Monday, December 16, 2013

Algebra: A Weapon of Math Destruction

I am something of a Renaissance woman.  That is to say, I work full-time, am successfully raising two exemplary short people, and still find time to have an active social life.  While these are all good things individually, combined they leave me more exhausted than Rosie O'Donnell bending over to tie her shoes.  I know they say you can't "have it all", but to that I call bullshit.  Here in the good ol' U.S. of Type-A we can have anything we want if we work hard enough!  Except, in my case, a working knowledge of basic math.

This wasn't always the case with me.  I was fine with math until the alphabet got all up in that business, at which point my brain hit the wall harder than Amanda Bynes trying to find the toilet at the Viper Room.  I do believe that the knowledge is in there somewhere, and I believe that if I can find a neural pathway that hasn't been damaged by years of reality TV and Turning Leaf Chardonnay, I CAN learn math.*

*Of course, I also believe that dogs walk on their hind legs when we aren't around and that Nathan Fillion secretly reads my blog.

Unfortunately for me, my number "smarts" are not yet at a workable level.  And of greater misfortune, my short people now have math assignments with X's and Y's and squiggly arrows that make me more confused than Jessica Simpson on "Celebrity Jeopardy".  So, they come home each day, red-cheeked and ambitious, pull their binders from their backpacks and ask the age-old question, "Mommy, can you help me with my homework?"*

*SPOILER ALERT:  The answer is "no".

Don't get me wrong, I'm all about supporting education and that our children are our future, and shit like that; but at the end of the day, when I think about something hard I want to slam down on my kitchen table and do until I'm satisfied, algebra ain't it.  Last night the boys and I sat down with their assignments and after fifteen minutes of squinting, muttering, and more eyebrow raising than Spock watching a "Girls Gone Wild" video, I admitted defeat.

"Should we call Poppo?"  my son J. asked.

"Yes!"  I cried.  "Wait. . .no.  I don't want your grandpa to know that his hard earned money paid my tuition so I could drink wine coolers at the Theta Chi house."

"What about Brandon?"  J.  mused.

I snorted.  "Dude, his knowledge of math makes me look like freaking Good Will Hunting. Try again."

J. tilted his head in thought, then beamed.  "I know!  We can call Coulson!"

I shook my head solemnly.  "Good idea, Sweetie, but we just aren't at the stage of our relationship where I'm ready for Coulson to know that I'm functionally retarded."

J. threw his hands in the air in frustration.  "Well, then what am I supposed to do?"  he whined.  "YOU'RE no help!"

He had a valid point.  When it comes to math, I am no help.  If you need someone to write an essay, memorize historical facts, or analyze statistical data, I'm your gal.  And even though my grasp of science is shakier than an IKEA bookshelf, I can still fake it like a whore when the rent is due.  But math?  No.  Just. . .no.  But part of that, I believe, is that I tend to stumble through life like a drunken blind man, navigating obstacles as they arise and trying to maintain appearances and as such, I am a master at the art of bullshit.  And sadly, bullshit has no place in math.  In math, everything is black and white and even though Cady Herron astutely avows that "the limit does not exist" there are hard fast rules and finite limits in math.*

*You have to speak fluent "Mean Girls" to hang with me.  Oh!  And on Wednesdays?  We wear pink.

The bottom line is: math makes the rules.  If educational subjects were like high school, then math would be the nerd getting bullied by English and P.E., only to come back with an AK-47 and open fire on Social Studies and Chemistry behind the bleachers.  You may knock it down but it will ultimately come back to kick your ass.  So, thus emboldened, I took J.'s math book in hand and gave it another go.  And once again, the information was about as well-received as Paula Deen at the Apollo Theater and I found myself feeling a little like this:

"Sorry, Kid."  I sighed, handing the book back to my son.  "But, hey!  Education isn't everything!  There's no shame in being a carny; the circus life is a grand and venerable profession."

Of course, J., being my son, refused to budge and continued drilling me like he was EXXON and I was an Alaskan oil field.

