Are prime number birthdays special?

prime number birthdays

Prime number birthdays should be the same as all other birthdays. So common sense tells me. There’s probably nothing special about those years which are divisible only by one and themselves. But experience tells me differently. It seems to me that prime number birthdays and the years that follow often possess special magic. I’m curious to know if this happens for others?

Some facts about prime numbers

These numbers fascinate me. You may already know about them. But some, like me, may not have thought about them much.

  • Prime numbers are numbers which are divisible only by themselves and the number one.
  • Complicated information and debate that I don’t understand says the number 1 is not a prime number.
  • More prime numbers occur in the earlier decades than later.
  • Prime numbers go to infinity.
  • They are always odd numbers (because even numbers can be divided by 2)
  • And they never end in 5 because numbers which end in 5 are always divisible by 5.
  • There’s no pattern to the way they occur.
  • This list might be handy if you have trouble with maths: 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23, 29, 31, 37, 41, 43, 47, 53, 59, 61, 67, 71, 73, 79, 83, 89, 97.
  • If we live to be 100 years of age, exactly one quarter of our birthdays will be prime number birthdays.
Prime number chart

Mathematical difficulties

From childhood, maths and I have not sat easily together. I learned to read with ease and read with fervour. But maths? Well not so much. Times tables were a foreign language and the cause of constant admonishment through my school life.

To compensate, I told myself stories about numbers. That way they became somewhat manageable. They obviously had their own personalities and interacted in ways I could explain to myself.

For example, 5 was my favourite. She was a girl, and I loved her sharp top angles followed by a rounded bottom. The boyish 7, so angular, played with 5. They liked being together but hated having to look after the baby 2. Sometimes 5 and 7 ran away from the others and had adventures.

Prime numbers appealed to me. I seemed to know as much about them as anybody else (not very much) and I didn’t stand out as ignorant.

Difficulty with maths resembles dyslexia and is called dyscalculia.

Dyscalculia (adult)

My inability to perform mathematical tasks diminished as I matured. Or maybe I ignored maths unless absolutely necessary. By some miracle, I completed the maths needed to graduate as a registered nurse. Somewhere in my career I also completed units in statistics. And learned to develop and administer quite large budgets in my later working years.

These days, I’m good at working out which size container will be right for leftovers and my ability to cut exact amounts of butter for recipes gives me a feeling of accomplishment. Both of those skills took ages to acquire! One of my daughters spent ages coaching me. She says that I never learned the language of mathematics and that made it more difficult to learn what I needed to.

Symptoms of dyscalculia

Typical symptoms of dyscalculia in adults include

  • Difficulty counting backwards
  • Difficulty remembering ‘basic’ facts
  • Slow to perform calculations
  • Weak mental arithmetic skills
  • A poor sense of numbers and estimation
  • Difficulty in understanding place value
  • Addition is often the default operation
  • High levels of mathematics anxiety
  • Inability to remember phone numbers
  • Ditto to memorise a bank account or credit card number.

Birthday No. 83

My 83rd birthday last week got me thinking, again, about prime numbers. My birthday at the beginning of the month always gets into the mix of important events. You can read about them in this blog, November nevers seems normal.

As eighty-three loomed, I felt dread and a little anxiety. Such an age! ‘Too soon to go there,’ I thought. There’s no escaping the knowledge that an 83-year-old is OLD. Even, perhaps, old-old.

The day unravelled perfectly. Breakfast with a daughter, granddaughters on their way to work and great-grandchildren before school. Loving phone-calls, cards, emails and Facebook greetings. Visitors later. A call from my sea-faring son to say he’d flown into Perth during previous night, and was safe in hotel quarantine. Dinner with John at a romantic French restaurant where food was amazing and the staff spoiled us. A fun birthday and celebrations that went on for days!

My prime number birthdays

It may be coincidence, but prime number birthdays mostly work well for me and are often memorable. Here are some highlights.

CHILDHOOD

  • 3 and the gift of an amazing doll called ‘Bubbles’ that I loved to bits, even if I did knock her front tooth out trying to force feed her with a sultana. When it seemed I was too old to play with dolls, I learned to sew and knit by making clothes for her. I patched the hole in her chest while I was at it.
  • 5 and a book, The Way of the Whirlwind by Mary and Elizabeth Durack. So beautiful and disturbing. Fifty years later, alone on a twilit road in the desert, confronted by three whirlwinds bearing down on my vehicle, I remembered that book and birthday. Five also heralded the beginning of school, which I loved.
Way of the Whirlwind
  • At 17, my life took an unexpected turn when I began my hard apprentice-ship training as a nurse. This meant escape from office work which I loathed and the opportunity to live independently in the nurses quarters. It forced me to grow up quickly. Nursing became the basis of my life-long, multi-faceted career.

