That Which Doesn’t Kill Us…

It’s that time of year again, and we’re off to a roaring start. My first-born started high school and an all-honors curriculum, and football 5 days a week. He does all his own work without help from us – a blessing and a curse since I have no idea what he’s learning unless I ask. Now a high school freshman, he is still a mathematical wizard. And thank God he is, because if 5thgrade math doesn’t kill me, then Honors Geometry would.

In math I am the furthest from genius that one human being can be.  Math is the reason I missed the honor roll in high school 3 years running.  My freshman year in college, I took the core math course and was relieved to earn a “D.”  That is, until I decided to transfer and learned that “Ds” do not.  At NYU, I was placed in a course called Mathematical Thinking, the prerequisite to the actual requirement.  Clearly the administrators didn’t know that thinkingwas the real problem from day one. And then… I passed this class with an “A.”  And still don’t know how I did it.

For my daughter math has been pretty straightforward.  Until last year.  It seems math has taken a reckless turn down Common Core Boulevard and – if you didn’t already know this – it’s a dark but bustling road filled with potholes and littered with pictures and coins and decimal points, where one wrong turn will make you feel like you’ve fallen down the rabbit hole.  And the best part?  We, the parents, are enlisted to help guide our children through this abandoned mine field.  Why not just drop us in the middle of Afghanistan without a map and wish us luck getting to a safe border?

Homework with Ava always begins something like this:  “Mom, I neeeeedhelp.” 

Me: (Sigh) Okay.  Why don’t you try it on your own first and then we’ll look at it together?

A:  But, I don’t get it.

The teachers sent home a math packet called Partners for Student Success, so that us “partners” will know the basic concepts being taught this year.  I flipped through the pages.  Things look familiar in a way that doesn’t twist my panties too much.  Some of the stuff makes my mouth go dry, but I’m sure it’s just PTSD. But see – that’s where common sense ends. The packet does not review what they were taught today, in step-by-step format. No, we have to find this on the school website under “Mathematics” and then under “Grade 5” and then click on “Podcasts” and THEN try to figure out which one will help us through today’s impending hailstorm.

So, I have been reduced to relearning the very subject that I am now 84.7% sure is the root cause of my “anxiety disorder – unspecified,” just so I can teach it to my daughter who obviously is either sleeping through these classroom lessons or suffers from boyfriend deficit disorder. It’s positively maddening helping her with homework. I don’t know why I bother, but every day I have to ask, did you learn this today in class? Which is always answered the same way…. Yes, but I don’t remember!  

And so yesterday I watched the podcast on problems like this: 2.567 x 10⁴. Ava got all pissy with me because I had to watch it all the way through and said – are you ready for this? – she said, we already learned this! Let’s just say by this time it was 5 o’clock somewhere and she’s lucky she was the one holding the pencil. Again feeling my pulse quicken and my nerve endings tingle, I took a slow and deliberate deep breath and calmly reminded her that I don’t have the luxury of sitting in on her lessons and that if she wants my help, I’m going to have to watch this so Iunderstand. Otherwise, she’ll have to figure it out on her own. I handled it exactly the way Todd would have, were he actually home to pass the buck to and not out until after bedtime subbing for a fellow bowler, without emotion or a raised voice. And it worked!

But who really cares how I handled it. The burning question is, after asking if I’m the only parent who actually watches these podcasts, was I able to solve the equation? At the risk of disappointing my brothers and sisters united against the Common Core, I must admit that I DID. And, don’t tell anyone, but it wasn’t all that hard. Now, explaining to her why the decimal point is there instead of here… nope. Not a chance.

I’m finishing this post now after having spent 34 minutes trying to explain to her how to solve 2.9 x 10 to the 4th power, my hands are still trembling and I’m wondering whether anyone at cheer practice would smell tequila if I started drinking now. There’s this lovely little chart that looks like this:   (ignore the scribble)

Skip the following paragraph if you suffer from math anxiety and low tolerance for bullshit.

She didn’t know how to use the chart. I suggested she pencil in 2.9 on the chart in the correct places. Then I told her to count 4 spaces to the left (denoting the power of 4) because the number will be bigger, not smaller, if you’re multiplying. Now, I asked her to write the number 2 on the fourth space. What number does it become now? 20,000, she said. Good. Now, what’s the next number after 2? Zero?  No, what is the number next to the 2? Four? Wait, ten? Where DOES one proceed with this? 

We finally got to the correct answer, and she wanted to do more for practice. If you can’t already tell, this didn’t go well either. Sometimes I wonder if she does this just for the attention. Either way, I’m starting to have very unpleasant flashbacks to home schooling. That was hell in a nutshell, and I still have the scars of failed science projects and artwork gone terribly wrong.

If you’re looking for me tonight, I’ll be drowning my exponents in margaritas. My expressions will be in expanded form with no variables until I can’t function.
Good night ya’ll.

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