Miscalculating: I Never Thought I’d Need Math Again

“I hate math! I wish it never existed. I’m no good at it. Ugh!”

Though that’s something one of my kids could have shouted over homework, those thoughts actually came from my math-incapable brain while editing a math book last week.

Always glad to have some freelance work, I shudder when I see pages of fraction multiplication staring at me. Immediately I recall splintered desks, stuffy classrooms, heavy eyes, and groups of numbers that could be anything from a top-secret security code to a phone number to a long division problem crawling across my page. The teacher spoke mumbo jumbo, a complex language that lulled us creative kids right to sleep so all the math whizzes would learn her special secrets.

I have a secret that my own kids don’t know: When my dad tried to show me why I was using the wrong algebraic and geometric formulas, I writhed and squirmed like a child getting a tooth pulled. I just wanted him to do my homework for me too, for it to be done. I didn’t want to learn it. I wanted to be put out of my math misery just like my kids do—and that was in high school.

Miraculously, I made it through algebra, geometry, and pre-calculus. The probability of that has to be one in a million, or something. In college I majored in journalism, never to look back at math again, but I failed my one college math course and had to repeat it. My parents started doing some math of their own. I figured that equation out just fine: no pass equaled serious trouble.

So who knew that in a career focused on words, the copy editor job I took before I had my son would require me to know math? Who knew that? In some sick, twisted joke, I worked for an educational publisher. I had to not only edit worksheets for elementary kids, but also make sure everything was right. Someone has to check answer keys, you know.

calculators make quick workLast week’s fractions have been quite the refresher. Quick, what’s 2/3 + 5/8? You can bet I know the answer. What’s 8 x 1/5? I am convinced the sole reason I had that job was in preparation for helping my kids with their homework. While they squirm and say, “I don’t get it,” I do. Even my husband, one of those math people, says, “Multiplying fractions, I’m not sure I remember how to do that.”

Sometimes what I edit is harder than fractions. Sometimes I’m thankful I’m not a fifth-grader anymore. I edit. I squirm. I think, “How are kids supposed to figure this out if a nearly 40-year-old woman can’t do it?” I walk around. I try again. I scribble all over scraps of paper. Nasty thoughts swim through my head. I sigh. I rethink the problem. Maybe the editor did it wrong, not me. No, I’m sure it’s me. “How in the flip flyin’ floo do they come up with this stuff? Grrrrr!” I ask my husband to do the problem. Of course he gets it.

Sometimes I have to cheat, working backward from the answer key. These people pay me by the hour. Surely they can’t afford me being slow to grasp a concept. And I am so happy to get problems that can be done with a calculator. I’m not sure fraction calculators existed when I was in school, but there they are on the Internet. Hallelujah!

One thing is certain: One day my kids will realize my math limits and for homework at least, I’ll be off the hook.

Problems to ponder:

1. It takes Muddled Mom 8 days to nibble a 6-inch chocolate bar. How much of the chocolate bar does she sneak each day when her kids aren’t looking? Ah, to hell with it. Eat the 6 inches in 8 minutes. That’s more likely, right?

2. Muddled Mom spends 4 hours a day editing a math book. Two-thirds of each hour is spent pulling out her hair. How many hours does Muddled Mom spend pulling out her hair? The bigger question: Does Muddled Mom have any hair left?

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41 Comments

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41 responses to “Miscalculating: I Never Thought I’d Need Math Again

  1. Oh – I remember these days. Don’t go bald!

  2. Such a funny post! We are so similar. I always hated math and remember wondering why I had to learn this crap when I was never going to use it. I was a journalism major and am now a tax lawyer. Yep, tax. Luckily, I don’t have to deal with fractions.

  3. Lol… I hear you…You are not alone! 😉

  4. I’m having a technologically challenging day (I say this as if I have any other kind). I tried to Like your post, even typed in the launch sequence to make my tiny face appear beside the other folks with good taste, but to no avail. But I really do like your writing, Karen; I promise.

  5. K. Eley

    Just wait for the algebra homework to start! All I can say is thank goodness for the Internet.

  6. There’s a wonderful scene in the movie “Peggy Sue Gets Married” when adult Peggy has been magically sent back in time to high school algebra class. When the teacher asks her a question she responds: “I know for a fact that I will never need Algebra.” I cheered. I related. I AM Peggy Sue.

    Thank God for Google. I need to use a lot of math in my writing too. Sucks.

    • Yes, I remember that scene!

      There are basics that everyone needs. I mean, I am always adding fractions in recipes but they are doable. And the way they teach math now, I can’t even get my head around it. It’s all visual and with charts and diagrams and number lines. Maybe if I had learned that way I could have understood it better, paid more attention. But I’m an old dog now.

  7. Victoria

    I’m embarrassingly bad at math. I can barely count past my fingers and toes. I blame the fact I had access to calculators since 8 years of age. The worse was word problems!

  8. The answer to the second question is you spent 60 actual minutes out of 180 minutes actually working. I hate math also, but majored in Biology in college. When I became a teacher, who knew math came with science. I had to become good at it. The good thing is that because I had such an aversion to it I was able to make it fun for my classes. My scores on state test were among the best. The thing is you are never to old to become good at something you fear.

