In which I confess that sometimes things don’t add up

I have a confession to make.

It’s not easy for me to make this confession because it causes me to expose a vulnerability which is not something I particularly enjoy doing but I’m going to do it anyway because I came across two thoughts this week that have stuck in my brain and they are these:

You have to be brave with your life so that others can be brave with theirs.

Let your faith be stronger than your fears.

And so, with that in mind, my confession is this:  I am not good at math.

I was a freshman in high school before I figured out how to accurately subtract digits that included zeros.  (And that was only because I had a teacher who noticed a pattern in my schoolwork.  I knew I couldn’t do it was too prideful and embarrassed to ask for help and compensated for it by making sure all the other questions that didn’t have the zeros were answered correctly).

My childhood dream of becoming a nurse was waylaid when I was fifteen and making poor grades in Chemistry.  That teacher told me I’d need to pick a different major in college.

College math requirements were different twenty years ago and I took the bare minimum that I needed to receive my degree.  I studied harder for that class than any class I ever took and many times would spend upwards of six hours before tests working every practice problem in the book just so I could maintain my GPA.

Graduate school was trickier.  I had to take a statistics course that was so over my head I almost quit.  Just ask Amy how horrid it was.  I called her late one November night crying. I was in my last semester of coursework, mere weeks away from finishing and I had to pass my statistics class to do so.  I was so discouraged that I would never get it that I was ready to quit the program that very night, drive six hours down to Louisiana to move in with her and plan the next course of action.  We spent two hours on the phone while she talked me off the ledge.  It is no joke to say I literally owe both her and the computer lab geek who practically did my stats homework for me in exchange for weekly dates playing penny poker for my graduate degree and subsequent gainful employment.

I was secretly relieved  to step off the professional track when the babies were born because my next career move would have required me to prepare budgets and profit and loss statements and since I dropped out of Accounting my freshman year on the last drop/add day….well, I think we ALL know how that would’ve turned out.  But to my great chagrin, even though I’ve been an at-home mom for thirteen years, I still haven’t left my old friend Math behind.  Now my role is to be the homework helper for three boys, two of whom are taking ridiculously hard algebra for 7th grade and, quite frankly, they’re not doing so well.  I’m doing the best I can with what little knowledge I retained but if we’re honest here, they passed me up about a year ago.  We’re doing after school tutoring for them, Dad helps in the evenings when he’s home, but bless their hearts, they are still struggling.

And I’m struggling too.

Mightily.

People, I cried last night over a stupid word problem about some dumb dogs.

That’s after spending an hour on the internet watching math videos and still not figuring out how to arrive at the correct answer.

It was humiliating and beyond frustrating.  I don’t know if I have a learning disability, whether it’s just preference, disuse of skills, giftedness in other areas, a right-brain/left-brain thing, or a combination of all of the above, but I think if I had to name just one thing that stands most in the way to keep me from conquering this stronghold it would be fear.

Fear that I’m a failure.

Fear that I’ll never learn.

Fear that my boys will be consigned to a subpar life because of my inadequacies as a mother.

Fear that it’s too late.

Fear that I’ll invest the time and money to learn and it still won’t work.

Fear that the boys’ teachers will think I’m stupid and not awesome.  Keeping it real.

Fear that my husband thinks less of me every time I call to ask for help when I’m stuck.

Which is all the time.

But I can’t be fearful because I’m not called to live that life.  I can’t be fearful because I need to show my kids how to persevere when life is hard.  I can’t be fearful because I need to teach them how to throw off the shackles that bind and how can I do that when my feet are as planted in concrete?

So today I’m going to be brave.  I’m going to the library with lined paper and pencils and I’m going to start to learn math.

Again.

I’m going to spend quite a bit of time on the internet NOT checking the latest updates on People.com and instead learning about the distributive property.  I’m going to download practice sheets with answer keys so that I know what I’m doing.  But more than that, I’m going to pray as I panic and the numbers swim before my eyes that the Lord would grow my faith more than enough to conquer my fear and that He would give me victory so that He can use this weakness for His glory and for the good of sweet, smart boys who need a little bit more from their mama right now.

But until I can figure out how to write an equation with fractions to solve for x and figure out how many ding-dang puppies were left at the pound, I will cling to the one constant that I know to be true.

Jesus = Enough.

Have a nice day.

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16 responses to “In which I confess that sometimes things don’t add up

  1. Yes. When it comes to homework help, I am glad my worth is found in being a daughter of the King, rather than my math GPA.

    Also, khanacademy.org has saved my butt numerous times, you may want to check it out. They also have a free ipad app 🙂

  2. I’m actually in tears, Sus, for we are so platernal that I could have written this post. Though mine would’ve been a career focus change to speech therapist, rather than doctor. Same reasons. Same angst. I do believe we had a learning disability. However, as I was passing (barely), and (I’ll bet) not quite the 2 standard deviations below the mean, I didn’t get help. Doug came home right before all of my chemistry tests, and s.p.o.o.n. f.e.d. me chemistry so that I had a shot at a C on my exams. For years, I have felt stupid because I was slow to learn math. Oh, the shame that I confess I still fight. But like you, I need to give up on the fear and grow in to the challenge.

    Jesus = enough, indeed.

