Math problem:

3  boys are going back to school. They are 13, 10 and 8 years old. 

2 go to 1 school and 1 goes to another school. 

Each boy holds their own personality, disposition, temperament and gifts. 

They have a mom and a dad, and other family nearby. They have been mostly with their family this summer, and occasionally friends. 

If you add 1 teacher and 24 students to each of the younger two boys, and 7 teachers, 4 coaches, and 150 students to the oldest boy, can you predict what kind of school year each boy will have?

Show your work.

This is what story problems looked like to me when I was in my school years. Once you got to a certain grade, math went from practice pages full of equations and times tests to one page with four “story problems” and a bonus question.

Math has never been even close to easy for me. I would gladly spend hours with books, art supplies, pencils, papers thesauruses and workbooks (yes really). Math left me with an upset stomach, anxiety to spare and the lingering feeling that has followed me into adulthood that I wasn’t smart.

If something comes easy to you, it’s because it is literally natural, you are built to do that thing, whatever it is. We can see that most clearly demonstrated in sports, there are people for whom sprinting or passing or dribbling just makes sense. It is an extension of their very being. You know it when you see it. 

There  are others, too,  who may have the passion for a sport but little to no natural talent. They may work and dream for countless hours hoping to perform at a high skill level, but the accumulative waterfall of time and attention without results can quickly douse any flame.

Brain research has surged in recent years, be we aren’t quite yet able to take a look into someones brain to see where it lights up, how fluidly the neurons travel, what synapses are strongest and diagnose, treat, prescribe quick answers.

Add the complexity of thoughts, feelings, behavior, nutrition, living situation,well, if you are looking to unlock any one individual’s potential, you have a very long night of homework ahead of you.

It is all of these things I think about in the beginning of the year. I pray for and deeply desire my boys to have years that build them and do not ruin them. So every fall, I always want the first day of school to be the way I think it needs to be to help them start off on the right foot.

But that would mean that I had spent the past week prepping; cleaning up the halls and stairway and homework desk area; packed up backpacks and organized lunch ideas; purchased the perfect back to school cards for my boys; sarcastic for Haden, cute but slightly inappropriate for Liam and silly/cute/deep for Finn. 

I would have reread all the articles and blog posts and info-graphs I pinned about Meyers-Briggs and kids and birth order and love languages and not to mention first day of school signs to hold up for Instagram perfect pictures. 

I would have made a detailed list and shopped for ingredients for their after-school snacks and a first day of school healthy dinner that everyone would devour while they traded first day of school stories.

There would be nerves, and I would have already done the self-care preparation I needed to do so that I could be truly present for my boys, and I would say exactly what they needed to hear in the best tone of voice for each of them. 

I would glide into school with them, calmly settle them with their respective teachers, deliver a punny teacher gift, and have a sweet hug goodbye and then end up at Starbucks with a crowd of other like-minded moms from the school for a short treat for myself before heading back home to finish up the last few household chores I had left before prepping for their triumphant return.

So when I say that isn’t exactly how it always goes, or how it ended up this year, you are not surprised. 

Even I’m not surprised at the result, only surprised that I expect things and myself to be somehow so idealized. 

I want to be that me I dreamed up I would be, but reality is, that no matter how much I want it, the proof is in my already completed work.

There is this “new math”, as we like to call it in my state, which I can describe to you quite simply:  It attempts to build a solid foundation in the how math works, so that any higher math will make sense.

Also most parents can’t help with their kids math homework; not because of a fault of the schools, just a pendulum swing in teaching theory that means how I learned math growing up is on the entire opposite end of what my children are learning. I can’t think of what angle I would be using to illustrate this.

Lucky for me, my husband is infinitely better at the matics of math than me, teaches high school math, and through generous genetic gifting my boys grasp math without much extra effort. In fact, they claim math as one of their favorite subjects (that is, if forced to give an answer beyond A. Lunch, B. Recess, C. PE.)

So this year, as in years past, my three will almost assuredly fly through the equations that are written for them to decipher, and given they need help, I can call in Mr. Math to assist. Because I really am interested in what my kids are learning, undoubtedly I’ll continue to learn more about numbers the way that might have made math easier for me to keep, instead of throw away.

But what about them, the three boys, 13, 10 and 8 years of age? 

All unique arrangements of DNA, learning with other children who carry their own array of genetics, together with teachers and other adults, most of who really care about teaching kids, for nine months?

It’s always the question on the back of the math problems worksheet that stumps me, the bonus question. I can look at it and think on it, but there never appears to be a definitive answer. 

It stumps me because mostly, it scares me. 

To take my three pieces of my heart and let go of their hands (or wave to the back of the oldest), takes a large whithdrawl on my lifetime courage savings account. 

But I do it. Knowing that teachers are human, other children come from better or harder home environs, and school climate, while not perhaps the perfect incubator for growing minds, can become a community where kids learn how to function in a society of differences.

And really, this problem has some holes, it’s a bit of a trick question. It’s way beyond numbers and isn’t something that can be worked down to a single answer. It’s my worst math nightmare. The one that you scribble an answer that you hope is close to what it really is, and wait anxiously for your grade.

What I didn’t know when I was working endlessly frustrating math worksheets was that there would be somethings in adult life (which looked so appealing) that would challenge me, defeat me, surprise me, grow me (but all grown-ups have it together, right?) and flat out wreck me.

Life in the past month has provided more than enough material for me. It has subtracted where I though I was going to have addition. It has multiplied issues that I had expected to be divided and conquered. And then taken some situations down to a fraction of what I had estimated. 

I didn’t like math. Not even a little. I find it difficult, frustrating and a drag on my soul and time now. 

But part of what parenting has driven me to see is that, I can’t avoid the hard things. 

If I truly want to show my boys love, and even more, how to live love, then I have to let them see me dislike things, make mistakes, (even confess some of the huge ones), and still do them as best I can, and when I fail, to do what must be done (and it’s usually really uncomfortable) to walk through the mess to find another way, a better way.

So, enough procrastinating, I have to finish this homework and get back to my home-work (bleh). The only real way I know how to answer what I can do to ensure a healthy year for my boys is this:

1. Keep re-reading the question for understanding. 

2.Call on help and ask for answers when zero things make sense. 

3.Don’t get stuck trying to graph invisible, what-if problems on a chart. 

4. When tangents and undefined slopes appear,  do not ever think you don’t have what it takes to conquer them.

All of this plus a necessary sense of humor, and the sum is found simply in the circumference of your heart.


8 thoughts on “Pop-Quiz

  1. Julia Putzke says:

    I hated math. I hated working a problem over and over and over and being like: 😭 it’s amazing to me how I got through pre-algebra in high school. I know it was because the teacher literally took time out to make sure I understood it. This also makes me see how much I love learning one on one. And plus this teacher made math fun to learn. And gave me a gold star when I finally did get higher than I think a D. Thanks for bringing up a good memory πŸ™‚

    And if you want to learn math for your boys to engage with them alittle more, and even just for you, I think I got something that will help ❀️

    Liked by 1 person

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