    • Well it wasn’t the answer I got. But it goes to show why I hate math! I think the key is to make it fun. I remember so many math classes where the teachers just sat at the front of the room, droning on and on, no excitement. Someone like me just couldn’t stay focused. There was always one answer and I never understood why or why I wasn’t getting it. No one ever explained the logic to me, or maybe I just slept through it.

  9. Oh boy. I am not looking forward to the days when I have to help my kids with their math homework. It will not be pretty.

  10. “Putting math out of misery,” that about sums it up for me! I happen to cringe when I see math worksheets too. Like you, I majored in journalism and was relieved when my college math courses were behind me. Who would think that math would rear its ugly head again? Especially now in your current profession. I feel your pain.

  11. lisa

    We could trade. Send your kids to me for math and my kids to you for English. I so hated English.

    • My son already hates my grammar help. He is pretty good in math though. Thank goodness. I think my daughter is going to be more like me. I see many squirmy nights at the kitchen table where she and her dad are breaking pencils over numbers.

      And I wouldn’t want to teach anyone else’s kids. It’s bad enough when I make my own kids cry.

  12. Last night I spent three hours trying to figure out 7th grade math so i could help the boys. I only ended up figuring out half of it. Math was not really my thing unless it was simple algebra. I’m more a history.english kind of gal lol. Have a great weekend!

  13. I completely understand your dilemma. I stopped understanding math when they substituted letters for numbers. As an adult, I found a way to not have to do math anymore. I married a mathematician.

  14. Do you EVER write a bad post? Just curious.

    Khan Academy on YouTube, a lifesaver for 5th grade basics (that we parents have forgotten about). I recommend it to many parents – particularly those who have forgotten their formative math.

    Scott and I are both “math people” so the problem for us is teaching the topic as it’s been taught in class when there is clearly a better, easier way – that is perhaps beyond comprehension by the child. Math is full of shortcuts and head “math magic.” They’re good to know, but have to be taught at the right time. Math is FUN, after all. (I know, I’m a weirdo.) 🙂

    The hair-pulling and chocolate-eating is no different here, as we get a child to “mastery” of any new skill. I am amazed at how quickly a 10-yr-old boy (and sometimes even his mom) can be reduced to tears of frustration.

    • Thanks, Shannon. I’ve had so many tears of frustration over math in my life, I can’t even begin to count. I’m thankful that I’d had these little refreshers through the years due to work, but at some point I’ll be out of my league. That’s when Dad will have to take over. And that’s OK. I will have put my time in. 😉

      • …OR, it could be a good excuse to brush up on your trig and calculus. I mean, if you just always stay two chapters ahead of your kids, you”ll be a math rock star. Rock it! Don’t let a little math language get’cha down.

  15. cookinwithmrswhite

    Good stuff. I only dream of having a career in an actual kitchen! My days are spent slaving away long hours at a bank! No fractions, but plenty of math.

  16. I love math. I can’t wait until Dimples needs my help with the hard stuff, like algebra and geometry. I’ll be tearing my hair out over other things by that time, I’m sure – like the boys who keep calling and teaching her to drive.

    • Well I’ll have to go through it all with my son first and right now I can’t imagine him being the one making the calls! I’ll have to use my wicked math skills to pay someone to teach my kids to drive. Thinking about it gives me panic attacks.

  17. i just love math, it is like my routine and my hobby 🙂

  18. Yes, and being a graphic artist, teacher, publications specialist–all math too. My brain adapted, but it was a struggle.

  19. Jennifer S

    I was also a journalism major… but I took logic as my math credit and squeaked by with a pass. Like you, I struggle helping my kids with math and also struggle with my attempts to hide my weakness. This is mostly because I’d hate to pass along to my ten year old daughter any stereotypical “girls can’t do math” rubbish. Maybe she’ll actually understand and be good at it!

  20. My math skills are awful! I felt the same way you did about math class. I remember looking at the clock hundreds of times and wishing for the period to be over. We had a fraction homework assignment last night with my 5th grader. I was lucky – I had a meeting to go to!

  21. mihtyroc

    See I never had a problem with math but english was like trying to figure out chinese writing!!!! And now thanks to my wife I have started my first blog. Well if you need the help with the math ill trade you my grammer problems… lol

    • I know. Most people lean one way or the other. Then there are the exceptional few who are good at both and those who are science minded, which I guess does require good math skills. Part of the left brain, right brain thing?

  22. talbenesse

    You are not alone! Check out the word Math on twitter, and you’ll see most people are scared of it. The world works in mysterious ways, your kids are lucky you are able to help them thus far, and I’m sure you’ll figure out a way of helping going forward.

    • I managed to flub my way through advanced math classes. I imagine I can at least get through middle school math again. Twice. Ugh! My kids may not survive my help though.

      • talbenesse

        lol, I remember when my dad helped me with math… it wasn’t pretty, but I’ve learned to appreciate it with time 🙂

  23. Pingback: Lessons Learned (Vol. Deux) | ateachablemom

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