  3. Once again, here’s another data point to prove we were somehow connected at birth. While math was always my strongest subject, the only C+ I ever received was in …

    … wait for it …

    … Spanish.

    And as I mentioned earlier, when in doubt, x=8.

  4. I work with people who can glance at a very complicated Calculus problem and instantly know how to solve it. Yet, they can’t write one sentence without making grammar or typo mistakes. That’s just the way their brain works. I am firmly convinced that it’s all in the wiring. The only reason I passed my required Statistics class with a C was that I was constantly in the prof’s office and he knew I was trying and he took pity on me. Plus, he knew that he would never worry about me ever being in a position to make a world-changing decision that involved math, so there was that. I admire your determination to learn it for your kids. Play to your strengths–I bet you excel at helping the kids with report and essay writing.

    • That’s the nicest thing anyone has said to me this week. I may or may not be crying in the library.

      You have the gift of encouragement.

      Susan

      Sent from my iPhone

  5. OK, I am sooo sorry I never knew this before – I would have loved to have tutored you! I agree it is probably in the brain wiring. I am terrible at spelling and writing, but I love to play on excel spread sheets. Daniel found math effortless and John continues to struggle. The Khan Academy is apparently quite good and seems to speak to the non-math-oriented brain. And I will try to send you a great comic strip, but 87 is also a magic number ;-). Proud of you for seeing the fear and seeking the Real Solution in our Great and Loving Father.

  6. The next time the boys are stuck and Craig is out of town, call our house. Jerry’s double majors in college were math and computer science, he’d be happy to run over and help them. Me- I’m happy to die believing that it was a twisted, diabolical mind who thought up algebra.

  7. Well, I wanted to be a marine biologist and work with dolphins until I realized that a marine biologist needed to be good at BIOLOGY…duh. This became apparant as I sat with my 7th grader last night learning the biological catagories. My post today was all about my failure at biology (and almost burning down my kitchen, although not at the same time)

    Here it is if you want to know that you are not alone with 7th grade schoolwork.
    http://allthingsaro.blogspot.com/2012/11/dear-king-phillip-came-over-for-grape.html
    But as I always say if you aren’t scared it just means you aren’t sticking your neck out far enough…ok it was really Kurts Dad from Glee who said that, but whatever.

  8. You have inspired me!! My fear is not math. Actually, I have many fears. Currently I’m attempting to live healthier by exercising and losing weight which for me has been a life-long fear. I love who you are and that you share yourself with me. My prayers are with you. Again, thanks for the unsolicited inspiration!! Be blessed!!!!!!!!!

  9. Perfect love casts out fear

  10. Well, you have conquered the greatest equation!
    Both of my degrees are in math, B.S. in ’95 and M.A.Ed. ’96. So, it’s been a few years. It has been almost 12 years since I taught–career change, then at-home-mommyhood. You are very correct that it is compilation of brain-wiring, preference, giftedness in other areas, and especially disuse. I have almost completely forgotten everything higher than Algebra I. And now my worst fear is when my 11th grader says, “Mom, I need help with my Algebra II.” I need his book (and extra time) in order to figure out some of what he’s doing. I may actually have a brain aneurysm if he takes Trig next next year. Worse yet, I have a 2nd and 3rd grader who are both on the GT path. I’ll already be drooling on my Froot Loops by the time they get past Alg I!

    How’s that for $25,000 of college education?

    Take a minute first to think about your learning style…do you learn best by watching it be done? Or by reading about it in a book first? You can do this! Your perseverance for your boys will get you there! Feel free to email me for any little memory tricks for remembering things or help with a problem…but if its much higher than Algebra/Geometry, it may take me a few! :

    ‘Scuse me…..I need to go unframe my diplomas and mail them back now!

  11. Laurie Johnson Anderson

    Susan, I guess you don’t remember … you were the one to explain it to me! So I guess that shows you my math level. I am pulling my hair out with Joshua. I hear ya.

    • Thank you, Ms. Julie Barnhart. I wish she were still around to explain distributive properties in a way I could understand. Miss you, chica!

  12. You are welcome to come over and view any / all of my math videos.

    I think you are an awesome mom!

  13. Math videos have saved my tail many a time this 7th grade year !Here’s a confession, the only reason that I passed Algebra in college is that my professor gave us extra credit for memorizing Bible verses( this PK was all over that). Benefits of going to a Baptist Universiry. Love me some OBU!

  14. It’s because of Statistics that I have only just now gotten over here to catch up on all the posts you’ve written and for that (and every other thing about it) I hate statistics. I keep saying to myself that I don’t have to know how to do all the steps, I just have to know how to get the answer, and by george, if some math geek would fall prey to the allure of playing poker with an old lady desperate to finish the class, I would copy your strategy to the letter.
    Also, I would like you to know that being back over here, reading all these posts, reminds me why I love you. I have never in my life known a woman so dedicated to caring for her people that she would learn math. It’s a drop in the ocean of the reasons I am so impressed with you as a momma and as a woman of God, but it’s a pretty good representative of the sample group… wait… I think I almost slipped into math talk again. Let me just wrap up by giving you a *high five* and pretending in my heart I just dropped by to take you out to breakfast and chat with you for a majillion hours.

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