Circle Time


Well, yes dear. That certainly is a set of more than 6 circles. Now if only you had applied the same creativity and extra effort to your writing homework…



“Well??!!” he exclaimed. “I was trying to use all those words!”

“Ok, so maybe you try ‘I was at home and then I went to school, where I saw my teacher and gave her an apple. Then I saw my principal…” I started.

“Who had a monkey on his shoulder!” my husband added in.

“And that monkey handed me a book to read! It was the weirdest thing ever,” I finished. “Isn’t that a much more interesting story?”


“When they tell you to use all the words, it’s still ok and probably a good idea to use other words too, sweetheart.”

Gotta love first grade.

When Math And Awesome Aren’t Considered Synonymous

Jane and I had a conversation recently as she struggled with her math homework and I grew frustrated with what she didn’t understand.  I finally looked at her and said, “Honey, I’m sorry.  But you are not a math person.  I mean, you may do well in math sometimes.  You are in the Pre-AP class and you are making an A, but you just aren’t a math person.  That’s ok – I still love you.”

She shot back immediately with, “Mom, I’m sorry.  But you are not an awesome person.  I mean, you sometimes do awesome things.  Like, you married him.” She motioned to her father.  “And you gave birth to this.” At that, she shimmied her hands down her figure.  “But you just aren’t an awesome person.  That’s ok – I still love you.”

“She does, however, have an exceptional command of the English language,” my husband said with a smile.

“Yes, yes, she does,” I said, laughing.

This is a fascinating reality to me.  Ask anyone who knows us – she looks just like me.  I mean, she’s bigger.  Taller, bigger frame, fuller features.  But I could never deny her as mine.

She also talks incessantly.  Just like me.  And fails to guard her tongue when it would be best not to say something.  Just like me (although I’m finally starting to learn).  She can’t help giving her opinion, taking over, dominating a conversation.  Just. Like. Me.

She loves to read.  She writes very well.  Her eyes are blue.  She angers easily and has trouble letting it go.  Just like me.

But she’s not me.  She is definitely not me.  I get that and I’m ok with that.  But sometimes, in some areas, it’s still hard for me to wrap my mind around.  And this is one of them.

I loved math.  I mean, I dearly, obsessively, insanely loved math.  When we got to story problems, I consistently worked the unassigned problems in the book because I thought they were fun.  And since I had to know if I was right, I asked the teacher to check them.

Someone gave me a math calendar in early high school.  Each day of the year had a math problem whose answer was that day’s date.  I raced through the entire calendar during the Christmas break and carried it in my backpack when school resumed.  I had been baffled by the repeated appearance of a variable without enough information to solve.  It gnawed at me.

And then one day, my Algebra II teacher said, “Remember how we’ve always told you that you can’t take the square root of a negative number?  Well, we lied.  Meet ‘i’.”  At that, she wrote on the board that i equaled the square root of -1.

That’s all I needed.  I actually exclaimed out loud, “I!” and immediately began to rummage through my backpack.  I pulled the calendar out triumphantly and began to work all those unsolved problems, oblivious to both the instruction taking place and all the incredulous stares of my classmates.

To love something so dearly and have your children not share your passion is difficult.  And, quite frankly, confusing.  When growing up, I was used to most other students not sharing my love of problem solving.  But then I went to work as an engineer and I was surrounded by other people just like me.  Life made sense.

Then I had children.  And I wasn’t prepared to hear “I really don’t like math” or “this doesn’t make sense” or “why do I need to know this”.  Or  “none of the careers I’m interested in require any of the things I’m learning in Algebra I.”  Excuse me?  What’s that got to do with the price of tea in China?!

That’s what I got last night as I helped again with homework.  Maybe part of the problem is that I truly delight in trying to get her to *see* how it works.  And she’s not interested.  She just wants to plug the numbers and get an answer and put a box around it and call it good.

She’s still stubborn and overly certain that she’s right.  Which gets frustrating when she’s not.  She worked a problem and eventually got to “t=3”.

“So what’s t?” I asked.

“It’s 3,” she said.

“No, what are its units?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, what is it?  3 what?”

“It’s the distance that Claire ran.”

“No it’s not.”

“Yes it is.”

“No,” I said firmly.  “It’s not.  Look at your equations up there.  Claire was running 5mph, so 5t was the distance she ran, right?”


“So what’s t?”

“The distance she ran.”

“No!  That’s 5t.  What does t represent?”

“Miles.  She ran 3 miles.”


“Yes!  I know what I’m doing!  I’m right!  The problem asked for how far she ran and I got three.”

