“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.
Last 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?