You know what I hate? Hate more than the one exercise I can’t do in my exercise video because my belly roll gets in the way? Hate more than the x-ray technician saying “I need to do the left breast one more time because I missed some tissue?” Hate more than paying for car insurance for 2 teenage boy drivers (which is slightly less than the GNP of Madagascar)?
I hate math. More specifically, high school math. Gimme back potty training, gimme back teaching to tie shoes, gimme back up every 3 hours to breast feed a screaming baby. I’ll take it all to not have to suffer through my son struggling with his math class. I can’t do it for him, even if I wanted to. Not that he needs to “conquer this battle without Mommy’s help.” I literally CAN’T help him. I can’t do the math. Sometime in the mid 90s, in grad school, I probably had a fighting chance to give him an educated guess, but not so much anymore. Starting around 7th grade, math has been his nemesis. His Voldemort. His kryptonite. His Ivan Drago. He’s a pretty average kid all around, some things come easy, some things he has to work for, but in math he just feels like he is totally defective.
He has inherited (or been bullied into) our sarcastic sense of humor, he can be even more of a neat freak than me some times (yay!), he’s fun to be around, makes great popcorn, and loves our cats with a passion. I love him with all the love a Mom can possess. But nothing can bring down the party like an algebra homework assignment. We can be having a laugh filled family dinner, planning our summer vacation, talking about sunshine and unicorns, and then the dreaded question rears its ugly head: “do you have any homework?” We go from smiling to miserable faster than 45 can tweet #alternatefacts to a CNN story.
My husband wonders why I like watching “My 600 LB Life” and “Hoarders”…I think I know why, at least 1 reason. Other than being what I would consider REAL reality shows, where else do you get to see such transformations, such progress, such success in under 60 minutes? You go from shitty life to way less shitty life uber fast. It’s a pretty little success package with a bow on top. I love it. Algebra is not subject to such pleasures. It’s a nightmare, wrapped up in a bag of shit, delivered to your dining room table on a tray of rotting hamburger meat with maggots. Nothing is solved in 60 minutes. It’s everyday. Every fucking day. I hate what it does to him. I hate how it makes him feel. And subsequently, how it makes us feel. It makes us all unhappy, frustrated, crying piles of math hating people.
Brendan is a trooper though. I honestly don’t know where we’d be without him. He sits with him, day after day, hour after hour, trying to help him understand. He uses props, folks. But he’s reached his breaking point several times.Then there is cursing. Because here’s the issue. If we are working harder than he is to help him succeed in math, then something is wrong. And it’s the same conversation day after day, month after month, year after year. When you are bad at something, the only way to get better is to work at it. Not just a little, but a LOT. Everyday. You have to do more work than the kid who breezes through math. Or even the kid who gets a B or C. Or D. The lectures, my God. It’s a CD on endless replay. He’s in 11th grade, there is no more time, there is only white knuckling til mid-June when school is done. And guess who doesn’t want to do the work to be successful? And then guess who gets pissed that the other one doesn’t want to do the work? And then guess who feels just sad and defeated and wants to make it all better with hugs and warm milk? Circle of hell.
He hates that he struggles and others don’t. His internal dialogue is “I can’t do it. Studying won’t help. My teacher can’t help. I’m lost. I’ll fail no matter what.” And now on top of all that is college looming in the not so distant future. You can eliminate all math careers from the mix easily enough, but it’s still another pressure to pile on top. For those who have kids where academics come easy, be so so so relieved, because this side of the aisle sucks. How do you convince your kid that they have worth even though they fail? Will a bad math grade keep him from success in life? Probably not. But that doesn’t mean you get a free pass. You still have to push them to do better, do more, work harder. I tell him that we do it out of love. Other kids get crappy grades and their parents don’t care. We are on your side, we want you to be successful, be happy. We will always be your biggest cheerleaders. Brendan’s favorite line: We’ll work with you, but we won’t work without you. You HAVE to do the work. You can’t avoid it. It’s not going away. It’s mentally exhausting for everyone.
He does every assignment, he does some math everyday, but it’s still not enough. I tell him everyone struggles in something. Or many things. It all seems to fall on deaf ears though. His next bad test grade is a self-fulfilling prophecy. I failed because I told you I can’t do it. For those of you who haven’t had school-aged kids in the recent past, you can now get almost up to the minute grades online. It’s a blessing and a curse. If you are familiar with this and are on Team Math Sucks with me, you will know the feeling in your gut, as you log in, click on assignments and hold your breath, waiting to see the latest test grade. Hoping, fingers crossed, praying to the math gods that it’s not a failing grade. And then there’s the disappointment. It’s heart wrenching because you know what’s coming next. Another lecture, more tears, solidifying the mantra “I can’t do it.”
Sorry to say, I have no happy ending here. There’s no magic math pill. We are engaged parents, given him every leg up possible, love, support, encouragement. In the final analysis, is he just plain ol’ bad at math? If that’s true, I’m totally ok with that. I truly am. I’m not particularly good at it myself and I love him just the way he is. But the greater lesson here is that he has to try. God helps those who help themselves. Help me help you. Seriously, like The Little Engine That Could. Change the narrative in your head. Persevere. Hammer away. Make math your bitch. And if at the end of the the day, it’s a C, I’ll be the first to congratulate you because I will know you tried. Now I’m going to take my parenting pity party and have a glass of wine. Anyone have some math to do?