If Only I Had Known Hating Math Is a Generational Sin: Let “A” = Attitude

For years my mathematical mantra was “I am not good at math.” It was the excuse for every unreconciled bank book. Which is probably why my husband, who wanted me to take over the household finances, said “It isn’t that you aren’t good at math. It’s that you don’t want to do it.”

He would never admit this, but I will. My husband is brilliant!

Except for a “C” in my third quarter of geometry, I managed to get an “A” or “B” in my math classes. Yet, until my husband pointed out the unknown reason for my lack of mathematical prowess, I failed to come up with the answer for my problem with math.

The vivid memory of me throwing my book on the table and yelling “I don’t get it” happened often in our St. Louis kitchen. We moved to Missouri when I was in sixth grade. Going from middle school back to elementary school for two months was demoralizing enough. Add to that the fact that my new classmates had recently finished one math book and were beginning another. Multiply that by pre-teen horomones. It is no wonder I couldn’t or wouldn’t understand how long it took two trains at different rates to go from point A to point B. I simply wanted to get on a train back to Minnesota.

But, nearly two years later in my eighth grade study hall, I wrote my first poem about moving back to Minnesota, resigned to live out the rest of my days in Missouri. After that, I wrote two poems a day, one in study hall…and one in math class.

When we moved back to Minnesota in my ninth grade year–starting the year in a junior high and jumping into high school before Christmas–two odd realizations hit me as I sat in my algebra class with tears streaming down my face. I missed St. Louis, and I understood the equations of letters replacing numbers.

Still, I wanted to be the renegade in my family of mathematical geniuses and write stories rather than figure out story problems. How else could I complain about my sister being in my geometry class? How else could I one-up my little brother by asking the color of Joe and Bill’s room? How else could I justify my better-than-average grades with the poetry in the margins of my math notebook?

Fast-forward to this summer when I sat at the table as my fourteen-year-old yelled “I don’t get it” and stalked off to his room.

I was in that St. Louis kitchen all over again.

As his sobs echoed around me, I pondered how we could move forward and begin to break this generational cycle of mathematic mayhem.

I could let him resume algebra in the fall. No, I did not want to relive this moment in three months.

I could quit home schooling him. No, because like my move to Missouri, we needed to move past this misery and not miss this coming of age with its hidden blessings.

I could go to my own room and cry. No, not this time.

I could call in “the low voice.” No. It happened to be Father’s Day, and my husband was in our boat in the middle of Mille Lacs Lake.

But, what would “the low voice” say?

Smiling to myself, I strode into my son’s room and in my best contralto said, “Stop feeling sorry for yourself and get your work done.”

To my amazement, he swiped a hand across his eyes, went into the kitchen, and finished his work.

“Let ‘a’ = attitude” and the beginning of our math problems becomes clear. It is only after we erase the “I am not good at math” and the “I don’t get it” that we realize “It isn’t that we are not good at math. It is that we don’t want to do it” and we “Stop feeling sorry for ourselves and get our work done.”

Did I mention my husband, who remains in charge of our household finances, is brilliant?

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