I Never Said I Was Good at Math

Of all the hurdles I thought I’d have to face as a parent, I never thought homework would be the one to trip me up the most, causing so many tears and leaving some of us flat-faced on the floor. When will this nightmare be over?

When I was a kid, I came home from school and did my homework. It wasn’t until high school that I remember writhing in pain as my dad tried to teach me formulas and pre-calculus while my eyes rolled back in my head and I bit my tongue hard to keep bad words from spilling out.

I despise math. I could not sit in a chair long enough to listen to anyone explain it because I did not care about it. Yet, somehow, I managed to survive it. I thought with the repeat of my college algebra course that was the end of it. No more. Hallelujah! The only math I’d see was for simple household measuring, grocery shopping. My word, someone has put a curse on me and given me children who sometimes need help with math. And I have to be the calm one.

Occasionally I check my son’s homework. Not always. I look at those long division problems and three-digit multiplication and know it would take me all night to work it out in my head. I don’t have time for that. My son does well in math. I glance and figure it’s OK.

Yesterday I got out the calculator to check up on him, just to make sure he wasn’t struggling. He got four of those big multiplication problems wrong. He redid the first one—992 x 91—and got the same answer. He did it again, same answer.

“Well this is the answer the calculator says. You’re not doing it right,” I told him.

Mind you, I didn’t take away his dinner or tell him he couldn’t have candy for a year, but the rolling on the floor and fussing that ensued would have made you think so.

He did the problem again and he got the same answer. His mechanical pencil mysteriously “fell apart.” I worked the problem on the calculator again. It had the same different answer I got before. Then I worked the problem on paper and got an entirely different answer from any of them, but it was closer to his.



This was not looking good. Are calculators sometimes wrong? I use this calculator for work, for important things. I’ve used this calculator since college. This calculator gave us an answer that was nearly 60,000 off. I thought the answer seemed strange but who am I to question a calculator?

We went to the computer and got the same answer I got on paper. The calculator was wrong. My son was wrong. I was right. What is wrong with this world when you can’t rely on a calculator to check your math?

My son had only missed two problems and not four. Our calculator could not be trusted. And I guess that meant that I could not be trusted in my son’s eyes. I guess it also meant I’m going to have to start working all those problems out the long way. Or maybe he has this multiplication thing down good enough.

calculators make quick work

Am I smarter than a calculator?




Filed under Family

43 responses to “I Never Said I Was Good at Math

  1. I know you’ll probably roll your eyes at this but I really like math and I’m wondering if the problem involves some brackets. How could the calculator give the wrong answer?

    • No, no brackets. And I thought the same thing. How could a calculator give the wrong answer? But it did. It’s old. Maybe it needs new batteries is all we can think of. I used the calculator on the computer to verify. Really strange. But maybe a good lesson for my son that this is why he needs to learn this stuff and not rely on calculators! 😉

  2. Crazy! Never heard of a miscalculating calculator!

  3. Well, at least the end of the school year isn’t too far away…

  4. Lisa

    Next time just break out the abacus and really show him how it’s done!

    • It kills me when he shows me all this “new math.” I feel old when I say things like “what are you doing?” and “that’s not the way I learned it.” The way he does division is the craziest thing I’ve ever seen. It’s like a chart. I can’t even stand to look at it. So sometimes we fight over me showing him “the right way.” (And let me be clear that his teachers have shown him several ways, so I’m not showing him something they don’t teach in school.)

  5. My son is already well ahead of me and he’s 9 (hangs head). I can do french, history, english…….edge into biology but maths, no.

    • I may be able to hang on a bit longer, but it’s getting challenging. My husband teases me about my math skills, but when my son was doing fractions, multiplying, reducing, etc., he had no clue how to help. It was a slight victory. 😉

  6. I’m sure the calculator is wrong! 😉 maybe all it needs are new batteries? or you might have not entered the formula correctly?

  7. Time for a new calculator. I would have been completely frazzled.

    • It’s the second to go nuts in a year. Though the first one was clearly broken. This one acted sane except for that one problem, making think I had gone insane. Yes, a new calculator is a must!

  8. Math and me were never friends. That’s why this scene is one of my very favorites in movie land.

    • Amen! Except I went out with my journalism degree and found a copy editing job that required me to edit worksheets for elementary school teachers. And guess what I had to edit? Math worksheets with fractions, word problems, and all kinds of crazy stuff I thought I’d never again have to use. I had to relearn so much! It was for the best. It’s been a great help, ahem, in checking homework.