“No.  You are not right.  And just because the problem asked for distance doesn’t mean that’s what you solved for.  Listen to me.  I am an engineer.  I love math.  This is not challenging for me.  I know what I’m talking about.  So listen while I explain it.”

I still don’t get why she argues with me on these points.  I really don’t.  She eventually figured out what she was doing wrong and we moved on to another problem.  Where I promptly made a subtraction mistake as I worked the problem on the side.

She again insisted she was right.  I asked her to show me her work.  She did.  It looked right.  I checked mine, noticed my mistake, and affirmed that she was right.  She promptly and smugly mimicked my earlier comments.  I explained that the difference between the two of us was that she insisted she was right and refused to listen to me explain why she wasn’t, whereas I asked to see what she had done and saw that I was wrong.  And admitted it.

On that second problem, she had a division problem that resulted in an obviously wrong answer.  She eventually got it straightened out and came up with “x = 290.”  Again, I asked what x was.

“It’s time.”

“Ok, what units?”


“How do you know it’s in minutes?”

“Because that’s what the question asked for.  It said, ‘How many minutes?’.”

“That doesn’t mean anything.  That just means they want the answer in minutes.  It doesn’t mean the number you calculated was in minutes.  What if they gave you all the same information but asked for the time in hours?”

“She wouldn’t do that.”

“Oh?  You think so.  Why not?”

“Because she is trying to teach us.  She wouldn’t throw a trick in there like that.”

I disagreed but let it go.  Before long, we were on a problem where the rates of growth of some trees were given in inches per year and their heights in feet.  We both missed that detail even though the last statement in the problem was to pay attention to units.

She was comfortable with her answer and was prepared to move on.  I was bothered by the statement.  Why make that statement on this problem in particular when the units match up, just like all the others.  And then I realized that they didn’t match up.

“Oh! Ho!” I exclaimed in triumph.  “She did it to you!  She totally did to you what you insisted she wouldn’t do!  Look at the units!”

I know I shouldn’t take such glee in being right around my children.  But when you have really bright children who always think they are right, it’s hard not to.  It’s also hard to accept that you are alone in your love of numbers and problem solving.  Daryl is in line with Jane.  I guess I’ll have to hope that Hal, against all odds, will *get* it.

Doing the Math

“Mommy?” Hal asked, “Why can’t you buy a Transformers game for your DS for 10 cents?”

“Because it costs them more than 10 cents to make the game so they have to charge you more money to cover their costs and make a profit.”

“Well can you buy it for 10 dollars?”

“I don’t know.  We’d have to look.”

“Do you know how many 1 dollars it takes to make a 10 dollar?”

“How many?”

He smiled smugly and said, “Seven.”

“Um, no…”

“Oh, wait!  Wait!” He looked slightly abashed.  “I mean, I have 3 dollars right now so I need another 7 to have 10.”

“That is exactly right!”  Sometimes conversations with your Kindergartner can take you from feeling like they must not be learning anything at all to feeling like they’re actually pretty darn smart.

And then you talk to your husband and find out that yours was the follow-on conversation. He had had a conversation with the kid a few minutes earlier in which he had helped him figure out how much more money he needed to earn.  Then you think your kid is just really sneaky and wants you to think he knows even more than he does.

Colorful Counting

My five year old son doesn’t yet know how to read but he does know Algebra. He doesn’t know that he knows Algebra, but he’s got some of the basic concepts down instinctively.

While riding in the car the other day (seriously, I think our best conversations are in the car), Hal announced to me that red plus red equals yellow.

“How’s that?” I asked.

“Well, red is one and yellow is two.”

“Ok. If red is one and yellow is two, then yes, red plus red equals yellow. Although if you were talking about mixing colors, that would not be true.”

“I know. I’m using red to mean one and yellow to mean two. So do you know what yellow plus yellow is?”



“And what is black?”

“Black is four. Do you know what four plus four is?”

“What is it?”

“It’s um… um… hang on, I’m trying to think of another color. It’s… um… blue! Yes, four plus four is blue.”

“And what is blue?”


“Very good.”

“And eight plus eight is… white.”

“These numbers are getting big,” my husband whispered to me. I nodded before asking Hal what white was.


“Not quite. It’s sixteen. I think you might have reached your limit on big numbers in your head. You’ve done a great job though.”

“A plus A is B.”

I looked at my husband and smiled.

“And B plus B is C.”

“Actually, B plus B would be D, wouldn’t it?” This comes from my puzzling days where each letter in the alphabet has its numerical equivalent. From an algebraic perspective, he can be right until he gives two rules that contradict each other.

“Well, C plus C is E. And do you know what Z plus Z is?”

“What is it?” I asked.

“It’s ‘Now I know your ABCs.'”

