the worst. And I don’t minimize the natural silence of the empty nest. If all things had gone perfectly for us, that would have been tough for Robin and me too.

    1. That is very interesting. Thank you for sharing and I appreciate your rebuttal. I see the good in teaching even in the worst of circumstances. There is a joy in learning and if a child is inclined toward math or robotics I’m sure the fire to learn is there even to the end.

  3. I’m sorry. Yes, I do understand. Your equation is true. Unbalanced ( due to sad) but very true.
    So Well done, that its’ made me try to think of you a worthy reply.

    After my 2nd son left to study & work in the city 8 hours drive south, i felt like this…..
    g (1p * v) + 1t 2far x 1,000)

    t= temporarily removed.

    These past 5 years since, I have lived with & cared for my lovely elderly parents (although my mother has been still doing a huge lot of the family caring really, & ive been like a child back home in some ways)

    On August 2nd, my warm, ever optomistic & loving Dad died. It was quite sudden really, only a few days in hospital and he was gone. Well, of course I hope he found Tamzin my firstborn son, who I’m sure you’ve heard me mention several times before. Now it’s just my lovely Mother & I in our big too quiet house.

    My inspiration for telling you about my losing my Dad so recently, came to me from your words….

    “I am the daddy”

    Yes you are always the precious daddy of your beautiful 4.

    So important always. So needed. So loved. Stay safe and well for your beautiful family.

    And (I think I remember what Kylie said)….”snuggle Mommy”

    Written across the world and sent with Love to you 6 💛💛💛💛💛💛

    Tamzin’s Mum,
    Kriss xxx

  4. I wish God gave us a way to shift the load you bear over to me periodically. I would without reluctance carry for your family to be free for 1+ hours of this grief that you can never be without! Our love to you and Robin as you seek a new normal. May God Bless you and keep you in his arms, help you to feel his presence and know there are so many that care deeply for you.

  5. Mark, you are a very manly man because you are a husband & daddy first. I am sorry your house is quiet before its normal time. I am sorry that forever math equation will remain true no matter the family situation. Thank you for sharing your nheart’s thoughts!

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