"Seriously, Mommy?"  he finally sighed.  "I'm eleven. . .you're, like, what?  Fifty?  And you have a Master's Degree!"

"But not in math!"  I cried defensively.*

*And for the record, I am only 43. . .smarmy little bastard.

J. raised his eyebrows and stared me down.  "Mommy, just because your degree is in Special Education does not mean you can act like you have a learning disability."*

*Well played.

"J. look at this!" I argued, pointing at the math problem in question.  "It has X's, and Y's, and. . .and. . .more zeroes than San Diego ComiCon!  I can't WORK with this!"

With a disappointed shake of his blond head, J. took back his book and started walking out of the room.

"I'm calling Poppo!"  he called over his shoulder.  "Which fraternity did you say you were drinking wine coolers at?"







Pat said...

Big props to J for the very astute observation regarding your choice of degree. A kid that smart obviously doesn't REALLY need help with his math homework. Probably just faking it to make you feel needed.

April said...

ooooh I feel your pain. And Karma smacked me a big one by giving me not one, but TWO children placed in gifted math. Sweetie, I couldn't do that shit when *I* was in the 7th grade. Let alone now when you're in super multiple letters, numbers, franctions, math. Thankfully my kids already know the answer to help with math problems. Google. Ask Google.

Tova said...

Ask me! I speak mean girls and algebra!

Jenna said...

i offer up myself and my husband to help. He understands math and I understand him.

Jennifer Clark said...

I, too, am an epic failure in algebra. And I do mean epic. (Incidentally, I use algebra every day in my job right after wasn't *called* algebra) You have other skills you bring to the table, Jen. Like you imperic knowledge of all thing Nathan Million. Oh, and speaking of tasty morsels, Jeremy Renner is in a forth coming firm titled "American Hustle". Christian Bale, Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Adam, Bradley Cooper.

J needs to check out Well explained lessons in all sorts of stuff. Our kids use it, especially for maths.

beatofmydrum said...

I'm on the tail end of my bachelor and am having to do maths are part of the GRE to get into my masters in the good ol' US of A.

Mother. Fucking. Bullshit. I study music for fucks sake. NOT ALGEBRA!

beatofmydrum said...

Also, and

Much love

Heather Daniel said...

Dear Math - your ex if not coming back. Stop asking me to find her. And I am not a psychologist, solve your own problems. My two favorite math quotes. I was good at math for awhile but then I got better =0 And from what I remember before nearly flunking chemistry - it was mostly math. My short person is also pretty good at math, I dread the days when she asks for help in algebra, as she'll get no help from me! Oh, and if I ever come across Mr. NaterTater, I plan to photo bomb him with twine, just for you =)

Laura said...

Ok. This made me laugh. Thank you Jen. About 10 years ago my oldest was enrolled in Algebra 1. I am a finance person at a place that shall remain nameless. I figured I work with formulas all day noooo problemoooo.... UH.. What? No. Turns out EXCEL is smart. I am not.

So I went to the teacher and said ok what help can my child get at school... cuz this makes NOOOO sense to me and I cannot afford a tutor. Oh have her come in before and after school. I'll help. OH by the way.... why would you think you could do this... it's a completely different math than you were taught...

I walked away feeling ok about this conversation until I hit the parking lot - where my brain began to work again... see I needed to be OUT of the building.

1) Was she calling me old? It's not like dinosaurs roamed the earth when I was in school (the 80's) for god sakes. Wait did I just say the 80's?
2) Is it possible she knows how much alcohol I've consummed and brain cells I've killed since the 80's? I am certain there are letters and squiggles in that calculation.
3) HOW IS MATH DIFFERENT FROM THE 80's. Is 2 + 2 no longer 4?


Valerie said...

There's nothing more upsetting than fifth grade math.




Jennifer Clark said...

Dear beatofmydrum-

I, too, was a music major. We only need to count to 8, fer cryin' out loud! Do not ask me anything more complicated than that.....