Yes. I am a certain age that requires reading glasses not only to read, but to pluck coarse black evil looking hairs from my chin. Yes it is true that my daily need for calculus may be slightly diminished like a favorite picture collecting dust on your mantle. I don’t remember higher math, but I do remember being one of the nerdier girls who look great pleasure in figuring out a proof, a derivative, remembering all the small pieces hiding the the elegance of a singular equation.
I think it was the infinite rightness of the answers that drove my patience and let me hover over problems for hours. Yes, I like to write. Yes writing was a perfectly decorated cupcakes while math was checking the basement furnace, cluncky, darker, harder to talk about, harder to share. But I liked them both. For me, one inspired a group of answers from my soul (english) and the other demanded just a difficult discipline of my mind. That there was something soothing in a room where proofs worked, doing something correctly mattered, a right answer was always just slow ardent moments away. Doing math problems was the closest I ever was to being in a sorority, which would have been called the Patient Curious Sorority of Fairly Ugly Footwear, but I loved being in it that way I loved chocolate, sprinkles a sunset and all the other things that make the world seem magic.
So imagine my surprise when I gave birth to a math phobic son. As a mother, as a friend, wife, any close contact, we want to share our love for the mysteries of the world.He was an articulate kid. His first “word” was an order to pull off the road and give him a bottle which he had been patiently waiting during the miles we were driving in a new town trying to get our bearings.
So one day in sixth grade, this same orator of orators, AP bolstered humanities, presented to me a well thought out bullet proof example why long math was a redundant waste of his time. “If I know how to divide the first four times, and add and subtract, what if I make a stupid error at the end? The whole problem is wrong.
I listened. I wish I could tell you I was amazed at the reason and eloquence of his arguments. But my silence wasn’t colored with the rosy sheen of pride, it was a messy sticky loop of spider webs that I couldn’t get off my fingers.
Math not interesting? Math not important? Half of a math problem was good enough? I was silent which they took as success. but….
We were in my van. He had an audience. Two younger brothers looking up through my rear view mirror with the delightful knowledge that I had been bested. Looking at the oldest as if he was superman and now they wouldn’t suffer the mean time soaking elements of math. They were already changing schedules to play more gun games and other video games.
But silence does always not confirm consent.
I drove off the road and stopped the car. Three unblemished foreheads puckered with concern. This was unusual even more me. There wasn’t a sound except the cars rushing past us.
“Well…” said the oldest, only slightly rattled that he had missed something in his perfect argument….
“Well,” I said in my neutral of tones, You just ran into a tree. Math teaches forced attentiveness. Hidden math problems exist throughout our life. Patience, correctness, little steps matter…. I could go on.
And like anything, it’s not the answer but how you got it. How hard are you working? Can you overcome your fear?
Math is one of the few things even a helicoper mother can’t do, unless she does the homework. We do live in a world that is sometimes unfair (10 digit problems), and difficult,
but if we spend the time and avoid the trees, we get to our goals not only safely but better for our effort.