  9. Did you try other problems with the calculator? Perhaps you pressed on a combination of buttons that changed the setting in Rad mode instead of Deg mode or something. That would account for the difference in the answers. On another note, I feel for you, sorry you had such a frustrating time.

    • I did. I thought the same thing, that maybe I pressed some function button. But when I worked out other problems, I got the same answers on the computer’s calculator. It’s a mystery. It’s like my high school math classes, another problem I can’t solve.

  10. I know how you feel – I am already flustered with 2nd grade math. ha. I was planning on relying on the calculator, so this is not good news for me!

  11. Amy

    Oh man…we were separated at birth. I can so relate. HATE MATH. Loved this post though.:-)

    • Gosh, I can remember wanting to cry while sitting through math classes. Even now I look at some of my son’s fourth-grade word problems and think, “How are kids supposed to figure this out?” or “I have no clue what the answer is.” I’ve guided him in the wrong direction on more than one occasion and he’s called me on it when he brought him his paper home with a big X on it. Oops. The good thing is, he’s good at math. He has more trouble with language arts. That is something I can help him with. 😉

  12. All I can say is, I was born in the right time period. The time when all things can be solved on my phone, anywhere, at anytime, by Google. If it wasn’t for Google, I don’t know how I could ever cook anything, I don’t know how I would have survived pregnancy, and I certainly would never be able to figure out math problems. 😉
    Also, God blessed me when he sent me my husband, who has his MBA and is an accountant. Otherwise, I’d probably be on the street for not paying my bills correctly or something. Math is the one thing that scares me about homeschooling!

  13. i can’t believe the calculator gave the wrong answer!! that’s crazy!! i am also a math a phobe. my husband does all the math and science in the family and i do the social studies and english. i want no part of math. didn’t like it then and don’t like it now – plus, they have all these new ways of doing it!! forgeetttabbboutitt!

  14. Wandering Voiceless

    I am apparently the only parent in America who NEVER helped their children their homework. My job was to create the space and quiet to do it, and then leave them alone. If they got it all wrong, that was up to the teacher to correct.

    That said, I can’t believe the calculator was wrong either… you’re probably right; it’s probably the battery. ;>

    • The reason I started it was because my son would bring home things marked wrong but never get good one-on-one instruction on why it was wrong. If I look at his homework and he has a few wrong, I may not say anything. Or I may see that he totally did not understand a lesson on figurative language and got every one of them wrong. In that case, I’ll sit him down and go over it because I know his teacher won’t do that with him unless he keeps having trouble. I can sit down with him early on. But no, I don’t check every problem to make sure he gets every one right. I actually hadn’t checked his math in a while when this happened. I do, however, help them if they ask but I make them figure it out. That’s when the hysterics begin. 😉

      • Wandering Voiceless

        I hear ya. Prince Charming was the “school parent” anyway… and I’m pretty sure he helped the girls when I wasn’t looking. ;>

  15. redtwiz

    I feel exactly like this. I am shocking at Maths. It took me until I was 31 to pass my Maths GCSE, which I had to pass in order to teach Drama???!!!
    Now when my eldest comes home, she ignores me and goes straight to her dad, and my middle child is some whizz when it comes to maths. But every time I have a sum given to me I just freeze. Hate the stuff. 🙂

  16. I am convinced that parents and their own children should never engage in homework together. It never ends happily. That being said, some teachers shouldn’t be teaching either. You might enjoy this video:

  17. Oh god. How ironic is it that we have to face homework again as adults. As if it weren’t bad enough that we had to endure it the first time. I feel ya, mama. http://vivblogs.com/2013/03/01/homework-2198-2208/

  18. Ah maths, the one area I could never understand! I break out my calculator all the time now. Maybe it’s time to retire this calculator that you’ve used since college. Can you imagine doing your taxes with it 🙂

  19. This will be me when my kids are old enough to go to school! I have a math disability and absolutely hated it in school. Once the kids get as far as your son, I am doomed. My husband is a former math major, and he can do mental math for everything.

  20. Reblogged this on Your One Stop Shop for Everything Motherhood and commented:
    This sounds like the kids and I…I feel part of this mom’s pain! That’s what we verbal people go through.

  21. I homeschool my 3 kids and they have all got their own style for answering math problems and none of them use the right way (mine)! If you need to help your kids with math again then put that calculator down 🙂 & go straight to kahnacademy.org

    • I used the calculator to quickly check the answers, so I could then get dinner going. He is not allowed to use it. As of now, that calculator is still sitting broken in a drawer, waiting for next year’s math checking and meltdowns. 😉

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