Nice, kid.

I Let Them Win

Jane had math homework tonight. The kind of math homework that requires parental involvement. I did not realize that there was such a thing, but now I know.

The homework was concerning x-y coordinates. There were four grids on the paper and places for “Player 1” and “Player 2” to record the coordinates for each of their moves. We were to play connect-4 on the grids, taking turns placing dots and writing down coordinates.

I told my husband that I’d take the first two and he could play the second two. She let me go first. I didn’t tell her that was a mistake. After my fifth turn, the game was over. She wrote “MOM” at the top to indicate that I had won.

For the second grid, she went first. It took a couple more moves, but I still won. When it became apparent to me that I would, I asked, “How am I winning when you got to go first?”

“I don’t know!”

Daddy sat down for grid three and she let him start. He won. The fourth grid took a little longer. She started and while I was in the other room, he called out, “I think she’s finally figuring it out!”

She managed to win that one. He explained to her that whoever goes first should always win.

I called from the other room, “Unless they are Jane?” We all laughed and then analyzed the progress of the games to see where she had played wrong. I suspect that was beyond the scope of the assignment, but probably a more useful education than the recording of grid coordinates.

She showed me the paper before she put it away. She had written “I let them win” at the top.

I Am Your Father

We were in our bedroom, not yet ready to face the day. The boys were in their room across the hall. We could hear their conversation easily through the open doors.

Hal: “Bubba, look at this.”
Daryl: “I don’t care.”
Hal: “You can’t say ‘I don’t care’. That’s a bad word.”
Daryl: “It is not a bad word. Besides, it’s two words.”
Hal: “Well you can’t say ‘I don’t care’ to me. You don’t have your big red bouncy ball anymore.”
Daryl: “You aren’t my father or my mother. You can’t take my bouncy ball away from me.”
Hal: “Yes I can.”
Daryl: “No. You can’t.”
Hal: “I am your father.”
Daryl: “No. You aren’t.”

Then Daryl walked into our bedroom with the big red bouncy ball under his arm. “Hal told me to look at something and I said ‘I don’t care’ and he said that’s a bad word and then he took my bouncy ball and said I couldn’t have it and I told him he couldn’t do that.”

I suppressed a smile as I looked up at him from my position under the blankets, wrapped in my husband’s arms. My husband responded, “He can’t take your ball away from you.”

Satisfied, Daryl began to leave the room.

His father called to him, “Daryl?”

Daryl turned back.

“‘I don’t care’ is three words, not two.”

Daryl looked puzzled at first. Then I could see him counting in his head.

“Oh. Right.”

How to Win Friends and Influence People

Jane was telling me about her day at school. They were reviewing problems in math class. When no one else answered a question, she would raise her hand.

On one such occasion, a boy started to harass her: “Well, there’s Jane with her hand in the air. Thinks she’s so smart and knows all the answers.”

She responded, with a fair amount of sass, “Yes, I do know the answers and I’m happy I know the answers, because that means I’ll pass the test and advance to the next grade and then graduate and be able to get a job!”

She claimed that that shut him right up! I didn’t bother to point out that it probably hadn’t endeared herself to him. I don’t think she cares.

In some ways, she is so much like I was. She loves to do extra problems and can’t stand to not raise her hand when she knows the answer. I was painfully aware of how unpopular those desires were and very much wanted to not be made fun of. As a result, I tried not to make a scene. My daughter, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to care what lower performing students think of her and appears to think it’s her civic duty to chastise them to do better.

A couple of weeks ago, again in math class, the teacher assigned the odd problems for homework. Jane raised her hand and asked if she could do the evens too. People groaned and said, “Jaa-aane! Stop it. You’re going to end up making us all do extra!”

Again, her response was considerably less than charitable: “Well, maybe you should be doing more problems. Maybe if you tried a little harder you’d get better grades. I like doing math.”

On the one hand, I’m very proud that she’s not afraid to speak her mind. I am happy that she is unashamed of being smart and enjoying school. On the other hand, I’m glad she’s not a boy. If she were, I think she might get beaten up a few times before she learned when to hold her tongue.

Wisdom Comes With Age

Daryl: “I’m a lot smarter than Hal.”

Me: “You don’t know that.”

Daryl: “Sure I do. Hal, what’s 12 times 12, huh? It’s 144. I know a lot more than he does.”

Me: “That doesn’t mean you are smarter than him. It just means you’ve learned more than him. He’s too young for us to know how smart he is. He could be smarter than all the rest of us put together.”

Daryl: “Well, I’m wiser than he is. I’ve lived some long, hard years more than him.”

Yes, son, nearly nine long, hard years makes one a very wise young man. Indeed.