Friday, October 03, 2014

I Got Problems

I always have been and always will be a words kinda gal. I love the sound of words, the beauty of them on paper and how they sound when spoken. I love the power behind them, the things they can accomplish, the feelings they can evoke. Numbers just can’t do that. Numbers are solid, logical, tangible… and insanely frustrating. Words can’t always be captured by the voice and have many different meanings to many different people. The number five is always going to equal the number five. But say any word – any word you can think of – to five different people and it will likely be interpreted five different ways. 

Numbers are just not the primary language spoken by my brain. It took from 3rd grade to 6th grade before I could finally do multiplication without breaking out into a cold sweat. I took Algebra I my Freshman year and passed it by the skin of my teeth. I started my Sophomore year in Algebra II and after one week of that nonsense I marched into Mr. Lippe’s office with arms crossed, determined look on my face, demanding that he remove me at once from that vile class and put me into something else, anything else. He moved me over to Business Math, a class I passed with an A. I went on to end my high school math career with Accounting I and II, passing both with A’s. It’s not that I can’t do math, it’s that I just prefer not to. The add/subtract/multiply/divide kind of math is do-able. Please do not put letters in there. That’s where it gets all jumbly – like a really sick and twisted can of algebra soup.

Last year our son made it through Algebra I with a resounding A at the end of the year. The program we use is computer-based, thorough, and very easy to understand, but starting out this year in Algebra II has been challenging to say the least. He suffers from the same phenomenon I do: Mathematical Amnesia. If I learn a math concept I can do it all day long. But if I sleep? You can forget about me remembering a dadgum thing the next day.

I’ve been learning Algebra II right along with him this year, a task that has gotten easier in my old age – a fact I find very strange considering I have maternal oatmeal brain and am on medication for nerve pain that messes with my memory. This past week they introduced “distance” word problems. One might think I, a word person, could do word problems. One would be wrong. Oh. So. Wrong.  I loathe word problems. They never, ever make sense to me.  “If Bob is on a subway car traveling at 15mph and Douglas is on a rocket ship to Mars traveling at 27mph, how long will it take the two of them to create a macramé sculpture of the Mona Lisa using only their toes?” That’s how I interpret every single word problem I ever encounter.

It took my son and me nearly 30 minutes to figure out a particularly difficult problem one day and when we eventually got it right, you should’ve seen the high-fiving and hollering that was executed right there at the dining room table. Then we got into my secret stash of chocolate. And soon after that he decided that college didn’t seem like a real fun option for him after all and “homeless street person” sounded safely math-free. I patted his leg, handed him another Reese’s Cup and said, “Or you could always just homeschool your own kids, son. And learn it at 41 like I am.”

I’m really not looking forward to telling my husband that our soon-to-be-homeless son won’t be blessing us with grandchildren. 

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Originally published in The Miami News-Record, July 2020 Everything is different now. I’m not just talking about masks and social distancing...