AS AN ADULT

  • 23 and the birth one September morning of my first child, daughter, Jenny. The first of many precious babies and my life as a mother. The scent of wisteria floated into my hospital room, forever mixed with the wonder of that day and the beauty of my baby.
  • 37 seemed such a good year and a good age. I decided I’d be 37 for a while, but an astute child worked out, two or three years later, that I could not still be 37. Bummer! That was the year that perhaps my achievements included stopping smoking.
  • By 47, I’d grown and matured. The year before had been one of those incredibly difficult times we all experience. Friends and family supported me through dark days. That year, I gave myself a birthday party to say thank you to them. A joyful, riotous breakfast in a Perth hotel. They threw us out at 11 am to prepare for lunch, and we gravitated to my house…
  • 53, my first overseas travel, to Thailand, and the holiday of my life with my sister, Elizabeth Worts. I acquired a taste for travel, and followed up with a stint at Jigalong, in the Pilbara, working and living on an Aboriginal community.
  • 61, I accidentally bought Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. After working through the book diligently, my life changed again. I became determined to fulfil a life-long dream to be a writer, and also to be a full-time university student.

The list goes on…

Maybe they’re not magic. But over half of my prime number birthdays have been outstanding in their own ways. Eighty three, the newest adventure, promises to be a good one.

Join the Conversation

14 Comments

  1. Dear Sister. You are so funny! We are so different it’s a wonder we can even talk to each other let alone enjoy being together for an hour or a few days! Love you to bits!
    Ps you didn’t mention you were born in a prime number year.

    1. I didn’t think that was a funny blog, dear Elizabeth! I was deadly serious when I wrote it. We’re different, and perhaps that’s what makes it so much fun to be with you. can talk about so many interesting things and enjoy doing things together. We’re also quite similar in lots of important ways.

      PS 1937 is not a prime number because it can be divided by 1, 13 and 149. I didn’t work that out myself but Googled it. Mxx

    1. Thank you for your lovely comment, Susan. I actually thought that prime numbers were important for everyone. I imagine the next year will be as flawed and messed up as 2020, but I’m hoping I’ll be better at dealing with it. But then, of course, I’ll hope and dream about it the same as I usually do. I’ll keep you posted!

  2. I just noticed that we three siblings are all having prime number years this year 83,79,71

    1. How amazing is that, Peter? Even with my limited mathematical ability (Haha) I would happily bet that the combination would be very rare. Thanks for your comment.

  3. Well … I think I certainly must fall in the dyscalculia class – whatever that means? !! Whilst my pathetic maths skills resulted in my not understanding half of your blog, dear friend, I do admire, as always, the way you put things in the listed place. thank you once again and always know i think of you with fondness on your birthday whether they be primary or not!!

    1. Oh, dear Elizabeth, how lucky I am to have you as a friend! I worked so hard to show off the little maths I know and it still didn’t make sense. Dyscalculia means the same as dyslexia, except it refers to being unable to cope with numbers and maths. Thank you for always remembering my birthday. I feel loved.

  4. Happy birthday!

    I can honestly say I have not given prime numbers a single thought ever!

    When I passed my adult maths exam I thought they must have made a mistake! Though I have to say I worked extremely hard to achieve it. I would never pass it today having forgotten all I learnt. But. I am good at remembering phone numbers, that said, we no longer have the need for remembering phone numbers as we just save them all to our phone contacts.

    1. Thank you for your kind wishes, Sue.

      Yes, I think ‘knowing’ numbers has become redundant, what with calculators and devices that remember the numbers we need. Much to be grateful for in the modern world!

  5. A delightful post again Maureen
    Such a colourful and interesting way to talk about Math and the Prime Number Birthdays
    I will say one thing, math may not be your strongest suite but your creative writing / language skills are outstanding and your attitude to life is inspirational.

    1. Thank you on all counts, Tricia. I’m glad you liked my post about one of my weaknesses. It’s a bit of a family joke, that I can’t do numbers! I’ve had to learn to live with it and make a bit of a joke of it. I guess if I thought maths mattered all that much, I’d have made a bit more effort. Now I’ve got better things to do!

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: