Talking Story

mathI hate math. My suspicions that the numbers game is rigged happened when Mr. Waters, my sixth grade teacher, taught us that a negative times a negative equaled a positive, clearly the most counter-intuitive idea ever.

I stuck with math through algebra and geometry until I hit a wall my senior year in calculus. After that, I avoided manipulating numbers. I barely scrapped by in required college stats classes where the biggest concept I learned was the truth of Mark Twain’s assertion that there are lies, damn lies, and statistics. I’d add politics to his list, but it’s not that kind of blog.

Before higher mathematics completely derailed any ideas of a career in physics or chemistry, I had hope that it would all make sense again, that some teacher would pop up like a cardboard character in a Monty Python sketch and say, “Just kidding! You were right all along! Here’s how it really works!” But the joke’s on me.

Back when I had faith that the light at the end of the tunnel wasn’t a train, algebra felt like a logic puzzle I could unlock, tumbling the Xs and Ys into solvable combinations as long as I played along with the wink-wink negative number story. I’d enjoyed geometry with its angles and planes and complimentary numbers that added to 360, the top-secret-insiders-only key to calculating right angles, building the pyramids, thin-walled cathedrals, and all that jazz.

I’ve retained enough math to balance a checkbook, to figure out how much square footage of carpet, sod, or paint to order, and to convert store discounts from percentages to dollars. Beyond that I’m pretty useless.

Which makes it tough when I’ve been the homework go to guy for so long and now I can’t help my son. I don’t tell him he’s taking the same math class as a high school freshman I took as a senior or that I hit the same conceptual wall he did and never found a way over.

I tell him to ask his Dad.

They’re sitting at the kitchen table as I type, heads bent and pencils scratching, working through cosins of imaginary numbers to calculate the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin. I hear laughs and smacking high-fives when their answers match the back of the book. From now on Spanish and math are Dad’s domain; as Mom I can only watch from the sidelines and remind my son of deadlines and tests, a secretary’s role at best.

Better get used to it.

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